The other night I felt angry. I noticed it deep within, way down at gut level. It welled up within me, and it was all I could do to hold it in.
And I took notice.
Because it took me years to understand the importance of listening to anger. Instead, I used to bury it. A part of me thought that’s what “good Christians” did. Until I’d wind up so resentful, that I’d cut someone loose without warning.
And that’s not very Christian. So I’ve learned the hard way to let anger in.
When you make friends with your anger, you can set healthy boundaries with it. You treat it with respect, but you don’t let it take over. As a result, you become healthier, stronger, and better at caring for others.
Anger helps you with truth. And truth is 1/2 of the love equation.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you let your anger run roughshod over you and everyone around you. But I do want you to understand how to make friends with your anger—whether it’s an emotion that’s very close to you. . .or one that you’ve buried.
For some, your anger is close and apparent to everyone around you:
You yell at our kids or at the very least snap easily.
You rage toward your ex and can’t stop talking about it.
You criticize and nit-pick and dwell on your resentment.
You hit DEFCON 2 when someone cuts in front of you at the grocery store line.
In these cases, your anger is too close, and it’s getting the best of you. It’s keeping you from tending to the more vulnerable parts of your soul it protects. If you recognize yourself in these statements, you’re not letting your anger work for you. It’s working against you.
For others, your anger might be exiled and you’re deeply invested in burying it:
You feel grumbly or annoyed inside, but put on a happy face.
You numb yourself through cutting, over-eating, under-eating, or using substances.
You feel so much pressure inside, you want to smash something. But you would never let anyone see that.
You shove aside feelings of irritation or bitterness because a part of you tells you that’s “bad.”
Whether your anger is close to you, and you feel that “fight” response quite easily. . .or whether it’s too far, and you go into “flight” mode almost imperceptibly, your anger is a valuable emotion that needs to become your friend.
If you’re someone whose anger is close, stop for a minute and extend appreciation for it. Your ability to feel your anger is a gift. But you need to learn to calm the “fight” response in your system. It’s likely been wired into you from long ago. Your job is to gain perspective so that you can harness its energy for good, not for harm.
Your anger needs healthy boundaries so that it can inform you, without taking the lead.
1.) Start with curiosity and compassion.
Think about a time lately when you noticed your anger—your heart rate quickened, and you started to feel constricted inside. Re-imagine that scene and tap into that feeling just a little bit in a safe place.
2.) As you tap into those feelings, take 3 deep breaths.
This is not just foo-foo therapy stuff. Breath creates a physiological pause so that you don’t act out of your baser instincts. You’re creating space for the more nuanced part of your brain, the neocortex, to come on-line and help you get more strategic. And by doing this in a safe space—when you’re not really triggered—you’re training your brain for the next time the onslaught of “fight mode” hits. It’s like strengthening the muscles you’re going to need, before you enter the ring with the heavyweight.
3.) Now, take a You-Turn with your anger to get to know it better.
Focus on your anger and get to know it. Befriend it. Get curious about it. How long has it been around? What dangers are real in the present? What’s a reflex response that’s more rooted in the past. . . and still getting the best of you?
Be prepared for other vulnerable emotions to surface as you start to develop trust with your anger. Anger often protects you from grief, loss, and pain. Be gentle with those emotions—they need your care too.
4.) Practice speaking on behalf of your anger, rather than from it.
As you build trust with your anger, practice how you might speak on behalf of it instead of from it. For example, you might say, “When you questioned me about my motives, a part of me felt angry. I’m calmer now. But I need you to know that what you said didn’t sit well with me.”
Or, if you realize your anger wasn’t relevant to the situation at hand, you might say: “A part of me felt so angry last night. But I see now that you were only trying to help. Thanks for being patient with me as I learn about my anger.”
So often, we want our anger to go away. But really, what we need is some space to understand it, calm ourselves, gain perspective, and learn to speak on behalf of it.
If you’re someone whose anger is too far away, ask yourself these questions:
Could it be that your anger has important information you’re ignoring?
What if your anger could help you be healthier, stronger, more honest, and even more like Jesus?
What if your anger was the empowering, protecting, truth-telling friend you’ve been longing for?
If you’re with me so far, now here’s the kicker:
What is the part of you that’s afraid of your anger?
Once you get clarity on that, work through the 5 steps with the part of you that’s keeping your anger far away.
Anger is a God-given emotion intended to give you strength. When treated with care and thoughtful attention, your anger can:
- signal you that someone is taking advantage of you or someone you love
- alert you to danger
- empower you to stand up for justice
- motivate you to make a change
- embolden you to speak honestly about a boundary violation
- strengthen you from the core of your being.
Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Ephesians 4:26 (MSG)
How about you? Is your anger too close or too far? What are some things that have helped you channel your anger in productive ways?
Do you treat self-directed anger the same way?
Alison Cook says
Hi Trudy, this is such a great question. Self-directed anger is more like an inner-critic. In some ways, you do need to treat a part of you that is angry with yourself with curiosity and compassion. You want to get to know it better so that you can understand how it’s trying to motivate you. You might check out the post I wrote about a shaming inner critic here: https://www.dralisoncook.com/boundaries-with-a-shaming-inner-critic/. Let me know if that helps!
Jill D. says
Beautifully written. I appreciate how you integrate good emotional self-management with solid Biblical teachings.
Alison Cook says
Thank you, Jill. I definitely believe the two go hand-in-hand!