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Controlling Anger Management Issues

Updated on June 10, 2015


Anger is a universal human experience that can be found in any personality and temperament, shy or extroverted, perfectionist or laid back, and it can be expressed in many ways. We use the term anger to describe a number of feelings and behaviors: frustration, irritability, annoyance, blowing off steam, fretting. In order to manage anger effectively, productively, it's important to realize how each of these reactions is tied to the emotion we call anger.

Recognizing the Many Faces of Anger.

Bert was an easy-going man in his late 20's, raised in a Christian home where the biblical proverb, “A soft answer turns away wrath,” was quoted more frequently than John 3:16. He couldn't recall a time when his mother and father ever had an argument, and none of Bert's friends could recall a time when he ever raised his voice in anger. Bert's wife, Ellen, is another story. Raised in a large family, coming from what she calls a “hot-blooded ethnic background where screaming is just our way of saying, 'I love you.'” Ellen was never shy about expressing her anger, freely, and loudly, at the drop of a hat.

These contrasting styles of dealing with anger (or, in Bert's case, not dealing with it) were a major source of conflict in their marriage. Bert always felt threatened by Ellen's anger, and he also felt smugly self righteous. “You really need to deal with your problem, Ellen,” he would say. “As Christians, were not supposed to do things like this. Remember Proverbs 15:1 'A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.'”

After being lectured by her husband on the evils of anger for the umpteenth time, Ellen decided it was time to provoke a showdown. After he quoted his favorite verse of Scripture, she responded, “Are you telling me you never get angry, Bert?” “I give my anger to the Lord,” he said softly. “Ah,” Said Ellen, taking a handful of CD's from the rack atop the stereo. “Well I'm glad you can be so spiritual and mature about your feelings.”

“What are you doing?” Asked Bert, a quizzical expression on his face. “I'm going to see if you are really as saintly as you claim,” she said, placing the stack of CD's on the floor at her feet. “Do you know what these are?” “Oh, no. You wouldn't!” “these are your favorite CD's in the world.” Then she leaped up into the air and came down with both feet on the CD's. Shards of plastic flew in all directions.

Although we don't endorse Ellen's destructive act, it's clear Bert is the one in this relationship who had a greater problem dealing with anger. What Bert failed to understand is everybody feels anger from time to time. It's normal. In fact, anger is a God-given emotion. True, the way people usually deal with this emotion is destructive and unhealthy. But Bert needed to learn suppressing and denying anger is no more healthy than exploding. Bert's anger was real, no matter how he tried to mask it. He needed to learn how to recognize the different faces of anger.

Is anger good or bad? The answer: It all depends. There are times when anger is incorrectly associated with trivial matters. There are times when anger may be associated with legitimate concerns but is managed irresponsibly. For example, it is legitimate to become angry if you see someone mistreating an animal. But it would be irresponsible to take a gun and shoot that person.

Anger Awareness

Whether you identify more with Bert or will Ellen, you too may have difficulty recognizing anger's many faces. The following inventory can help you become more aware of the operation of anger in your life and relationships. Check the statements that apply to you.

  • Impatience comes over me more frequently than I would like.

  • I nurture critical thoughts quite easily.

  • When I am displeased with someone, I sometimes shut down communication or withdraw.

  • I feel inwardly annoyed when family and friends do not comprehend my needs.

  • Tension mounts within me as I tackle a demanding task.

  • I feel frustrated when I see someone else having fewer struggles than I do.

  • When facing an important event, I may excessively ponder how I must manage it.

  • Sometimes I walk in another direction to avoid seeing someone I don't like.

  • When discussing a controversial topic, my tone of voice is likely to become passionate and strong.

  • I can accept a person who admits their mistakes, but I have a hard time accepting someone who refuses to admit their own weaknesses.

  • When I talk about my irritations, I don't really want to hear an opposite point of view.

  • It's hard for me to forget when someone does me wrong.

  • When someone confronts me from a misinformed position, I am thinking of my rebuttal as they speak.

  • Sometimes my discouragement makes me want to quit.

  • I can be quite aggressive in my business pursuits or even when playing a game just for fun.

  • I struggle emotionally with the things in life that are unfair.

  • Although I know it may not be right, I sometimes blame others for my problems.

  • When someone openly speaks ill of me, my natural response to think of how I can defend myself.

  • Sometimes I speak badly about a person, not really caring how it may harm their reputation.

  • I may act calmly on the outside while feeling frustrated on the inside.

  • Sarcasm is a trait I use in expressing humor.

  • When someone is clearly annoyed with me, too easily I will jump into the conflict.

  • At times I struggle with moods of depression or discouragement.

  • I have been known to take on an “I don't care” attitude toward the needs of others.

  • When I am in an authority role, I sometimes speak too strongly or insensitively.

Now go back and count the number of statements you checked. Everyone will recognize some of these characteristics, so don't worry about marking them.

If you check 10 items, your anger level is probably more constant than you might like. If you checked 15 or more, you can probably recount many disappointments and irritations. This indicates you are vulnerable to the extreme ill effects of open anger and rage, or to repressed anger in the form of guilt, bitterness, and resentment. But don't give up! Now you have become more aware of the many faces of anger, you have taken a giant step toward managing it.

If you are interested in gaining a broader perspective of yourself, ask a close friend or trusted family member to complete the inventory, answering the questions the way they think you would respond. It's often helpful and instructive to have other people mirror our character and personality traits, so we can see ourselves more objectively. Try to set aside any defensiveness, and anger, as you do this part of the anger awareness inventory.

You will notice from the items you checked anger can be expressed through a wide array of behaviors. Write down the expressions that seem to be the most common for you. For example, “I resort to the silent treatment when someone offends me,” or “I am often critical and sarcastic.”

You may show your anger in ways other than those mentioned in the inventory. As you become more self-aware, you will probably discover a number of such hidden expressions of anger.

Anger managed in a healthy and responsible way is linked to a reasonable issue of communicating in a caring and rational manner. Whenever you become angry, there are options as to how to overcome that and, these options constitute your second step in healthy management.

Many keep themselves in a nonproductive anger cycle. First, there is a painful circumstance. A situation occurs in which the individual feels they have been devalued, their worth as a person has been insulted, some need in that person's life has been ignored or unmet, or someone is shown disregard and contempt for values or convictions extremely important to them. Such a painful circumstance can trigger angry emotions.

At this point, most will respond by attempting to control it. For example, convincing others of their errors, moving to a different part of the house, or plunging into a project to let off some steam. This isn't always wrong, but it can be risky because it does not guarantee anger release. Instead, it can lead to increased friction in personal relationships, which increases the angry person's emotional confusion. This moves the angry person back to the beginning of the cycle by creating an ongoing tendency toward painful intrusions. How do you break the cycle of anger? By making a choice to manage your anger.

Nancy is hardly alone in her confusion. We have all seen that corrosive kind of anger, either in ourselves or others. It's painful and destructive. So it's understandable many people conclude, “If this is what anger does, I want nothing to do with it.” Once you have learned to identify anger and understand it, you can learn to distinguish right and wrong ways of managing it. Although you may not always like the presence of anger, you can make choices about how to handle it.

No two people are exactly alike in managing their anger. Temperaments and circumstances vary widely. But they are five general choices you can make when painful circumstances trigger an angry response within you you can choose to respond by:

  1. Suppressing Anger

  2. Open Aggression

  3. Passive Aggression

  4. Assertive Anger

  5. Dropping Anger

Obviously, the first three choices are unhealthily and tend to perpetuate the anger cycle. Choices four and five interrupt the anger cycle and lead to effective, healthy management of anger.

How about you? Do you ever hold your anger inside in an unhealthy way? To find out, check the items that apply to you:

  • I am very image conscious

  • I don't like to let others know my problems.

  • Even when I feel very flustered I portray myself publicly as having it all together.

  • I am rather reserved about sharing my problems or frustrations.

  • If a family member or friend upsets me I can let days pass without even mentioning it.

  • I have a tendency to be depressed and moody.

  • Reasonable thinking is common for me, although many people would never suspect it.

  • I have suffered with physical complaints, for example, headaches, stomach ailments, and sleep irregularity.

  • There are times when I wonder if my opinions or preferences are really valid.

  • Sometimes I feel paralyzed when confronted by an unwanted situation.

  • I am not inclined to initiate conversations about sensitive or troublesome topics.

If you checked five or more of these statements, you probably have a solid pattern of repressing your anger.

People who habitually suppress their anger have usually been trained in early life to think anger and other emotions are not normal or acceptable. They frequently have a history of having their feelings, ideas, and perceptions invalidated. They grow up fearing powerful retaliation if they register disagreement. And they are so convinced their feelings will be rejected or disparaged they decide, “What's the use?” Their suppression of anger represents a feeling of personal defeat. They are saying, in effect, “I don't matter. My feelings don't matter enough to be expressed.”

Another explanation for suppressing anger is a smug, superior mindset, as demonstrated by Richard toward his wife Ellen. Usually these people tend toward rigidity of belief, including religious beliefs. Such people also tend to need the approval of the “right” people. They suppress their anger in the belief it's dangerous to display human imperfection that might cause them to be lowered in the estimation of others.

Suppressing anger does not eliminate it. It only drives anger underground where it festers into a toxic emotion called bitterness. Suppression is unhealthy and creates unhealthy, dishonest relationships. Suppression of anger is a choice, but not a desirable choice.

Open Aggression

Open aggression is the kind of expressions most people think of when they hear the word anger: explosive rage, shouting, intimidation, blame, criticism, and sarcasm. Open aggression is the expression of anger at the expense of someone else. Open aggression is a self-centered choice in dealing with anger: the focus of the openly aggressive individual is so much on their needs and feelings there is little sensitivity to the needs of others. Openly aggressive anger can be easily identified because it does not hide as suppressed anger does. The openly aggressive person says, in effect, “You don't matter. Your feelings don't matter. I don't care who I hurt. Only care that I get to express my anger.”

Open Aggression Self Test

This self test is designed to help you measure your tendency toward open aggression in response to anger. Check the items that apply to you:

  • I can be straightforwardly blunt when someone does something to frustrate me.

  • As I speak my convictions my voice becomes increasingly louder.

  • When someone confronts me about a problem, I am likely to offer a ready rebuttal.

  • No one has to guess my opinion; I'm known for having unwavering viewpoints.

  • When something goes wrong, I focus so sharply on fixing the problem I overlook others' feelings.

  • I have a history of getting caught in bickering matches with family members.

  • During verbal disagreements with someone, I tend to repeat myself several times.

  • I find it hard to keep my thoughts to myself when it's obvious someone else is wrong.

  • I have a reputation for being strong-willed.

  • I tend to give advice, even when others have not asked for it.

If you checked five or more of these statements, you probably have a pattern of open aggressive anger. Predictably, you will have ongoing struggles with relatives and close associates.

Two major explanations can be given for open aggression. First, some people have a tendency to take a rigid stand and expend their emotional energy. Intellectually, we all know problems are an inevitable part of our sinful, imperfect world. But emotionally, we have a hard time keeping this truth in view.

Your child leaves his clothes on the bedroom floor, even though you have repeatedly told him to put them away, or a friend is chronically late to social engagements. Emotionally balanced people accept these aggravating imperfections and acknowledge their limited ability to force other people into a mold. But the openly aggressive person simply will not rest until these problems are solved once and for all. The result is ever increasing tension, punctuated by frequent explosions.

Second, deep insecurity causes some people to try to make themselves larger and louder in an effort to make themselves heard. It is normal and healthy to want to be noticed and respected and you want to have basic emotional needs met. But openly aggressive people take this normal desire too far. They are so needy and desirous of respect they communicate in unbending commands. Their emotional stability hangs by a thread. They are dependent upon others' cooperation.

If they feel their feelings are not being received and understood by others, they express them more loudly. If they still do not feel understood, they may try harder to be noticed, by stamping their feet or pounding on the table. If they still do not feel understood they may start pounding on the other person. Open aggression is another option for suppressing anger, but again, it is a poor option. People who continue in this mode will continue to hurt and offend other people, relationships and possibly their reputations.

Passive Aggression

Like open aggression, passive aggression is the expression of anger in order to preserve personal worth, draw attention to unmet needs or preserve convictions at the expense of another person. But passive aggression operates secretly instead of openly, in large part because passive-aggressive people do not consider themselves confident to bring their anger out in the open. Passive aggressive people feel if they express anger openly, it may expose them to counterattack or put them in a negative light. People who are passive aggressive may deny being angry because they believe the expression of anger is sinful or disgraceful. Passive aggressive people say, in effect, “I don't matter, but you don't matter either. I'm angry, but I don't feel capable of effectively expressing my anger. I want to strike back and hurt you, but I don't want to get caught!”

Passive Aggression Self Test

The following checklist provides some examples of passive aggressive anger. Check the items that apply to you.

  • When I am frustrated, I become silent, knowing it bothers other people.

  • I am prone to sulk and pout.

  • When I don't want to do a project I will procrastinate. I can be lazy.

  • When someone asked if I am frustrated, I will lie and say, “No, everything is fine.”

  • There are times when I am deliberately evasive so others won't bother me.

  • I sometimes approach work projects halfheartedly.

  • When someone talks to me about my problems I stare straight ahead, deliberately obstinate.

  • I complain about people behind the backs but resist the opportunity to be open with them face to face.

  • Sometimes I become involved in behind the scenes misbehavior.

  • I sometimes refuse to do someone a favor, knowing this will irritate them.

If you check five or more items, you show a strong inclination toward using passive aggression to express your anger. You may think you have been successful in putting limits on your anger, but in fact you are only communicating the anger in a way that will perpetuate tensions.

Passive aggression is caused by need to have control with the least amount of vulnerability. Because the passive aggressive person assumes it is too risky to be open, they frustrate others by subtle methods. The need for control is evidence of a strong competitive spirit. Whereas healthy relationships do not keep score about right and wrong, the passive aggressive person is out to win. Like the openly aggressive person, the passive aggressive person is engaged in a battle for superiority. But this person has clearly realized too much honesty about personal differences lessens their ability to maintain and upbringing. Passive aggressive anger is ultimately sly and dishonest.

Passive aggressive expression of anger is a choice we make for dealing with our angry feelings, but it is no more healthy a choice than suppression or open aggression. Because it does not resolve problems. It is a poor choice for managing anger.

Assertive Anger

When we express our anger assertively, we preserve a sense of self-worth, our needs, and our convictions while at the same time considering the needs and feelings of others. When we express our anger assertively rather than aggressively, we actually enable relationships to grow stronger. Assertive anger is a mark of personal maturity and stability. To some people, the word assertive suggests being “pushy” or “abrasive,” but that's not what we mean here. True assertiveness is not abrasive, nor is it meant to be. It is simply the quality of being willing to state one's feelings, needs, and convictions, firmly and fairly but with consideration and respect for others'. Ephesians 4:26 tells us, “Be angry, and do not sin.” Examples of godly, assertive expressions of anger might be:

  • An overworked churchmen firmly says no to a request to do even more projects.

  • A patent states outlines display without resorting to shouting, shaming, or berating anyone.

  • A husband-and-wife talk about their differences constructively, without sarcasm, blaming, or bringing up old offenses.

Two key reminders will help you learn to communicate your anger constructively and assertively. Make sure the issues you raise are worth raising. Don't exhaust your emotional energy on trivialities; and be aware your tone of voice can help create the atmosphere of respect for others.

Assertiveness is not always easy. It requires self-discipline and respect for the dignity of others. It requires we not just push self agendas on others. And it requires us to put our communications to the context of “the big picture,” anticipating how they will affect future interactions.

The assertive approach to managing anger says, “I matter, and you matter also. I have a right to tell you I am angry, and you have a right to tell me your feelings. But we don't have a right to hurt each other.” Assertive anger is a choice we can all make, and it is a choice that is caring, healthy, productive, and effective. But there is still one more approach to be explored.

Dropping Anger

Of all the choices you have for dealing with the anger, the most difficult one is the choice to let it go. There are times when you can have appropriate convictions to communicate, yet assertiveness may not work. At this point one of your options is to choose to drop your anger. Dropping your anger means you accept your inability to control circumstances and recognize your personal limits. This option includes tolerating differences as well as choosing to forget. Here are some examples of dropping anger.

  • A wife recognizes, despite her discussions with her husband, he will always be a perfectionist. As a result, she draws her boundaries so she will not always have to comply with his finicky preferences, but she also learns to except him as he is.

  • An adult son admits his father has chosen not to love him. Rather than carry a grudge, he decides to forgive him while also charting a new style of fathering with his own children.

  • Rather than griping about company policy, an employee decides no job is perfect, so he will do his best work in spite of his differences in preference.

Choosing to drop your anger is far different from suppressing. Suppression represents phoniness or denial, whereas dropping anger represents a commitment to godliness. The person choosing to let go of the anger is fully aware grudges are an option, but they can instead opt for a cleaner life, uncluttered by bitterness and dissension. Here are some practical suggestions to help you make the choice to manage anger by dropping:

  • Make yourself accountable to a trusted friend. Let that person know when you are struggling with feelings of anger.

  • Live in the now. Forgive today. Don't worry about forgiving tomorrow. You don't have the ability to decide your emotions for tomorrow or 10 years from now. You can only choose your emotional response today.

  • Write out your feelings. Journal them or write a letter. Then read over them with an attitude you will turn them loose.

The idea you can choose your attitude and response to anger may be a new one to you. You may have never realized before you can make choices and manage your anger. But you will find, as you gain more insight, your emotions become less mysterious to you, and your anger will gradually lose its control over you. Instead, you will be in control of your anger.

Anger does not arise in a vacuum. Anger thrives on unmet needs. Each of us has basic psychological needs that have to be adequately met if we are to enjoy emotional balance. When these means are not met, we experience emotions of distress, including anger. Persistent problems with anger implies unresolved psychological needs.

Of all the common human needs, the most obvious and important is the need for love. When people feel consistently loved, their emotions show it through their stability. But when they lack love, they respond to their rejected feelings with anger. Through anger they may cry the unspoken question, “Why can't you just love me?”

People become angry when they feel rejected, left out, ignored, or misunderstood by significant people in their lives such as parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and fellow Christians. The longer they go without feeling accepted and affirmed, the more anger they store. This stored anger can quickly sour into resentment and depression. The more a person struggles with anger, the more it indicates some of their need for love is gone unmet, either in childhood or adulthood.

A word of warning: A common problem that arises when people attempt to drop their anger is anger may return at a later date. For example, a woman who chooses to forgive her rebellious adult son may live in peace until she learns new information about his misdeeds. Then old frustrations well up within her again, making her intensely angry.

Did she somehow fail to drop her anger the first time? No. Dropping anger is a form of forgiveness, and it is often difficult for us to forgive once and for all. Frequently, we must continually forgive the same offense over and over, whenever it comes to mind, until it eventually fades away.

Do You Feel Controlled?

No human was created to be controlled by men. With some justification, most of us resent the demands of people or institutions that take away our freedom to choose. The following self test will help you determine the level to which you feel controlled by outside forces and individuals. Checked the statements that apply to you.

  • When I grew up I was expected to obey the rules with no questions asked.

  • I would like to speak more freely about personal matters, but to do so would only lead to arguments or disappointments

  • When I share a unique opinion or preference, it is often met with a put down or an invalidation.

  • The people I'd like to be most open with are too unavailable to me.

  • I feel as if I live in the midst of critics.

  • Peacefulness only seems to calm when I can get away by myself

  • I often calculate in advance the way I will use my words.

  • Some of my closest relationships have been soured by long stretches of silence and no communication.

  • I often feel my performances are all that matters to others.

  • I have close relationships that could be best described as stressful.

If you checked five or more items, you probably are somewhat acceptable to easy anger and your environment may make emotional composure difficult.

People who feel controlled often allow others to control them. Perhaps they have been raised to believe life is made up of obligations rather than choices. They can invariably recall instructions about how they were to speak and act as children, yet they draw a blank when asked how they were trained to make choices affecting the structure of their lives.

Control is not always bad. After all, we do need organization and structure to maintain peace in our lives. But excessive control creates negatives and positives. Why do we resent being controlled by others? Because we sense a message behind the control. “You can't be trusted.” Controlling people believe if they eliminate our choices, then they erase any chance we will make a mistake or act irresponsibly.

It's very common for a person who feels controlled by someone else to try to break that oppressive grip by counter controlling them. We practice counter control whenever we:

  • Feel we must correct the other person whenever they are being unfair.

  • Get drawn into arguments with family members or associates who are stubborn.

  • Feel compelled to point it out when others are illogical.

  • Be uncooperative with people who treat us unfavorably.

  • Respond to confrontation with silence and defiant resistance.

  • Determine no one is going to get away with telling us what to do.

  • Respond to other people's control with the question, “Why do you always have to…?”

You don't have to subject yourself to the abusive or controlling of others. Nor do you have to return evil for evil, controlling behavior for controlling behavior. You can choose a different response when others try to control you. You can choose to assert your feelings and your needs. If the other person does not respond, then you can step back from the situation and go on about your business. You are not obligated to lock yourself in mortal combat with this person, or continue trying to move the person to your point of view, when it is clear their feet are set in stubborn cement. You can make a choice. You can state your position, then get on with your life.

Ground Yourself by Setting Aside Idealistic Myths

Sometimes some set themselves up for anger by being talked into believing things that aren't true. For example, a woman might conclude, after three or four bad experiences, that “All men are jerks.” Or after a week of unusually frequent fights with his wife, a husband might conclude, “Our marriage is always been rotten. All we ever do is fight.”

This is called mythical thinking. Mythical thoughts usually contain an element of truth. But when stretched to the extreme, they keep you from making healthy anger management choices. To manage anger successfully, you must eliminate false notions that perpetuate your pain and replace them with positive truths that will enable you to live a life rooted in healthy, godly realism. Some examples:

  • I dislike the wrongs I've suffered, but I choose to thrive in spite of them.

  • Others do not have to act correctly before I choose the proper direction for my anger.

  • Choosing to drop my resentment is not the same as condoning wrong.

  • I accept the freedom of others to live in unhealthy ways.

  • I accept responsibility for my own emotions; others cannot force me to remain angry.

  • Forgiveness and letting go of anger have nothing to do with winning or losing.

  • It is not my duty to correct another person who chooses to gloat over their problems.

You are able to agree with the statements and incorporate them into your everyday life, the better you will be able to purge harmful anger from your life.

Live in Humility Rather Than Self Preoccupied Pride

Many however, reach adulthood with a strong unhealthy streak of pride. A prideful, self-centered person is likely to become very angry if there will is thwarted or if their whims and wishes are not catered to. The only answer to this kind of anger, which is rooted in pride, is to seek humility into one's character. Humility means being willing to acknowledge your personal limits and recognizing you are not the center of the universe and no one is obligated to cater to your whims.

“If I set aside my pride in favor of humility,” you may wonder, “Doesn't that mean I lose a large portion of myself? Wouldn't I have to repress a lot of my real feelings?”

If you practice humility only as an active duty, it will indeed cause repressed emotions. But then, it would not really be humility. You'd be living in legalism. True humility does not require any false manipulation of the emotions. Humility is not an obligation or a duty. It's a choice. You can choose to respond to your angry feelings by exploding in an openly aggressive rage, slyly resorting to passive aggressive sabotage, or choose humility. No one can take that choice away from you.

By accepting your limits and setting aside your prideful self preoccupations, you are not repressing your emotions. You are choosing to place a higher priority on a healthy, appropriate way of life.

For one thing, when you are angry, you can verbalize your anger gently, respectively, and tactfully. To speak the truth in love means using the “eye” message rather than the “you” message. Examples of this would include:

  • “You should have called.”

  • “You shouldn't have said that!”

  • “You are such a slob!”

How can you turn these “you” messages into “I” messages? Try:

  • “I was upset when I didn't hear from you. I got worried.”

  • “I don't think what you said was fair, and I didn't appreciate it.”

  • “I get very irritated when the kitchen is left messy.”

Some people believe it is a sign of strength to be prideful and demanding. Yet if we look at the example of Christ, we see that he model strength ability and opposed to pride wherever he found it. He could speak forcefully, but humility was the hallmark of his character.

“I” messages are a simple device, but it's not easy to learn to use them consistently. Normal tendency is to use the same kind of “you” messages we have heard all of our lives. Work on using “I” messages, particularly when you're feeling angry. When phrasing your “I” message, think through the situation carefully and avoid exaggerating. The key to using “I” messages is to put the responsibility for your own feelings on yourself. Do not accuse, demean, or attack the other person. Anger is a powerful emotion. Handled carelessly, it creates divisions, and devastates relationships. Handled with deliberate thought, anger can become a constructive force for relational growth.


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