Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Ring of Anger

Ring of anger Anger is self-perpetuating if we allow it to.  It is like a flame that is unquenched that becomes a forest fire.  There are at least four ways that anger is handled that keeps the anger alive and growing: Pretending not to be angry, verbal expression of hostility, spreading it to others, and physical violence against person or property. 

Stuff It

I was speechless and quiet; I kept silent, even from speaking good, and my pain intensified. My heart grew hot within me; as I mused, a fire burned.
Psalms 39:2-3 (HCSB)

When we pretend to not be angry we often feel that we are doing something good.  Most people are brought up believing that anger is a bad thing.  So if expression of anger is an evil then pretending to not be angry must be a good somewhere between mildly annoyed and not being angry at all.  Unfortunately it does not work that way.  My observation of people who regularly engaged in stuffing their anger is that they eventually become depressed or at some point erupt with rage and sometime they do both. I like the analogy of a pressure cooker.  Eventually the pressure will have to come out somewhere.  

Say It Hurtful

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it in check.
Proverbs 29:11 (HCSB)

Words can be destructive.  I recall hearing the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  Harsh words, hostile words, hurtful words are plainly destructive to the soul and wellbeing of the person receiving end of such verbal abuse.  The level of hurt is directly tied to the level of trust that existed prior to the careless words.  However, even a taunt from one's worst enemy can be hurtful.  Verbal attacks seem more desirable than physically hurting somebody, but great psychological pain can be inflicted and embedded with words.  When we give "full vent" to our anger it is foolish.  It destroys the very things that we hold dear.  I tears down the ones we love.  It alienates us from others.  A wise man never has to apologize for being angry, because he chooses wisely when to speak and when he speaks he carefully chooses his words.

Spread it (I am angry and you should be too)

An angry man stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered man increases rebellion.
Proverbs 29:22 (HCSB)

Misery loves company and so does anger.  There are two types of spreading anger: provocation and passive aggressive. 

Those that provoke others to anger are often angry themselves.  This provocation is either to join them in some angry cause (mob mentality) or to get someone so angry at them that they either look the fool or make the first attack justifying retaliation.  In either case it increases rather than diminishes anger.  It increases the likelihood of violence. 

Passive Aggressive on the other hand is more subtle.  It is the action (or inaction) of a person that is hurtful to the other, but without a direct expression of hostility or violence.  Most commonly it is failing to act or failing to act in a timely fashion.  "Why are you angry with me?  I got it done after all!"  However, by doing it in a delayed fashion it punishes the other person by having them wait or resisting the expectation to have it done.  It can also be the removal of kindness or intimacy as a way to "punish" the other person.  It can be engaging in activities that are known to be annoying toward the other person and then being surprised when they are annoyed. 

Slam It

A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man who schemes is hated.
Proverbs 14:17 (HCSB)

Physical violence against person or property can have the most dire consequences of all expressions of anger.  When anger and rage reaches a point that acting violently is the only choice then anger has controlled the man.  These acts are often illegal.   The most common act of violence is assault.  It is estimated that 4.8 million women and 2.9 million men are assaulted physically or sexually in the US every year1.  1 in 5 women and 1 in 17 men will experience assault from a spouse or in a dating relationship at some point in their life.  The impact of this violence is staggering not the least of which is the effect it has on children.  Aggression is best predicted by previous acts of violence and being exposed to violence as a child seems to result in greater potential for violence when one is older. 

Aside from the obvious damage to the victims of violence, there tend to be significant consequences to the perpetrator even when the victim has not been seriously hurt.  I have counseled several couples in which one of the partners ended up in jail after police responded to a domestic violence call.  In some cases for just throwing an object at the other person even though the other was not hurt.  I don't say this to excuse low threat acts of assault.  No quite the opposite.  I say it to point out the seriousness of the problems that violence causes. 

In short, stuffing it, saying it hurtful, spreading it, and slamming it are four ways that keep anger going, fails to resolve the issue that triggered feelings of anger, and often results in greater consequences for all involved.  We have to learn how to better manage this powerful emotion in order that we avoid the inescapable consequences if we do not. 

1) Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey

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