How do we know someone is angry? We usually think that signs of anger issues are obvious, such as upset facial expressions (narrowed eyes, tight lips, frowning), bodily changes (racing heart, flushed cheeks, tense fists), hostile words, or violent actions.
But there are many other signs of anger issues that are not as obvious, and yet can be extremely destructive to oneself and others. We have all felt anger at some time or another. But what exactly is anger?
What is anger?
Anger is the emotion you feel when you can’t get something that you desire, or believe you deserve, or when something that you love is threatened in some way. It is both a mental and physical reaction to something that you think “isn’t right.”
The late counselor, author, and lecturer David Powlison defines anger as “active displeasure toward something that’s important enough to care about.” You identify a perceived wrong, disapprove of it, feel displeasure about it, and are moved to say or do something about it. Anger has been called the “moral emotion” because it makes a statement about what matters – a value judgment.
Can anger be good?
Anger is not wrong in itself. It is an attribute of God and a part of his nature. God’s anger is good, and God’s anger comes from love. However, as J.I. Packer says, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”
What then is good anger? Good anger is (1) directed at things that God gets angry about, and (2) is expressed in a godly way. The Ten Commandments show us it is good to be angry at betrayal, lies, hypocrisy, laziness or workaholism, rebellion, murder, and abuse, adultery, stealing, gossip, and greed – for God hates these things. However, even though anger at these sins is justifiable, it does not justify an uncontrolled response.
How is good anger expressed in a godly way? Psalm 145:8-9 shows us God’s approach to anger: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
Good, godly anger is thus expressed with grace, mercy, and love. It does not have a short fuse but is long-suffering and patient. This doesn’t mean that sins are shrugged off or made light of, but rather our response to them is self-controlled and constructive in encouraging repentance, a change of heart, and behavior.
Bad anger needs to be dealt withOur fallen nature means that human anger is often distorted and mixed up with shreds of truth. Sometimes good, justifiable anger is expressed destructively. Anger can also be subtle or hidden, even from ourselves. It can masquerade as a different emotion altogether, such as sadness or detachment.
We can also fool ourselves into thinking “I’m not an angry person” or that our anger is other people’s fault, but in truth, most people struggle with anger issues of some kind. Detachment is when someone does not care or care enough about others, and in this case the anger issue would be the absence of anger when it is actually appropriate, like being unconcerned when someone is hurt or unjustly treated.
Bad anger leads to sin and hardship, with a variety of negative consequences. Anger can lead to marital conflict, tension amongst family and friends, disruption in the workplace, depression, sickness, anxiety, grief, church splits, accidents, road rage, abuse, wars, and terrorism. Anger is therefore something to be taken seriously and worked on before it messes up your life.
Signs of anger issues
Anger appears on a spectrum according to its “temperature.” On either end of the spectrum is hot anger and cold anger. Hot anger is immediately apparent in violent actions or yelling, while cold anger can be expressed by a person’s silence or withdrawal. Both hot and cold anger can be extremely destructive; cold anger should not be ignored just because it is less obvious.
Here are some signs of anger issues that you may not have considered before:
Complaining Complaining is the expression of dissatisfaction with something. At the root of it is low-level anger against God and the circumstances he has given you. Complaining is effectively moaning to other people about God, rather than taking your hardships to God in prayer.
Irritability is anger that’s easily aroused. It doesn’t take much to annoy you, and you lack patience with others, things, and circumstances.
Bitterness and resentment
You are bitter if you recycle old hurts, hold grudges, and keep a mental record of grievances against others. You can’t seem to fully forgive or get over how you’ve been wronged, no matter how much time passes.
You’ve withdrawn if you’ve disengaged or “checked out” of a relationship. Your responses are curt, minimal, or non-existent. You appear not to care about the other person’s feelings or well-being.
You’re passive-aggressive if your response to a perceived wrong is to cease to cooperate, stall, or take other (sometimes secret) sabotaging actions. Making veiled comments intended to wound the other person is also a common feature of passive-aggressive behavior. Passive-aggressive actions are a covert way of exacting revenge.
You feel frustrated when you’re facing an obstacle that hinders progress towards some goal. The extent of your frustration depends on how important the goal is to you, the size of the obstacles, and the length of time you have been frustrated.
Self-righteous angerYou feel good and empowered by airing your grievances, which are in your mind justified. You often get results as others can feel intimidated by your arguing skills, seemingly faultless logic, or emphatic tone of voice, and capitulate to you. You’re not really interested in listening carefully and empathetically to another person’s view on the matter.
Disappointment, cynicism, disillusionment
Disappointment is the dissatisfaction you feel when your hopes are dashed, or your expectations go unmet. Cynicism is the old, cold anger that can result when you’ve repeatedly been disappointed by people or the world when reality has fallen short of your expectations.
You’re cynical if you are inclined to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. Disillusionment is a close cousin of cynicism, which is the disappointment you feel when you realize that a belief that you have held is false.
What should I do about signs of anger issues?
As we have seen, anger – in all its forms – can certainly create problems. Even so, the goal is not to eliminate anger. The Christian goal is rather to have the right kind of anger, expressed in the right way. It’s a process of moving away from destructive anger to engaging in constructive anger. It’s a way of cleaning up your anger to produce good, not evil.
It would therefore be wise to think carefully through the signs of anger issues in your life and seek the help of a trusted and mature Christian friend, pastor, or Christian counselor, with whom you can speak deeply. Together you will talk through questions to unravel your anger, such as:
- When does your anger occur?
- What are you wanting, that you are not getting?
- Why does it matter so much to you?
- How are you responding to the pressures you face?
- What are you living for, in reality, and not just in theory?
- What parts of scripture are especially relevant to your situation?
- How does God call you to respond?
- How could your life change if you were to respond in a godly way?
God’s abundant mercy and grace in Christ offers you hope as you repent of sinful anger, re-align your anger with God’s, and embrace constructive responses to difficult life situations.
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