The Danger of Anger

[February 4, 2017]

Anger is an emotion that can carry us away so easily. Back when I was in (Episc) seminary, in the 1970s, pastoral theology students were taught that it was important for people to express their anger. Don’t repress it! Let it out! When counseling parishioners, that’s what they were trained to say.

Then a few years later, some revised wisdom appeared. It was that this was actually very bad advice. They had found that, when anger is expressed, it gets stronger. Getting angry makes people more angry. As disruptive an emotion as it is, it is also in some ways pleasurable, because it wipes out any feeling of responsibility for wrong. It wipes out repentance, and the subtle reminders of conscience.

Anger proposes that only one person is to blame in a situation, and it wasn’t you. Any more-subtle understanding of the circumstances is shouted down. Logically, there is no reason why another person’s wrongdoing means that you, yourself, did not also contribute to the wrong; but anger is the great simplifier. Anger is loud, and it gratifyingly obliterates everything more nuanced on the emotional landscape.

And it feels good. Like lust, it feels important and undeniable. It feels like it would be both wrong and impossible to restrain it. Something so strong, we think, ought to be expressed. And once you express it, the emotional thrill is addictive, and you want more and more.

This is why, I believe, there is so much in early Christian and Orthodox writings about anger. I think there are more cautions about anger than there are about sexual sin. So pay attention to your thoughts. Notice the signs that you are getting angry. Cry out to the Lord for help to turn away, to keep your mind under your own control, and to keep your eyes open to what is really happening in a situation rather than replaying the bad guy movie in your mind.

(There’s also evidence that the physical symptoms that rush upon us when angry, like increased adrenaline and raised blood pressure, take much longer to return to normal in women than they do in men. A good reason to go do something else for a while, rather than continuing to hash it out.)

Watch out for anger. Don’t let it get a foothold. It takes over your entire mind.

Frederica Matthewes-Green

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

4 comments:

  1. Not only do I 100% agree with this "revised wisdom", the article is really helpful. Well written, thanks for the reminder.

    Mark.
    Sydney, Australia

  2. Having been a student of anti-anger tapes and sermons for the better part of my adult life, I heartily concur and thank you for making the topic your aim. Not until I began grappling with the tenets of Celebrate Recovery (…hello, I'm Ellen, and I'm angry") was I able to actually see the pride, self absorption and folly in it. Not until the. "… taking this world as it is, and not as I would have it" became my Serenity Prayer mantra have I been able to more easily apologise to family and friends for it.

    Freedom Factor by Wilkerson has been enormously helpful of late as well.

  3. There is also the instruction in Ephesians 4:26 which reads "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger …" which implies that it is possible to be angry without sinning, but that the anger should not be nursed and held on to willfully for as long as possible.

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