The Gift of Healthy Anger
The Gift of Healthy Anger
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Gary Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D.
Don’t miss Dr. Oliver speaking at the AACC Fall CMHC Summit in Naperville IL, Nov. 3-5 2016! Click Here for More Information!
What do you think of when you hear the word anger? Whenever I ask for a word association to anger the responses are invariably 99% negative. Why do so many couples have a totally negative view of anger? Is all anger bad? Can this unwelcome and potentially destructive emotion be considered a gift rather than a time-bomb?
In over 35 years of doing marriage and family counseling I’ve found that while few couples come for marriage counseling just to deal with the emotion of anger in over 3/4ths of the cases one of the key components of a marriage-threatening issue is unhealthy anger. Why is unhealthy anger so powerful?
The surprising truth is that when a couple understands anger and learns how to express it in healthy ways, it can be an ally and actually lead to increased trust, greater intimacy and stronger relationships. As a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor I’ve spent thousands of hours with couples stuck in their effort to grow due in part to their unwillingness to learn how to deal with their anger. There are several reasons why it is important for us to understand the emotion of anger:
1. Anger Is A God-Given Emotion:
Everyone experiences some form of anger. Anger is the second most frequently mentioned emotion in the Bible and the majority of references to anger refer to God’s anger. While this God-given emotion was damaged and distorted by sin, we can learn how to express this emotion in ways consistent with what God has modeled for us.
2. Anger Is A Frequently Experienced Emotion:
The emotion of anger is experienced much more frequently than most people would like to admit. When we begrudge, disdain others or when we are annoyed, repulsed, irritated, frustrated, offended or cross we are probably experiencing some form of anger. Research tells us that most people experience the emotion of anger a minimum of 8-10 times a day.
3. Anger Is One Of The Most Powerful Emotions:
Healthy anger can provide tremendous energy to right wrongs and change things for the good. If we have been hurt or wronged it is easy for us to experience anger. The next step is that our human nature wants revenge. When we allow our anger to be in control it can easily distort our perspective, block our ability to love and thus limit our ability to see things clearly. There are significant benefits in allowing ourselves to experience and express anger appropriately. There are also potentially devastating consequences in allowing ourselves to be controlled by our anger.
4. Unhealthy Anger Has Tremendous Potential For Harm:
Not only is anger an uncomfortable emotional state, it is also a potentially dangerous one. Uncontrolled anger can lead to destructive actions such as emotional, verbal or even physical abuse and violence. Most of us have only learned unhealthy ways to deal with our anger. When we stuff, repress, suppress, deny or ignore it we become a walking Mt. St. Helens ready to explode. When we “let it all out” and dump on those around us we can weaken trust, destroy relationships and reputations, compromise integrity and devastate the relational landscape of our of life.
5. Healthy Anger Has Significant Potential For Good:
The stories of anger we usually hear about in the news are examples of when people have allowed their anger to get out-of-control and take charge. That’s why it’s so easy to forget that anger can have a healthy side. Anger is always a secondary emotion caused by a primary emotion such as hurt, frustration or fear. Healthy anger can serve a signal, an alarm or a warning sign that something is wrong, that a boundary is being violated, that we are in danger, that there has been an injustice.
The energy of anger, when wisely invested, can actually provide greater focus and intensity and lead to greater productivity. Martin Luther said: “When I am angry I can write, pray and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations are gone.”
For many Christians both the experience and expression of anger has become a habit. Habits can take some time to change. The good news is that with God’s help we can change, we can grow, we can be more than conquerors. As we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and apply the promises in God’s Word we can take the old unhealthy ways of reacting and develop new, healthy and biblically-consistent emotional responses.
God has given us that choice. We can allow ourselves to be controlled by our anger or we can, with God’s help, choose to invest that emotional energy and pursue “healthy” anger. Healthy anger involves identifying those primary emotions that are driving it. It involves open, honest and direct communication. It involves speaking the truth in love. It involves taking the time to listen and choosing to understand. It involves investing the energy God has given us to declare truth, to right wrongs, and to help ourselves and others “become conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29)
In Daniel 1:8 we are told that Daniel “purposed in his heart” not to defile himself with the kings meat. And he didn’t. We can purpose in our hearts not to allow our anger to control us but rather to put our anger as well as our other emotions under God’s control. Remember that anger is energy and with God’s help we can choose whether we are going to spend it or invest it. While we may have minimal control over when we experience anger, we have almost total control over how we choose to express that anger.
As we learn how to listen to the message of our anger and the anger of others, as we learn how to identify and respond to those secondary emotions of hurt, frustration and fear rather than react to the secondary emotion of anger, as we choose to harness and direct our anger-energy in healthy and positive ways, as we choose to communicate it in biblically-consistent ways . . . we will increase our emotional and relational intelligence (ERQ) and actually increase our ability to give and receive love as well as increase the trust and intimacy in our important relationships.
Like what you read? Come hear more from Dr. Gary Oliver as he joins us as a plenary speaker at the Fall 2016 Church and Mental Health Summit. This incredible event will be held at Calvary Church in Naperville, IL on November 3-5th, 2016. Come listen, learn, and fellowship with other professionals and experts. The Church and Mental Health 2016 Summit is one that you do not want to miss! Visit Visit www.cmhcsummit.com to learn more!
Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D., is a husband, father, university and seminary professor, psychologist, author, Executive Director of the Center for Healthy Relationships and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.Dr. Oliver has over 35 years experience in individual, premarital, marital and family counseling. For several years he worked as senior psychologist with a group of family practice physicians and for over 12 years he was the founding Clinical Director of a large non-profit church-affiliated counseling center in Littleton, Colorado. Gary works with church and parachurch ministries, community organizations, corporations, seminaries, Christian colleges and universities both nationally and internationally to strengthen relationships with a special focus on premarital preparation and marriage enrichment through teaching, training, speaking, writing books, popular and professional articles and consulting.