Recovery isn’t a substance abuse problem alone; it is a heart problem that brings alongside it many other behaviors and emotions. Among other emotional problems, people struggling with addiction carry a lot of anger. Anger, much like substance abuse, numbs the heart from having feel. But for whatever short-term benefits it provides, it will lead a person into full-blown bondage.
What is Anger?
Anger is a defensive emotion that arises when we feel we have been violated. Anger is an attempt to maintain what we have; to validate how we feel or to protect what we feel entitled to possess. We can also experience anger when our own sense of worth is threatened, our basic needs are not properly met or when we feel our beliefs are under attack. Anger is a secondary emotion—it is driven by a deeper emotion that masks the initial emotion. (Adapted from The Christian Codependence Workbook by Stephanie Tucker).
Anger manifests in a variety of ways:
• Through defensiveness, blaming and denying
• Through criticizing, fault-finding and shaming
• Through resentment and bitterness
• Through fighting, yelling and verbal attacks
• Through physical violence and abuse
• Through frustration and outbursts
• Through hate and malicious intents to destroy others
• Through inward repression and outward “good doing”
When we use anger, we are manifesting our own sense of power and control to overcome a problem. The Bible tells us that not all anger is sin (Eph 4:26). Initially, anger can be used to take a stand or come against something that we have a right to protect, including our own life and safety. This is justifiable anger, like the anger Jesus had towards Pharisees that were abusing God’s temple.
But anger that is allowed to control us and to grow in our hearts without a redemptive protocol eventually becomes dominant. It in essence swallows up all other emotions. Anger can bring us into dark and terrifying places. It can imprint an angry identity over our lives where we become back-biting, critical, hateful, ornery, hardened and potentially violent people.
While anger looks and feels stand-alone, it is not. It is driven by an initial emotion that oftentimes is hidden and buried deep behind the anger. Those raw emotions are what we try to avoid, but they are what need to be exposed.
Some of these raw emotions include:
These raw emotions aren’t wrong or sinful. They have a reason and God cares very much about what is happening in our internal world. Jesus can meet us in our pain – but when we are angry – we become unreachable. Left without solution, these emotions, alongside anger, will destroy us from the inside. Simply put, anger needs to be understood and managed or it can ruin our lives.
Anger is triggered whenever a current situation leaves us feeling threatened. That’s why it is a guardian emotion. It may stick its fists up in the air (sometime literally) and push a perceived “intruder” away. There are many ways anger will manifest in the moment of a trigger – including verbal and even physical abuse. But sometimes anger is passive aggressive. It seems outwardly friendly, but inwardly it is plotting revenge.
Bridget’s anger results in foul-language and accusations. When triggered, she feels an explosion of every built up issue she ever had with her husband. She uses anger to attack him with her tongue. Her anger is a weapon – but in truth, it is an expression of pain. Bridget isn’t really that mean and vicious woman that she projects; she is a scared little girl that has been offended by an insensitive comment that mimicked her abusive father. But her anger can be costly. One wrong move, and anger can erupt in violence and even worse. When angers isn’t managed, it can destroy our lives. It starts as innocent pain, but becomes a sinful stronghold.
Ted hides his anger and continues to comply in relationships where he feels offense. When he feels used or violated, he keeps track of every detail of that situation and inwardly condemns the responsible party. Outwardly, no one would know he’s angry; perhaps he’d never admit to anger either. But then his relationships are infected by resentment, and when he can, he develops a method to hurt or “pay back” the offender. It doesn’t matter if our anger seemingly doesn’t hurt others, it will hurt our own hearts and will ultimately cause disconnection in our relationships.
What to Do with Anger:
Anger doesn’t mean a person is terribly evil. While the behaviors can be extremely damaging, anger is an expression of needs and of pain. Thus, where anger exists, it means we need to process situations and events, and also work through relationship struggles. This is good news. This makes anger more like a smoke detector than simply a defective human being. Anger alerts us that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Usually there are resentments and offenses that took root and created an entire system of anger. God’s goal is to teach us to find the pain first, and deal with it in its raw form. This requires the ability to be vulnerable and to feel the pain, rather than immediately switch to anger.
The first step in aiding our lives from anger’s destructive influence is to recognize the reason it exists. If you identify with an anger problem, you really are identifying a pain problem. Instead of running from anger, feeling shame from it or pretending it isn’t there, listen to your anger. Write down, if at all possible, what goes through your head when you are angry. It may be hard to do in the moment, but you’ll be surprised by what you discover. Our anger will be directed towards another person initially, but if we listen closely, we’ll find that it is actually our own woundedness that is speaking.
If anger feels unmanageable, develop an anger management plan. This can be a safe place you go in your anger. You won’t want to in the moment – so planning ahead can help. You may want to have prepared reading, workshop music or bible scriptures that will aid you in identifying the triggering of anger. It is amazing how anger can break into the pain with God’s help. If you embrace the what you are feeling and ask God to help you in it, you’ll discover that He can address the pain.
When you are ready to face pain through God’s healing – He can bring transformation. But this requires we stop medicating our pain – both through anger and through any other drug or behavior that causes other emotions to shut down.
Releasing our anger isn’t about being weak or not being able to set boundaries. Just because you release anger, doesn’t mean you have to be defenseless. We use anger to empower ourselves wrongfully. As we allow God to administer healing, He also seeks to equip us with healthy weapons of defense. These are His ways of overcoming the pain and the problems we have people and with ourselves. God always has a better alternative and His ways will lead us into peace and joy!
New Life Spirit Recovery is a Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that believes that God is Healer and has a redemptive plan in our lives. You can’t even be too far from His grasp. Call today to learn how to overcome your anger issues. 866.543.3361.