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Anger is a complicated topic. Last time, we discussed how there really are good purposes for anger. However, most of us are all too familiar with its destructive force. We see how it upsets our relationships, hurts us professionally, and keeps us from experiencing the joy and peace that we know the Holy Spirit provides for us. We see it, but…we also feel powerless to stop it. Why?
Chronic, Lifestyle Anger
I want to first establish that I am not talking about temporary, episodic displays of anger. Everyone, and I mean everyone gets angry at one time or another. Sometimes it’s completely justified. The anger that I am probing into is the kind that has become almost a lifestyle in that you can’t remember a time that it wasn’t close to you. It is chronic, always lying just below the surface. It gives you a constant, vaguely unsettled feeling that you just can’t seem to shake off. And when a stimulus presents itself, you are quick to brandish the steely white blade of your anger. It is deeper than just the present situation, and your response seems over the top. Where did this type of anger come from?
The Anger-Sadness Link
It’s probably not new information, but the experience of anger is actually often an indicator of a deeper, more vulnerable emotion. While researching, I came across this statement:
Anger is often a secondary emotion…Beneath the frustration and irritability is usually a vulnerable emotion, such as loneliness, sadness or fear. And it’s usually harder to access and express.1
I came across several articles that referenced this same idea. In my personal experience, as well, I find this to be true.
What are we feeling that continually prompts us to have an outburst (or implosion, as the case may be) of anger? I have heard it said that “depression is anger turned inwards.” In my own life, I can pinpoint a few specific things that have caused me some very deep grief.
Perfectionism and People-Pleasing
One of these is my chronic need to be perfect. I am recovering, thank goodness! But over the course of my life, I have experienced the effects of a debilitating perfectionism. In the past, it was always the voice in my head, berating me when I didn’t meet my own expectations or when I made a mistake. It was the pair of eyes, constantly looking around and gauging my success by the stats of others. It was the insecurity manifested by never fully sharing myself or my life with others because of the fear that I wouldn’t be liked or accepted. Ahh, so many things.
But what this perfectionism and self-criticism created was a deep sadness in me; I felt that at my core, I really wasn’t a good person. And what I wanted more than anything was to be a good person. So I constantly felt like a failure, unlikeable, unloveable. Consequently, this pervasive sadness kept me on edge. It was kind of like a horrible, self-fulfilling prophecy. I kept people at a distance and those that happened to be close to me, like my family, bore the brunt of my sensitive anger. I was really upset with myself, but it came out as anger toward everyone else.
All of this, of course, was taking place deep below the surface. Outwardly, I seemed like a high-achiever. Which, in some ways, I suppose that I was. But inside, there was so much turmoil.
Family Hurts & Situations We Can’t Change
There are two other situations in my young life that I feel had a hand in some grief settling inside me. Both had to do with major dysfunctions within my family. These situations were so wrong and upset me so terribly, but I was completely powerless to change them. With one of these in particular, I distinctly remember the feeling of a stone sinking deep inside me. My insides literally felt like they were hardening up; a deep sense of injustice rose up in me. It just wasn’t fair! It was wrong! It hurt me! And I was sad, so sad about it. But my sadness really felt like an endless river of molten lava. Anger.
I know that each of us has a unique life, but really, so much that we experience is shared and understood. I’m willing to bet that many of you could commiserate with me as you read some of the sources of the anger in my life.
Perhaps, you, too, have a desperate need to be perfect or to please others; undoubtedly, there are situations in your life that have hurt you and over which you had no control. These wells of deep sorrow can so easily manifest as anger. So, I know I’m not alone. And….neither are you!
Over the coming weeks, we will continue to probe this topic together. It might be a little painful! However, I am so confident in the Lord’s ability and willingness to turn all things to work for good! That’s why I’m on this journey. I know that He has a more abundant life for me – and for you – and controlling anger has no part of that.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…Ephesians 3:16