Until last year, I thought this was the worst story of poorly managed anger. I was telling the story to a class and one student eagerly raised his hand when I finished. “I have a more unbelievable story. It’s true, too. In my hometown two men got into an argument over the interpretation of a particular Bible verse. Neither was willing to relinquish his position. The two men became enraged. Finally one man pulled a pistol and shot the other man dead.”
Unbelievable. I wonder what Bible verse they were the arguing about. Probably, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Hardly a day passes without an acute awareness of the destructiveness of anger. The thoughtless words, the quick response, a sharp tongue where emotional wounds are inflicted that may take days, months or even years to heal.
Such outbursts are not to be taken lightly. We fling words in anger and, when words are flung, they have a way of finding a perhaps unintended but wide-open target. After all, if we are spraying the whole landscape with gunshot, the odds are that we will score a hit somewhere.
Anger is often accompanied with menace and accusation. Our voices rise. Our eyes blaze. Our bodies stiffen. Our fingers point. Our feet stamp. Our words are hurried.
In rage, often we are trying to make an enemy, even when there is none, and the sad thing is that we may succeed. Whoever said that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” must have been deaf. Careless words can do untold damage.
Because anger is often handled destructively, many of us find it very difficult to manage this emotion. Basically, there are three different ways we inappropriately express our anger.
One, we act out our anger. This may mean verbal abuse such as yelling, screaming, crying or physical aggression when we hit something or someone. Acting out anger, either physically or emotionally, can inflict wounds that take years to heal.
Two, we attempt to stuff our anger away. Stuffing means pretending our anger isn’t there, like the guy who sits on a couch watching a basketball game, arms crossed, incensed with his wife, but willing to admit nothing. Stuffing away anger is like putting a pressure cooker on the hot eye of a stove with the valve closed. For the longest time it looks like nothing is happening. But inside that pressure cooker, steam is beginning to build. Gradually, the pressure from the steam becomes so great that an explosion must come. This explosion often finds expression as either a physical or emotional breakdown.
Three, we blame. The blamer believes everything is always someone else’s fault. “You” is his favorite word.
There is a constructive and healthy way for us to express our anger. We can take responsibility for our anger. This means acknowledging that we are angry and communicating why we are angry.
There is no need for yelling, stuffing, or blaming. We express our anger with an honest desire to solve the problem, rather than win an argument.