1. We can control the amount of anger by how we perceive the situation. You may follow these steps on the chart on the right. Anger is energy to resolve a problem. It is also a secondary emotion. Since anger is an emotion, it is controlled by how we choose to look at a situation. The amount of anger we create is significantly different when we look at a circumstance or problem as unintentional or an accident, or if we believe it was intentionally done. We can either say “they have a problem and I will pray for them,” or we can blame ourselves. We can either perceive it as a small problem or a catastrophe.
2. The first step in anger management is to realize that we are angry. We need to identify feelings, physical symptoms, self-talk, and actions that signal that we are angry. It is impossible to deal with something we do not realize is happening. Since anger is a secondary emotion, it is created only when we are also experiencing more primary emotions like hurt, betrayal, powerlessness, or worthlessness. Numerous physical signs like increased heart beat, tension, sweating, flushed face, and agitation are clear signs of anger (and sometimes fear). We tend to talk faster, pace, and ruminate in our minds when we are afraid or angry. In any case, the counselor may need to assist the client to learn how he can most effectively identify his anger as soon as possible.
3. We need to take a “anger break” in order to have time to control our anger. Unless we do, we will probably react instead of respond in a correct, reasonable way. I tend to avoid the term “time out” because it can be interpreted as punishment for a child. However, I suggest a specific plan for use by my clients. It has three steps.
a. When a client feels that they or anyone else is becoming angry, they are to state that they need to take a “anger break.” They and any other persons involved are to suspend the discussion for thirty minutes so that all involved have time to de-anger, think about the problem, and let the tension between them subside. If they are at home they should go to separate rooms and return after the break. It is important to specify the amount of time and that he will return to resolve the problem so that the other person does not perceive the break as abandonment.
b. If the other person refuses to take the break, the person calling for the strife break has the right to retire to the nearest bathroom and lock the door so that he or she can take the required break. The thirty minutes does not start until the pursuing person quits talking. I even suggest, if necessary, that they stash ear plugs and a good magazine in the bathroom for such occasions. A variant of this anger or strife break, suggested by an associate pastor I know, is to spend the time praying for the other person.
c. In extreme cases, if the other person refuses to take the break and might be so violent as to try to break through the bathroom door, that person has the right to leave the home and go to a public place from which they can call after the thirty minutes. If an anger problem still exists, they can hang up and continue to call back at thirty minute intervals until they are able to resolve the problem and return home. If not, the problem should be taken to counseling.
4. We need to de-anger or talk ourselves down from high levels of anger. We need the appropriate level of anger for effectively solving the problem. In our domestic violence therapy group, I give the illustration of a greased playground slide with ten steps. Each step relates to an increasing level of anger. After climbing the tenth step and getting on the greased slide, there is little chance of stopping a rapid descent and an angry crash. The steps for anger management include: 1. Identify the fact that you are angry. 2. Take a “time out” or “anger break” so that you have time to respond instead of react. 3. During the break, de-anger or talk yourself down to a reasonable level by rationally evaluating the situation and deciding what will be the most effective action to bring the desired result. This method of anger management is extremely effective in most situations.
5. We need to use our anger to resolve the situation, give it to God or drop it. These are the three acceptable uses of anger. Since anger is energy to resolve problems or injustices we should use it first for its primary purpose—to resolve the problem. In cases where we have done everything we can do, but are unable to resolve the problem, we should give our anger to God. In cases where the problem is insignificant and not worth the effort, we should drop it.
6. We should avoid the wrong uses of anger. In counseling, I use the illustration that anger is like a stick of dynamite. The size of the stick depends on how large we perceive the problem. Aggression is using our anger to attack or violate another’s rights, because they have violated ours. This is like having someone hand us a stick of lit dynamite and throwing it back at them. Displacement is when we take out our anger on someone who is not involved in the problem. This is like having someone hand us a lit stick of dynamite and throw it at somebody else. Depression is caused by turning anger inward. This is like someone handing us a lit stick of dynamite, and we stick it in our mouth and wait for it to explode. Passive-aggression is when we covertly get back at someone. It is like sneaking the lit stick of dynamite into the back pocket of the person who gave it to you. Finally, stuffing anger is internalizing it and not using it to resolve the problem for which it was intended. This is like thinking that we are putting out the fuse and sticking it into our pocket. In actuality, it is apt to go off an any time. If it does not, pretty soon we will have our pockets full of dynamite and when someone comes by with a match we will experience a tremendous explosion.
7. We should not take offenses personally. We need to resolve the problem, not the person. Unfortunately, many times we can get confused between what is the real problem to be resolved and the personal issues involved in the problem. A classic example is given in the movie “Godfather I.” In this film, the gangs of Chicago have a disagreement concerning whether they should be involved in selling illegal drugs. Instead of using their energy to resolve the problem and reach some agreement, they start shooting members of the other gangs. At a meeting after the other gang had shot the Godfather’s dad seven times, a member of the other gang states, “But don’t take it personally.” The Godfather responds by killing two of the other gang members. By the end of the movie, almost all of the gang leaders had been murdered yet they were no closer to resolving the question than before. They did not use their anger to resolve the problem, but personalized it, and ended up destroying each other. (The Godfather, directed by Francio Coppla, 1972) Unfortunately, many times we do the same. The Bible is clear in its condemnation of such a use of anger. We are not to compare ourselves with others, blame others, judge others, envy others, compete with others, or expect them to be the primary source to meet our needs. We are to love our enemies, pray for them, and do good to them as we trust God to vindicate us and provide for all our needs. Jesus even forgave the Roman soldiers who taunted Him, whipped Him, mocked Him, and crucified Him. The problem was not the Roman soldiers, it was sin in the Roman soldiers.