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Overcoming Emotions That Destroy: Practical Help for Those Angry Feelings That Ruin Relationships
by Chip Ingram
Learn More | Meet Chip Ingram
Hope for Our Anger
If you let anger get the best of you, it will reveal theworst of you.
Her voice was trembling. From the moment she came onthe air, I knew this was no ordinary call, and I wouldsoon learn it was no ordinary story. I adjusted my earphones inthe studio to get a clearer signal.
Between sobs of remorse and tears of joy, this young motherrevealed a cycle of angry outbursts and physical abuse that hadleft her children recoiling and her overwhelmed with guilt andshame. But unlike the numbing headlines of todayâ€™s newspaperor the bizarre tales of talk radio, this womanâ€™s story had a happyending. She was calling to say thank you. She had learned tobring her anger under control; she wasnâ€™t yelling at her childrenanymore, and the physical abuse had stopped.
Her gratitude was in response to a series of messages titledâ€œOvercoming Emotions That Destroy.â€ Her voice quickenedwith excitement as she shared key insights that God had usedto transform her and her family.
As I drove home later that afternoon, it dawned on me justhow pervasive this problem of anger is, along with all its accompanyingemotions, such as guilt, shame, and frustration. I hadnâ€™tgiven it much thought until then, but as I crawled along on thecrowded expressway, I distinctly remembered a conversation Iâ€™dhad after teaching the same material earlier in the year.
A well-dressed, distinguished man with a deep tan, whitehair, and gold watch was sitting with his attractive wife inchurch one Sunday. At the close of the service, he grabbed myelbow as I was leaving the auditorium. He directed me throughthe crowded room to a semiprivate nook and then broke intoone of the biggest grins Iâ€™ve ever seen. I recognized his faceas a regular at our church, but I didnâ€™t know him personally.
Leaning toward my left ear, he said, â€œI canâ€™t tell you how muchthis teaching series is helping me. Iâ€™m an exploder. Iâ€™ve vomitedmy anger on everyone around me for twenty-five years. Iâ€™vewrecked relationships, almost ruined my marriage, and hatedmyself in the process. Iâ€™ve tried everything and had all butgiven up. But last week when you said that anger is a secondaryemotion and that itâ€™s a symptom, not the real problem,the lights came on! It was one of the most amazing insightsof my entire life.â€
As I strained to hear this manâ€™s story over the noise of theroom, I couldnâ€™t help but see his wife taking notice of our conversation.
With my ear tilted to hear him more clearly and myeyes looking back toward his wife, I caught a quick smile fromher that seemed to say, â€œI never dreamed heâ€™d change, let alonethat heâ€™d be talking with you about something that has been socarefully hidden from the public for so many years.â€
Reflecting further, my mind began an informal inventory ofletters, incidents, and private conversations Iâ€™ve had since thisâ€œOvercoming Emotions That Destroyâ€ series was presented atour church and on the radio.
I recalled a letter from a middle-aged woman that aboutknocked me off my feet. She was not the kind of person youâ€™dexpect to have significant, unresolved issues swirling in hersoul for years. But after describing some deep disappointmentswith her husband and extended family, she revealed a long,dark struggle with depression. Counseling and medication hadhelped her cope, but she was never far from feeling worthlessand discouraged. She had experienced a breakthrough, however,as she listened to the teaching tapes related to anger.
Eventhough she had heard that 90 percent of depression could berelated to unresolved anger, she assumed that didnâ€™t apply toher. She was, in fact, very quiet and compliant and had neveryelled or exploded at anyone. Anger certainly was not a problemarea for herâ€”or so she thought. What she learned throughthe series, however, was that she was a â€œStuffer.â€ She had beentaught that anger was wrong and had learned to â€œbottle itup,â€ to shove it down deep inside.
She thought that stuffingher anger was a godly and proper response. Her letter wenton to detail a journey of uncovering piles of unresolved angerand learning to process and express that anger appropriately.To her amazement and joy, she now had freedom from herlifelong depression.
Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting together in my mind,these responses were helping me begin to understand howour failure to understand anger wreaks havoc in our lives. Iknew it was a hot issue when I first taught the series, but theseresponsesâ€”both in their variety and sheer numberâ€”causedme to rethink the importance of this subject. As a result, Idecided about two years after first teaching it to revise thematerial and teach it again at our church. This overwhelminglyconfirmed what I had learned in the past, but now withgreater trust and deeper relationships, the feedback was evenmore honest.
A close friend approached me at about the midpoint of thisteaching series and, rolling his eyes, said, â€œWow, do I have somework to do!â€â€œWhat do you mean?â€ I asked.
â€œWell, I learned today that Iâ€™m a â€˜Leaker.â€™ It hit me why Iâ€™m sofrustrated with the sexual dimension of our marriage. My wifedoes things that bug me, but rather than openly and honestly tellher what they are and how I feel, I unconsciously record them,put them on a mental scorecard, and then â€˜leakâ€™ my anger towardher on â€˜safer playing fields.â€™ Chip, you canâ€™t believe how sarcasticIâ€™ve become over the years and how I put her down and tease herabout stuff all the time. I manage to work the things that bug meinto the conversation, but I do it in a half-joking manner so that ifshe gets steamed, I can laugh it off and tell her I was only joking.
When you talked about leaking our anger and how anger puts abarrier in the intimate aspect of a relationship, it was like someonecrawled inside my head and allowed me to see the real issue.â€
So how about you? Did your heart resonate with one of thepeople I just described? Could you or someone you love have ananger problem thatâ€™s resulting in emotions that destroy relationships,produce guilt, and rob you of joy? If so, do you realizethereâ€™s hope? Did you know that just as these real people foundreal help, you donâ€™t have to be a slave to anger or any relatedemotions that destroy?
You may not have considered that angerissues go way beyond a bad temper or an occasional blowup;understanding what anger is, how it works, and how to deal withit positively could be the key to overcoming chronic depression,sexual frustration, and relational breakdowns. In fact, anger maynot have to be your enemy at all; it can be harnessed to help yougrow personally, relationally, and spiritually like youâ€™ve neverimagined. If all this sounds too good to be true, let me assureyou weâ€™re offering no magic pills or quick, simplistic solutions tocomplex problems.
We do, however, have a stream of testimoniesthat show how knowing the truth about anger can be liberating,both personally and in relationships with others.
The stories I have shared are but a tiny sampling of the responsesweâ€™ve received while teaching this material over the lastdecade. I tell them not because I have some extraordinary abilityto teach, but because millions of people are held hostage by theiranger and donâ€™t know how to deal with it. In many cases, theydonâ€™t even realize theyâ€™re held hostage.
This book has grown out of our heartsâ€™ desire to see God helpothers. The greatest teacher in the world said, â€œYou will knowthe truth, and the truth will set you freeâ€ ( John 8:32). This bookis designed to get at the truth about our anger so that you andthose you love can be set free.Have you ever . . . ?
- Have you ever done something you wished you hadnâ€™twhen you were angry?
- Have you ever said something when you were angry youwish you could take back?
- Have you ever made a bad decision when you were angry?
- Have you ever ruined a friendship, a marriage, a familyrelationship, a ministry relationship, or a business relationshipbecause of anger?
- Have you ever seen a person hurt because of someoneâ€™sangerâ€”physically, emotionally, or psychologically?
Itâ€™s amazing what we do when weâ€™re angry. We may blow up inhaste at a boss: â€œIâ€™m tired of being treated this way! You can takethis job and shove it. Iâ€™m out of here!â€ Then a little later on thephone: â€œUh, honey, I lost my job. Yeah, I know we have a lot ofbills. No, my boss really doesnâ€™t want to talk about it anymore.â€Or we may shut down in silence: â€œHoney, whatâ€™s wrong?Please tell me. Please talk to me. Did I do something wrong?Whatâ€™s eating at you?â€
Or we may gossip and get back indirectly: â€œDid you hearwhat she did? Can you believe it? I wouldnâ€™t want to judge,but I think what she did was ungodly and foolish. I wouldnâ€™tshare this if I wasnâ€™t concerned. Of course, Iâ€™m not affectedpersonally.â€
We make a lot of bad decisions when weâ€™re angry. When weget out a sword of anger, we cut peopleby shutting them out or by knockingthem over. Many of the scars we inflict,whether directly or indirectly, are not easilyhealed.
Solomon, an ancient king known for his wisdom, wrote manysayings. â€œA hot-tempered person commits many sinsâ€ (Prov.29:22 TNIV), he warned. When angry, we are more apt to dosomething wrong. We often have wrong reactions and do dumbdeeds. We say things that shouldnâ€™t be said, we lash out and hurtpeople, we do things we abhor, we build up fortresses to keepothers out, or we project our anger onto undeserving souls. Wegenerally react in ways that intensify rather than relieve ouranger. We end up inviting either self-hatred and shame (internalizedanger) or resentment and bitterness (externalized anger)into our hearts.Here is a list of common anger triggers:
- We feel categorized or stereotyped.
- We feel trapped.
- We feel unfairly treated.
- We feel blamed.
- We feel ignored, misunderstood, insignificant, belittled, orput down.
- We make a lot ofbad decisions whenweâ€™re angry.
- We feel entitled to something and donâ€™t get it. Our expectationsarenâ€™t met.
- We are given unsolicited advice. We feel that someone hastreated us in a condescending way.
- We are teased insensitively.
- We are criticized.
- Someone hasnâ€™t respected our limits.
- We are given ultimatums or threats.
- We are kicked, pushed, slapped, or hit.
- Our space or territory has been invaded.
- We donâ€™t feel safe.
- We feel self-pity.
- We donâ€™t admit our imperfections.
Have you been scared and scarred by the anger, rage, screaming,and abuse of other people? Are your memories full of anger-filledmoments? Itâ€™s painful to be on the receiving end of someoneâ€™semotional outburst.
Or have you found yourself more often on the giving end?
Do you need help controlling and containing your anger? Doyou need to confess, â€œWhen I get angry, I blow. Iâ€™ve hurt thosearound me, those I love. Iâ€™m out of control! Help!â€?
Do you stuff your anger and pretend you donâ€™t have a problembecause you keep it from showing? Have you held your feelingsin for years, developing ulcers, headaches, intestinal problems,and other kinds of physical ailments?
Do you assume blame when you or others get mad? â€œWheneverI feel angry or anyone is angry with me,â€ a woman shared, â€œIassume itâ€™s my fault. I try to figure out what I did wrong, what Idid to make the other person mad, or where I was at fault.â€ Doyou feel all anger is your fault?
Do you automatically blame others? When youâ€™re mad orsomeone is mad at you, do you assume, without question, thatthe other person is to blame? Do you tend to point your fingerat external things (other people, places, and things) rather thanlook for internal reasons (your own ego, pride, hurt, or selfishness)for your anger?
Do you find yourself avoiding people when youâ€™re mad? Doyou seek ways to get back indirectly?
Whether we blame ourselves or others, whether we expressor repress, whether we avoid or attack, anger still exists. Itdoesnâ€™t go away. It just comes out in different ways. A clientshared that even though heâ€™s generally good at controllinghis anger, keeping it bottled up, â€œEvery once in a while I blowup. And when I do, itâ€™s pretty badâ€”asif Iâ€™ve saved it [the anger] up for a longtime.â€
This book is for everyone. It is for thosewho: (1) feel a need to deal with theiranger; (2) need help communicating anger effectively; (3) wantto move on and let go of the past; (4) find a string of broken,bleeding relationships due to their angry outbursts; (5) feel isolatedand/or lonely because of their anger; (6) are unhappy; and(7) feel out of control.Whom Can You Trust?
We hope by now your heart is stirred, your ears are perked, andsomewhere in your skeptical heart you are saying, â€œIt soundsgood, but where does this advice come from? Who are ChipIngram and Becca Johnson, and why should I trust what theyhave to say?â€It doesnâ€™t go away.
It just comes outin different ways.
In a world full of self-help, â€œpromise people anythingâ€ to sella book atmosphere, we think thatâ€™s a valid question that deservesan honest answer. Chip is the teaching pastor of Living on theEdge radio ministry, former president of Walk Thru the Bible,and former senior pastor at Santa Cruz Bible Church. He hasdone graduate work in education, psychology, and theologyand has a passion to help people take the truth and put it intopractice in ways that impact their whole lives and relationships.He is married and has four grown children.
Dr. Johnson is a licensed psychologist and author of bookson guilt and child abuse. She is a wife, mother of four andâ€œmissionary-at-large,â€ providing counselor training around theworld. Her lifeâ€™s work is to encourage people to work throughpainful experiences and emotions in order to more fully enjoyGodâ€™s love. Her desire is to help the hurting heal with Godâ€™shope. She brings a wealth of invaluable insight, education andexperience.
Above all, we are both â€œfellow strugglersâ€ in this arena ofanger. We have both been unfairly treated, had plans thwarted,been let down, felt rejected, and been wrongfully accused. Wehave also yelled; made big mistakes; been prideful, self-centered,and self-righteous; and been rightfully accused. We have criedand lamented, whined and pouted. We struggle with anger inour relationships with our spouses, our children, family, friends,and colleagues. We both have more firsthand experience withanger than we care to admit. We know anger from the receivingas well as the giving end.
This book is simple, but not simplistic. It is practical, but notjust a list of self-help tools to merely manage your anger. It istheologically rooted and biblically accurate, but not preachy orreligiously trite. It is psychologically sound, but not filled withpsychological jargon. Our goal is to help you! As stated before,we promise no magic formulas, no easy shortcuts, and no softanswers for hard questions. But we do promise clear, practical,accurate information that, if applied faithfully, will teach youhow to stop wasting your anger and start harnessing it as oneof the most powerful change agents and motivational factorsin your life.This book seeks to help answer these questions:
- When is my anger valid?
- When is my anger destructive either to me or to others?
- How do I express anger?
- What does God say about anger?
- What does God recommend regarding anger?
- When should/shouldnâ€™t I get angry?
Itâ€™s okay to skip around this book, reading the parts mostapplicable to your needs. Weâ€™ve purposefully tried to makeshort, easy-to-read chapters that you can complete in aboutfive to ten minutes each. We have also included lots of chartsand information for quick summary and reference. Our hopeand prayer is that you will attempt to learn, apply, change, and/or get help.In this book, we also hope you will be able to:
- identify the unhealthy ways you respond to anger;
- uncover the feelings underneath your anger;
- choose God-given, emotionally healthy ways to deal withanger;
- incorporate practical suggestions and exercises in dealingwith anger into your life;
- deepen your understanding of God and his purpose foranger; and
- rejoice in Godâ€™s anger-abatement plan.
When we learn to effectively experience and deal with ouranger, we find that our relationships are healthier, our work isless stressful, and our lives are more enjoyable. We have fewerdiseases and physical complaints, and we have less need tocontrol, avoid, or defend ourselves in relationships. Insteadof taking our anger out negatively on ourselves or on thosearound us, we learn to direct it in ways that are helpful ratherthan harmful. Rather than blame ourselves, God, our parents,the boss, coworkers, our spouses, our children, or friends, wecan learn to constructively identify the source and nature ofour feelings.
Anger has great power for both good and bad and shouldbe dealt with in ways that are constructive rather than destructive.
We need to face our anger and force ourselves todeal with it. As we confront our anger, we develop clearerboundaries in our relationships; we experience open, honestcommunication; and we are better in tune with our ownneeds and desires.The Bottom Line
Anger is a pervasive problem, but thereâ€™s hope in learning howto deal with it.Questions to Consider1. Do you or someone you know have a problem withanger?
2. What have you/they done about it?
3. What has worked or been helpful in bringing about positivechange? What hasnâ€™t worked?
Action Steps to Take
- Think about a time when you got angry, and identify asspecifically as you can how you should have respondeddifferently.
- Ask someone you trust to tell you about a time when theysaw you get angry. Ask them to tell you how they thinkyou express anger and when you are most likely to becomeangry.
- On an index card, write a few statements regarding whatyou hope to learn from this book. Then sign the card andput it in a conspicuous place where you will see it often.
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