Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Rumblings of Anger

I've been thinking a lot about the emotion of anger lately. Maybe it is because my best friend asks me repeatedly why I am such an angry person.

The latest chapter I read in Hope, Help & Healing for Eating Disorders by Dr. Jantz was titled "The Price of Anger." This is where I am in my own healing journey.
Even before devoting an entire chapter to topic, Dr. Jantz makes the following comment about anger: "Anger is often the emotion of choice for parents in families in which eating disorders develop. Anger is expressed in a variety of forms as a response to the majority of life's situations. . . . Though the parent can and does express anger freely in this type of family situation, the child soon learns it is unsafe to express his or her own anger, for fear it will trigger an even greater outpouring of anger by the parent. So anger, hurt feelings, and frustration must be locked away inside, expressed only in private, furtive ways."

I learned a while back from my counselor that anger is a secondary emotion, which covers the emotion of hurt or pain. (The tertiary emotion, which comes after anger, is hatred.) However, if pain is to be covered up by anger, and if anger cannot be expressed, then the solution is to control the anger. This is done by numbing it out (along with every other emotion), and the numbing agent of choice for me was food (or abstinence from food). By controlling my food intake and my body, I was controlling my anger. And if I could control my anger, I never had to deal with the pain.

So if one thinks of an onion, the core is pain, the second layer is anger, and the third layer is a desire for numbness (which is related to hatred), and the fourth layer is an eating disorder. I am finally down to the second layer. I am feeling my feelings. Unfortunately, I find a lot of anger.

Thankfully, God is working on my anger. A lot of anger came up during my time in Living Waters. And the protective environment allowed me to get past the anger and allow the pain to come up. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

At the end of Dr. Jantz's chapter on anger, he included an anger questionnaire. I am going to share my answers for a few of the questions:
7. What pleasure do you get from anger?
Answer: Anger is power.
9. How do you use anger as a weapon against others?
Answer: Anger gives me the strength to lash out at others instead of allowing myself to be lashed out against.
16. Complete this sentence: I feel angry when others __________.
Answer: try to correct or change me.
17. Complete this sentence: I feel that my anger is _________.
Answer: protective.
18. Complete this sentence: When others express their anger, I feel _________.
Answer: threatened and scared.
19. Complete this sentence: I feel that the anger of others is ___________.
Answer: dangerous.

These responses betray the fact that I am still looking at anger from a childish perspective. The adult in me says: "Jaime, anger is only an emotion that you and others feel."

Dr. Jantz ended his chapter with this statement: "Anger is powerful, yes, but God is more powerful. He is able to handle your anger--it is safe with him." I honestly still have to sit with this statement. I still have to digest it.

Next, I read out of Ephesians. I found this specific statement on anger: "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity" (Eph. 4:26-27).

The statement on anger tells me a couple of things: 1) It is possible to be angry and yet not sin. Anger--once again--is an emotion. It has the potential to become sin when we allow our anger to control our thoughts and/or our actions. 2) We are encouraged to work out our anger as soon as possible. This is because anger is powerful. Anger is dangerous. Anger has the potential to lead to sin. Anger has the power to destroy (ie. work against unity). 3) Satan likes to take our anger and twist it. Therefore, the longer we let anger fester, the more opportunity Satan has. Remember I said that the tertiary emotion of pain/anger is hatred? Hatred is a callousness of the heart. Although God can hate things (read Proverbs), I am not sure it is possible for a human being to hate something without sinfulness being present. Hatred is almost always in the control of Satan rather than of God.
Ephesians 4:26-27 is surrounded by verses about transitioning from the old man to the new man, and about unity in the body of Christ. At the risk of oversimplifying God's Word, the argument could be made that the book of Ephesians is about the power of love.

I look back at Dr. Jantz's statement: "Anger is powerful, yes, but God is more powerful." God is love. The book of Ephesians tells me that love has the power to unify....anything.

One way of looking at this concept that helped me was comparing the emotion of anger to the sexuality of humanity. Sex is a gift from God--it is a powerful gift from God. And yet, because it is so powerful, it is what Satan loves to target for His own twisted purposes. So now we have a world where the battle between Light and Darkness is taking place in the sexuality of mankind. We have a world that has become desolated by perverted sexuality. A similar scenario is occurring with the emotion of anger. Anger is a gift from God in that He created it--intended mankind to experience it. Anger has its purpose: it points out where we have been wronged--where division has occurred--to that we can pursue reconciliation. Yet Satan knows that anger is powerful, so he looks out for it, and he seeks to take control of it when we feel it. We now have a world torn into disunity through anger.
And yet I must remember: "God is more powerful." God is more powerful than my anger. God is more powerful than Satan, who seeks to control my anger. God is more powerful. Period.

What does this mean for me? It means that I am free to feel anger. But it also means that I have the responsibility to submit my anger to God. This implies that 1) I cannot act out of my anger and use it as a weapon, 2) I cannot let my anger fester into hatred, and 3) I will have to work through my anger in order to feel the pain that is at its root.

Once more, what does this mean for me? What does this mean for you?

Next time you feel angry.... Don't try to escape the anger by suppressing it, ignoring it, or numbing it out. Feel your anger. But then think critically about it. Why are you angry? What or who caused your anger? Were you hurt in some way? If you were hurt (which most likely you were), then you must allow yourself to feel the pain. (It is important to note here, that it is probably wise to get alone--just yourself and God--while you are processing your anger and hurt. Or if you have a trusted, Godly, unbiased community, then you can get together with one or more of these individuals--only be sure that you are free to process.) Ask yourself questions. Why does this hurt? Is there some sort of void in my life? Do I feel wronged? Then next step after feeling pain, is submitting that pain to Christ as well. Once you give it to him, He can heal you or fill the void that has been exposed. Then--and only then--can you move toward forgiveness. I use the word "toward" intentionally--because full forgiveness may not be immediate, and it may be a more complex process than you first believed.

However, as always, you will have someone to travel the journey with you--our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So.....anger. The rumblings may be scary. But you and I have a God who is infinitely more powerful. And anger, whether it is our anger or the anger of another, is safe in His hands.

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