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Anger Management

We all have to deal with anger. Not dealing with anger biblically can easily destroy your Christian life and rob you of the more abundant life which God has promised to His children who obey Him. The Bible warns: “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. . . (Hebrews 12:14-15 NKJV).”

The Bible states: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the Devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26 NIV).” A “foothold” means that the Devil can create emotional distress and/or depression at times of his choosing. Some people also experience disturbing "hallucinations" and delusions as a result of unresolved anger. The angrier you are—and the longer you remain angry—the greater the power that the Devil has to hurt you.

If you are unsaved, it is suggested that you first get saved. You will likely need the power of the Holy Spirit to be successful in dealing with anger.

The Bible requires us to forgive others and tells us in no uncertain terms what will happen if we don’t. Consider this passage: “Then Peter came to Him (Jesus) and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven (An unlimited amount of times). Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents (A huge debt—equivalent to millions of dollars). But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (A much smaller debt: One denarius represented a typical laborer’s daily wage); and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses (Matthew 18:21-35 NKJV).”

I have been amazed, when I've taught Bible studies, how a surprising number of Christians fail to comprehend this simple parable! So I’ll mention the obvious: You must forgive everyone from your heart. If you don’t, you can expect torture: Anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive problems, skin rashes and an unlimited number of other ailments. This doesn’t mean that, if you have one of these, that you must have unforgiveness in your heart—there are other causes. However, unforgiveness is a likely possibility. Also, if you harbor resentment in your heart, it will likely make any medical condition you may have worse.

Forgiveness does not necessarily require that you socialize with the person who has wronged you. It also doesn’t mean that you have to discount the wrong that was done. It does not mean that you cannot file a police report so that others are not harmed. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t file a lawsuit to recover damages—if it’s done in the right spirit.

Forgiveness does require that you do not take pleasure in another person’s calamity (Proverbs 17:5). It does require that you give up thoughts and fantasies of experiencing pleasure or satisfaction as a result of another person suffering in some way (Psalm 37:7-8). It does require that you refrain from making negative judgements as to another person’s worth (Luke 6:37). And it does require that you do not try to get even out of spite (Romans 12:17-19).

Forgiveness is a decision that we make regardless of our feelings; it is an attitude that we adopt to preserve our mental health. Former President Richard Nixon put it this way: “Those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

Forgiveness is the starting point in dealing with anger. Until you first make a firm decision to forgive others from your heart, as God requires, you will never really make any progress.

Recognize that you can forgive, though sometimes you will need God's help and sometimes this will require repeated efforts over a period of time. In order to forgive, you must believe that you can forgive.

Your goal is for your forgiveness to be complete, not partial. Any level of forgiveness will help, but peace requires that you completely forgive the offender. And that your forgiveness is from your heart.

Whenever thoughts of an offender come up, bring the issue to God, in prayer, right away. This can be as simple as:

  • "Lord, I forgive him; the matter is closed."
  • "Lord, I choose to forgive her from my heart; the matter is closed."

These type of prayer statements are particularly effective. Prayer brings God's strength to the battle.

Here's some additional tips to help you deal with anger.

First, this passage: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these' (Mark 12:28-31 NIV)."

The Greek verb translated 'love' (agapeo) means to regard the welfare of, to prefer, to wish well. Scriptural love is a determination to do good to the other. Feelings certainly CAN be involved, but are not a prerequisite. Obedience to God is the prerequisite. If God commands it, he will also give us the resources to do it.

A close look at this Scripture, in the original Greek text, also indicates that we are to love others, as defined above, as a matter of principle, not as a matter of merit.

“Hatred stirs up dissention, but love covers over all wrongs (Proverbs 10:12 NIV).” The same word translated “covers” is also translated “overwhelms” in another Scripture. In other words, if you love others, you can avoid the negative emotions that come with unforgiveness.

Love and forgiveness are complementary attitudes. They are essential to successful anger management.

You cannot love God and hate others: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4:20-21 NASB)."

You are required to love God—even when things aren’t going well. The Bible says to ". . .give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)." When things are going badly, a conscious effort is necessary to adjust your attitude. Praise and thank God anyway. Otherwise, you will naturally be angry at God—even if you are not consciously aware of it—and Satan will have a foothold.

Second, consider this Scripture from the Old Testament: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:17-18 NKJV).”

Translation: You will need to confront others, from time to time—even in church. I remember one woman who adeptly responded to a ministry co-worker saying "You don't talk to me like that!" And, when the co-worker didn't immediately correct herself, she repeated her reproach saying something like "I don't care. You don't talk to me like that."

Sometimes, it is necessary to rebuke the offender forcefully. This especially applies to dealing with habitually hot-tempered family members.

There are several caveats in regard to that last Scripture. Consider the following Scripture and discussion.

"Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you (Proverbs 9:6-8 NIV).” Rebuking a mocker will only make you an enemy. Try something else.

Also, there are times when God wants us to respond to insults with blessing. Once, when I was walking, a half-crazy stranger said something insulting to me. I simply said "may God bless you" and kept walking.

A good question to ask yourself is how God might like you to respond. If you’re not sure how to deal with a situation, pray and seek wise counsel.

Third: “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe (Proverbs 29:25 NIV).” Expressing your feelings, standing up for yourself and confronting others, when appropriate, is essential to preserving your mental health.

A big obstacle to being assertive is the fact that we can bring childhood perspectives into adulthood. When you were a child, you were weak. This is no longer the case. Now, weakness is simply a false belief that you need to get rid of.

Fourth, consider this Scripture: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you (Luke 6:27 NKJV).” Sometimes, the appropriate response is to repay evil with kindness. If this doesn’t work, you can always try something else. Again, pray and seek wise counsel. Also, loving your enemies actually makes you stronger, since Satan loses the ability to torment you with distress and emotional pain. Thus, it is much easier for you to be assertive and take appropriate action.

Fifth, resolve conflicts whenever possible. One woman found herself being persecuted at work for no apparent reason. She was able to resolve the problem by asking her co-worker “What are your terms for peace?”

Also, take care of conflicts with others right away, if possible: It is much easier to deal with a situation right after it occurred rather than days later.

Sixth, expose the evil that is being done to you. This was modeled by Jesus after he had been struck in the face: “‘If I said something wrong’, Jesus replied, ‘testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me' (John 18:23 NIV)?” This can be useful when you’re facing persecution from someone emotionally stronger than you. For example, a wife might say to her abusive husband: “Why are you trying to make me feel bad.” Remember, everyone has a conscience.

Seventh, don’t pretend that you’re not angry. This is a general rule; I wouldn’t say there are no exceptions. The Bible says: “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool (Proverb 10:18 NKJV).” If someone is persecuting you, it is usually a big mistake to pretend that you are not angry—when you are. There is an emotional price to pay for both parties in a conflict situation. Pretending that you’re not angry—when you are—allows another person to persecute you without experiencing any adverse emotional consequences. This can go on forever. It also protects the offender from being corrected by his own conscience.

Eighth, if you have a bad temper, force yourself to go back and apologize each time you are emotionally abusive to another person—especially children. Do this each time; you will be surprised how fast your bad temper disappears! Practice being assertive—not aggressive—when you are angry at others. Deal with a bad temper immediately—do not wait to become less angry first.

Ninth, if someone has something against you, it is usually a good idea to try to resolve the issue—even if you did nothing wrong. You can always say something like "I'm sorry what I did upset you." An unresolved conflict can lead to problems which will later make you angry. That is why the Bible says: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)."

Tenth, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NIV)." Whenever you find yourself entertaining angry thoughts about someone who has wronged you, it is important that you confess your sin of unforgiveness to God right away.

To confess means to agree with God that what you have done is wrong. Unforgiveness is wrong because God says it is.

Confessions need to be made from your heart, with a genuine repentant attitude, or they will probably be ignored by God. So, if you have been harboring unforgiveness, you can say: "I confess that I have been a 'wicked servant' (Matthew 18:21-35); I ask forgiveness of my sin."

It is foolish to unnecessarily prolong your suffering by neglecting to authentically confess your sin of unforgiveness.

It is important to remember that God is our Heavenly Father and we are His sons. There really is a father-son (or father-daughter) relationship. God becomes very angry and punishes us when, having been forgiven for our wrongs, we fail to forgive others. As in dealing with any angry father, the best course of action to avoid further pain is to offer up a genuine apology and then do our best to correct our behavior.

Eleventh, the Bible says as follows: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (Ephesians 4:30-31 NIV).” Sometimes, Satan will get a strong foothold where he can throw you into emotional distress/depression after even briefly thinking about someone who has wronged you in the past. When such a foothold persists over a long period of time, this is often the result of traumatic abuse (e.g. Rape.) or as the result of prolonged emotional abuse. However, I remember one pastor who experienced the same thing—earlier in his life—as a result of becoming enraged after being cheated in a business deal!

It doesn’t make any difference what type of abuse you experienced; the effect is the same: It feels like you can’t forgive the person, you are overpowered when you try—you are very much in bondage. This can be an extremely painful experience. It feels hopeless. However, there is a way out.

Always start by bringing the issue to God in prayer. Pray, in faith, for God to remove the foothold. Believe your prayer has been answered. God promises to answer all our prayers when we pray in faith and our prayers are in accordance with His will. If God diminishes or eliminates the foohold, you are pretty much done. Otherwise, consider the following discussion.

If the person is still alive, consider writing the person a letter. Feelings follow actions, which is why this will work. This letter should be very brief! To be effective, this letter should be in strict conformity with these three rules: 1) It must encompass everything that may have offended you. 2) It must not imply that the other person is guilty of wrongdoing. 3) The letter must end, as though you are no longer angry, are now on acceptable terms and that the matter is now closed. Example: “I was upset by a number of things that you did and that you said in the past.” I forgive you for these things. I will apologize for my part in any problems we have had in the past. I’m writing this letter so that I can have more peace. I now consider the matter closed. Please do not respond to this letter. Best wishes . . .” There is no need to include a return address on the letter. If you do receive a letter in response, have a counselor or friend read it first; if it is a nasty letter, have this person destroy the letter and not reveal the contents of the letter to you. Otherwise, you will be re-injured and the process may have to be repeated.

This letter will usually get rid of at least 80% of the anger. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and you may have to forgive repeatedly, each time the issue comes up, to dissolve the remaining foothold and eliminate the remaining pain.

If the person who upset you is someone you come in contact with regularly, you probably should have a conversation in person. Discussing any emotionally-charged issue in person—rather than over the telephone—prevents unnecessary misunderstanding. It is still not necessary to itemize every offense, you can just say that a number of things that the other person said and did in the past were upsetting to you. And that the purpose of the conversation is to enable you to have more peace. The person does not need to know how badly you were affected. Nor does he have to agree with you that he has done something wrong. Just make sure you end the conversation, to the best of your ability, on good terms. If, for example, you get a negative response, end the conversation with something like this: "I'll apologize for my part in the problems we've had; have a good day."

Whenever you are angry with another person and decide to discuss the issue with him/her, remember the two sentence rule. To discharge the anger, you must say at least two distinct sentences, each with no qualifiers. Correct example: "It ticked me off when you told the boss I didn't do my share of the work. I didn't like that at all." Incorrect example: "It ticked me off when you told the boss I didn't do my share of the work. I didn't like that, but anyway what are you going to do about that file."

Talking to another person about past wrongs is not appropriate in every situation. Pray and seek wise counsel before proceeding.

In family and other intimate relationships, it is appropriate and helpful to share more information and express more feelings.

One word of caution regarding talking to parents about their failings while you were growing up: You can create a huge amount of unnecessary pain—and mutual discomfort—by telling them all the things they did wrong and how angry you now are. Don't do this.

The only reason you would talk to a parent about past wrongs is to enable you break free of an anger foothold that you can't break free of any other way. If you do decide to talk to a parent, you can just say that a number of things they said and did in the past upset you and that you needed to express that in order for you to have more peace and move on with your life. You don't need to say more than that.Tactfully avoid getting into an argument and, as a general rule, getting too specific. If there are a lot of offenses, you can say that you've been told that it's not a good idea to get into specifics.

Talking to parents about past wrongs is not always a good idea. Get wise counsel before proceeding.

If the person who has wronged you is now dead or unavailable, you, of course, cannot communicate with that person. But you can still forgive.

There are two techniques that you can try to help you resolve the unforgiveness.

The first technique that sometimes helps is to write a letter anyway. In this letter—that will later be destroyed—express your feelings to the person who you are angry at. The letter can be as long as you like. And you can write whatever comes to mind. End the letter by saying that you forgive the person.

The second technique is known as the "empty chair technique." You basically have the same conversation as though the person were present, visualizing the person sitting in the "empty chair." Again, you express your feelings. You don't need to censor your remarks. You end by telling the person that you forgive him/her.

These are techniques that you can also try first if you prefer not to communicate with a living person who has wronged you. If they work, you don't need to communicate with the individual. There is a mystery here that I don't understand: For some people, these techniques work wonders. For others, they do no good whatsoever.

Twelfth, false beliefs. One thing to consider, if you are having difficulty with forgiveness, is your belief system in regard to this issue. If you believe you can’t forgive, you can’t. The Bible says you can. If you believe that forgiveness means that you have to discount the wrong that was done to you, you may find it impossible to forgive due to your false belief. If you believe that forgiveness requires that you again become friends with the person who has wronged you—and you don’t want to—you may likewise find it impossible to forgive. If you believe that every minor transgression must always be talked about—another false belief—then you will be unable to forgive until you do! Always beware of false beliefs.

Thirteenth, pray for those who have wronged you. The Bible says: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44 NIV)." Praying for offenders will help you forgive and make it possible for you to maintain an attitude of forgiveness. Sometimes this is the only thing that will work. Pray for the person briefly whenever the person comes up in your thinking. Then think about something else. Don't dwell on the offense or the offender or you will make things worse.

Fourteenth, never allow yourself to make a negative judgement as to the worth of another person. The Bible states: "Do not judge so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1 NASB)." In other words, you will be punished it you do. Judging others makes it impossible to forgive! And you will also be angry at God, whether you realize it or not.

Fifteenth, just walk away. Or hang up the phone. If someone is yelling at you, this is probably the most appropriate response. Deal with the issue later. Make it clear that this will be your response to yelling from now on.

Sixteenth, to paraphrase an old adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure." Once anger has built up over a number of years, reducing it can be a slow and difficult process—though it can be done. Do everything you can to prevent anger from building up—or getting worse—in the first place. Get into the habit of standing up for yourself and expressing displeasure of others, as appropriate.

Seventeenth, consider these two Scriptures.

"Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (Psalm 55:22 NASB)."

"Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens (Psalm 68:19 NIV)."

One key element of successful anger management is often overlooked: Allowing God to carry your emotional butden of anger.

Get into the habit of giving God your anger. Every time you're struggling with something. If he wants you to do something, be open to this. Otherwise, simply allow God to carry your emotional burden.

You will be surprised how much this helps

Eighteenth, remember that the purpose of forgiveness etc. is to enable you to stop thinking about all offenses. Your goal is always to stop thinking about all past offenses. Consider this Scripture: "No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead . . . (Philippians 3:13 Living Bible)."

Nineteenth: Once you've done everything you can to forgive, there still may be some foothold there that simply will not go away. Pray, in faith, for God to remove this remaining foothold without doubting. The result of such a prayer can be amazing and powerful—and you may find instant relief.

However, there may still be a residual—though diminished—foothold that you will have to deal with. To deal with this, just use one or more of the strategies that have already been mentioned in this article.

If God diminishes the foothold, there may be no reason to discuss the issue with the offender. More information is included in my article on How to Forgive.

Twentieth: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31 NKJV)." If you grew up with a critical authority figure, it comes naturally to internalize this same attitude toward yourself; that is, to become self-critical. And self-condemning thoughts tend to come with every mistake—and along with those thoughts, emotional distress.There are two ways to effectively deal with this.

First: Love yourself. You have the power to do this. It's something you can do. You may be surprised how well this works.

Second: Self-condemning thoughts can also be viewed within the context of spiritual warfare. You can resist the Devil just like Jesus did by reciting Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). For example, if you find yourself cursing yourself, you can recite Scriptures like "I am a child of God (John 1:12)" or "I am the the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)."

Twenty-first: You must believe that, despite your experience, that victory over excessive anger is possible and will eventually occur. Consider these two Scriptures:

"For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it (Hebrews 4:2 NKJV)."

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)."

If you don't believe what the Bible says is true, your success will be limited.

Twenty-second: Utilize appropriate authority. This may mean contacting your boss, your boss' boss, the police etc. If you are unable to resolve a problem, consider making a complaint to those in authority.

Finally, you may have a situation where you are unable to resolve a conflict: Someone’s behavior is in the process of destroying you emotionally and/or poses a physical threat. And they won’t stop. In such cases, consider the following Scripture as a last resort: “Plans are established by counsel; By wise counsel wage war (Proverbs 20:18 NKJV).” You may need to do whatever is reasonably necessary to protect yourself. Just one caveat: No matter what you do, don’t hate the other person in your heart. That, and that alone, will destroy you.

Note: It is recommended that you also read my article on How to Forgive and the series on Getting Rid of Anger.

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