Today I am talking about something that is 100% human.
Anger comes from a lot of places. What we see as anger is usually a picture colored by deeper emotional distress. Anger is on a continuum and can range from being slightly irritated when that jerk cuts you off to experiencing pure rage when you are victimized by some sort of social injustice. Trauma experiences big or small can play a huge role in how we feel. These events color the perception we have of the world around us and ourselves. When we are not able to get what we want or need from others emotionally or physically, we feel the distress.
The Iceberg Metaphor:
Ninety percent of an iceberg exists below the surface. We know when people are angry because of what we see. We hear voices escalate in tone and energy. We notice certain non-verbal cues. People get standoffish and guarded or they fight to regain some sense of control. Why wouldn’t they? When we are hurt, it seems foolish to stand around and let ourselves get hurt again. At first glance, we might think, “Well, they are awfully negative.” It can be so easy to be critical of others and of ourselves when we don’t know or think about the full context. What we see on the surface is only the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s dive a little deeper:
This is where it gets hard. Many of us don’t want to think about our emotions much, especially the tough ones. It feels so much safer to put up emotional walls, bury our feelings, and allow numbness to take over. This makes so much sense! What logical, reasonable person wants to deal with strong, painful feelings? The problem is when we push that stuff down, it builds up. I think of it like filling a garbage can. I have always been on the ambitious side, thinking my waste bin can hold a little more. I smash the garbage down with my feet. I jump up and down, hoping I don’t fall out of the garbage can, just to fit a little more in there. At some point, I have to face the music and realize that my garbage is overflowing, and I have to take out the trash. The result is my negative stuff making a mess of me emotionally and overflowing to every relationship in my life.
What Purpose Does My Anger Serve?
If someone asks this question, we are inclined to say something like, “Nothing. I know it is not good.” We say these things because we know that the societal expectation is to be strong, and negative emotions feel like weakness. Stop kidding yourself. Your anger serves a purpose, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It means you are a rational person that recognizes when your circumstances feel risky. Acknowledging hard feelings is terrifying because they are raw and vulnerable. We worry about what others might think about us if they knew the truth.
I know that in my life, anger has been a wall that I have hidden behind because I did not want to be honest about what I was actually feeling (embarrassment, shame, fear, sadness). Anger feels safer. If I am angry, maybe people will leave me the heck alone. Also, anger can feel powerful when we feel like we are losing control. Maybe your anger serves a deeper purpose as a placeholder in your heart when you are not ready to forgive.
Whatever purpose your anger serves, I encourage you to recognize that to be angry is to be human. Your experience is valid and your emotions around your circumstances make a lot of sense. At the same time, you don’t have to be a slave to the tyranny of your anger.
For me, I spend time in thoughtful prayer that God will change my heart when I can’t seem to shake my anger. I know that I can’t change what has happened to me. I also know that living with anger feels horrible. I have to come face to face with my own demons if I am going to find emotional peace.
If you are dealing with overwhelming anger,