Chapter 1: Where is the anger coming from in my life?
Understanding where anger is coming from in our lives is helpful. There is usually a deep-rooted hurt that is beneath anger. In the case of the Veteran in my office, he shared traumatic events from his childhood and from his time in Iraq. When we experience a traumatic event, anger is a common feature of a survivor’s response to trauma because it is a core component of the survival response in humans. Anger helps people cope with life’s adversities by providing us with increased energy to persist in the face of obstacles.
In the lives of those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), uncontrolled anger can lead to a continued sense of being out of control and can create many problems. One theory on anger and trauma suggests that high levels of anger are related to a natural survival instinct. When initially confronted with extreme threat, anger is a normal response to terror. Anger can help a person survive by mobilizing all of his or her attention, thought, brain energy, and action toward survival.
Research at the National Center for PTSD has shown that responses to extreme threat can become “stuck” in people with PTSD. This leads to a survival mode response where the individual is more likely to react to situations with “full activation,” as if the circumstances were life-threatening. This automatic response of irritability and anger in individuals with PTSD can create serious problems in their interpersonal relationships.
With counsel from our PTSD clinic, the Veteran whose anger was out of control was able to see that he was stuck in a “full activation” stage of anger due to his childhood survival of his father’s physical abuse and his military survival from his time in Iraq. As the Veteran looked closely at his childhood, he learned that his father’s intolerance of simple mistakes had accentuated his own intolerance of his and his wife’s slightest short-comings. Things like burning the toast, spilling coffee, or being a few minutes late would set him off into a rage. As he stepped back into his military experience, he realized that his training emphasized how a minuscule deviation from the plan of action meant loss of life. Thus he saw how his wife not putting something away in its exact spot might put him into a crazed mania.
If you find yourself relating to the Veteran in this story, it is important that you reach out to a trained therapist for help. You may have been through horrific experiences as a child and have thought yourself in hell during your military service.
I assure you that God passionately cares for you, and deeply desires for you to be supported as you work through these horrific memories and better understand what is behind your raging anger.
Readings from the Old Testament / Hebrew Scriptures
A spirit of jealousy is often behind our anger.
After some time Cain brought some of his harvest and gave it as an offering to the LORD. Then Abel brought the first lamb born to one of his sheep, killed it, and gave the best parts of it as an offering.The LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. Cain became furious, and he scowled in anger. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it.”
Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out in the fields.” When they were out in the fields, Cain turned on his brother and killed him.
Be cautious of anger that leads to senseless violence.
They use their weapons to commit violence.
I will not join in their secret talks,
Nor will I take part in their meetings,
For they killed people in anger
And they crippled bulls for sport.
A curse be on their anger, because it is so fierce,
And on their fury, because it is so cruel.
Realize how a lack of trust in God can lead us to take matters into our own hands, with anger as fuel.
Be patient and wait for the LORD to act;
don’t be worried about those who prosper
or those who succeed in their evil plans.
Don’t give in to worry or anger;
it only leads to trouble.
Those who trust in the LORD will possess the land,
but the wicked will be driven out.
When we cannot control our anger, we are in a dangerous place.
If you cannot control your anger, you are as helpless as a city without walls, open to attack.
Readings from the New Testament
Addressing our angry feelings is important since God calls us to get rid of destructive anger.
You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed (for greed is a form of idolatry). Because of such things God’s anger will come upon those who do not obey him. At one time you yourselves used to live according to such desires, when your life was dominated by them.
But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself.
Our anger can keep us from being the people God desires us to be.
Remember this, my dear friends! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry. Human anger does not achieve God’s righteous purpose. So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.
Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like. But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice—you will be blessed by God in what you do.
Do any of you think you are religious? If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourself.
Thoughts for Reflection
- What type of situations cause you to feel extremely irritable? Write or share about these situations.
- What things, people, or events trigger your tension? Why do you think these particular things, people, or events infuriate you?
- What deep-rooted hurts might lie behind your angry outbreaks? Find a trained professional with whom you can discuss these memories.
- With paint or markers, draw what you believe your anger looks like in response to those things, people, or events which set off your anger. Share and discuss your drawings as you are able.
Dear God, at times in my life I am filled with such anger. Sometimes my own rage even scares me because it comes upon me with such surprising vengeance. I acknowledge that I need help with my anger issues.
It saddens me to think of how my anger has not only hurt me, but also those that I love. I am sorry for the way that I have allowed my anger to torture not only me, but also the people around me. Please forgive me for how my anger has wounded others.
I recognize that I need guidance on how to better understand what is behind my anger. Please help me to understand the underlying wounds in my own life, so I may address those issues in my life. My deep-rooted anger often causes me to act quite unloving. I thank you for loving me even when I act in an unloving manner.
In your loving name.