I’ve been wondering about the value of anger. I’ve always said that all emotions are good—it’s what we do with them that matters.
However, in a recent discussion with a Christian therapist, he suggested to me that anger was not even really an emotion, but a defensive attitude.
“What do you mean?” I asked Brian, my colleague with a graduate degree in Counseling Psychology.
“Well,” he said in a slow, studied tone. “Think about it. Anger is usually a secondary emotion. We feel anger after we feel hurt, threatened or sad. Men usually jump to anger after they feel inadequate. Women often feel anger after they feel hurt or sad.”
“Very interesting,” I said. “So you’re saying that if anger is a legitimate emotion, it usually—maybe even always—comes after some other feeling? And, most people don’t recognize those other feelings or talk about them.”
“Exactly,” Brian said. “Consider what Scripture says about anger. ‘Be angry and sin not.’ ‘Be slow to anger.’”
“This kind of blows my notion that all emotions are good,” I said to Brian.
“Not if you consider that anger may be a secondary, as opposed to primary emotion,” he continued. “If anger really masks other, more vulnerable feelings, anger can still be beneficial in alerting us to problems.”
My discussion with Brian reminded me of the couple who had just completed their three-day, Marriage Intensive. Repeatedly the man and wife became angry with each other, and repeatedly we had to slow everything down, settling emotions before we could proceed. Anger, and specifically their flared tempers, were like a stick in the spoke of a bicycle tire. We could not proceed until each managed their anger.
Let’s consider what Scripture says about this challenging emotion, specifically what the Apostle James says:
Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires. —James 1:20
The wisdom of Solomon is this:
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. —Proverbs 29:11
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. —Proverbs 14: 29
I reflected upon the couple who were involved in the Marriage Intensive, and particularly the struggles each had in managing their anger. I watched as their anger caused them to say things they regretted, pushing them away from each other, when what they wanted was intimacy. In every situation, their expression of anger was a ‘connection collapser,’ causing their mate to retreat or react adversely. I noticed that in each situation, they had more vulnerable feelings beneath their anger.
So, is anger a basic emotion or is it a secondary emotion? Is there value to this emotion, or should we strive to discover the emotions hiding beneath this feeling? Consider these suggestions:
First, notice that self-control seems to be a key issue. While anger, or at least ‘righteous anger,’ seems to be a God-given emotion, controlling this emotion is critical. It is not, incidentally, only anger that must be managed. All emotion must be managed if we are to live a balanced life. Having a healthy conversation with others is marked by emotional self-control.
Second, patience is recommended. Not only must we exert self-control over our emotions, but we must be patient with others and ourselves as we examine our feelings. As we slow situations down, so we can really consider what is happening, we have greater control not only over our emotions, but our thought processes. We are able to make better decisions.
Third, with cooler emotions we are able to make better decisions. As we allow our emotions to settle, we can determine what exactly it is that we are feeling. We are able to reflect on what is bothering us and why we are troubled. We can choose how we want to respond.
Fourth, we must learn from our emotions. Emotions are signals that something is troubling us. We can learn much about ourselves by slowing things down, listening to our emotions and then choosing carefully what we want to say. Emotional reactions are often triggers for something needing healing within us, or perhaps something that needs changing in our relationship to the other person.
Finally, emotions are contagious. Since emotions are contagious, as we remain cool and collected, we invoke that in others. As we vent our anger in full force, we will either invoke full-force anger the other person, or cause them to withdraw. We actually have a powerful impact on how the other person interacts with us.
So, reflect on how you express anger. Are you self-controlled in expressing your anger? Do you tend to suppress your anger and withdraw into stony silence? Consider that emotions are hidden beneath your anger and share your feedback with me.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.