Angry All the Time

By Keith Miller | January 18, 2010

Keith, in a group sometime ago I heard you say something about anger, and it got me thinking about my situation.  I have a problem with being angry a lot.  About the only feeling my father ever expressed was anger—he thought that real men get angry; other emotions were for women and wimps.  We’ve become Christians and my wife is all over me trying to get me to express more love to our sons.  But that makes me angry too, and yet down inside I hated it when my father was angry with me and was afraid of him.  I really would like to quit feeling so angry, but it always seems like my anger is justified by things people do or say.  Any magic bullets?

Grapeleaves

No magic bullets, but it’s a great question.

Most of my life it was not okay with the people around me if I’d get angry.  So I pushed a lot of my anger out of sight and said, “No, I’m not mad,” even when I was seething inside.  But it was like pushing a beach ball under water.  The farther down I pushed it, the greater the explosion when it suddenly surfaced—often about something someone said or did that was far too insignificant for the anger explosion.

I got on a spiritual journey with a group of men in which we make an effort  to be honest with each other in order to grow spiritually.  One of my mentors in the group told me that he’d discovered that explosive anger was really the other side of a fear.  He suggested that I might ask myself “What am I afraid of?” when I get angry.

So the next time my wife gave me some suggestion that I interpreted as “being criticized” I started to get very angry.  But I remembered what my mentor had said and asked myself, “What are you afraid of losing Keith, or not getting, or feeling.”  And the answer to those questions was pretty clear.  I was afraid I’d look like a weakling to my wife (as my father appeared to me to be when my mother criticized him in front of his sons).  Other times I was angry because I was afraid my wife’s criticism was a veiled warning that she didn’t respect me as I am or might not want to make love to me.

In fact over a period of time I realized that most of my anger was because I was afraid what someone did or said that “made me angry” would make me lose something I didn’t want to do without, like respect, reputation, money or love—or the fear beneath my anger (at something someone did or said) was the fear that I wouldn’t get something I wanted very much to have (like a promotion at work or to be elected to an office in an organization).  I began to see my anger is often about my own fears that I am not enough (of a man, a father, a husband, a lover, a valued worker, or friend) or that I’m not a fair, generous and/or caring person.  (Of course that attitude made me a little more difficult to live with.)

My question then was, “How can I overcome the fear feelings of imaginary loss and shame that trigger my anger at people who say or do things I think might hurt my reputation as an intimate, unselfish and caring man?  I’ve discovered that my outbursts of anger only work to make me look precisely like the selfish, uncaring and week defensive person I do not want to be seen as.

In our group I learned the biblical truth that we could begin to get over our fears of inadequacy by confessing our attempts to control other people’s opinion by being angry, shaming the one trying to straighten us out, etc.  The writer of the book of James advises new Christians to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” (James 5:16, The Message).   And sure enough, by confessing to my small group my petty angry responses that shame or put down people who trigger my anger/fear, I began to be able to hold my tongue and listen to criticism aimed at me.  This has a wonderful effect in our home (when I finally really wanted to know what I was doing that hurt my family members so I could quit hurting them.)[1]

I guess what God has been doing for me is showing me through the men who are on the same spiritual journey I’m on, is that when I could surrender my whole life to God, then I was on a search to discover and offer to God the very things I’d been hiding and was afraid I’d be rejected for feeling or thinking.

This didn’t happen overnight, and it is only a part of the way of living for God in all areas of our lives.  This is a journey I’m still on after more than forty years, and it has has already transformed my life and relationships more than I would have imagined—even though I’m still seeing new aspects of my self-centeredness and lack of concern for others.

But the bottom line discovery I’ve made with regard to the anger question you wrote about is that it is not the courage I was looking for to face the fear I’d hidden from, courage that would cause the fears to be defeated.  I learned that when I began to pay attention and care about other people who were struggling with problems in their lives and relationships—when I cared about them that way—I was actually loving them.  I never would have guessed that when I was actually loving that way I would not be afraid.  Jesus said it this way:  “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” (Mt. 5: 7, The Message)

I know this may sound naïve or simplistic, but I don’t care how it sounds, because the honest truth is that this way of life some of us are trying to live is actually giving self-centered fearful and even angry people like me a whole new way to live and love, and let God and other people love us as we seriously buy into the process of living to help other people.  And although I am still just beginning to learn the power of God’s way of loving to make angry fearful cowards into caring and happy and helpful people, I can say to you from one who is only a work in progress that Jesus was really on target regarding the anger-fear problem when he said that it is “perfect love—not courage—that casts out fear.”

Lord, help us to put our lives in your hands—seriously to trust you to lead us into the courage and willingness that can transform us into the courageous lovers we—and people everywhere—are longing to be—beneath the anger that is driving us apart.  Amen


[1] If you or the person you live with have a painful and distancing effect on your relationship, it can be very helpful for you to go to counseling.  Then you may realize what you can do to change things.  To try to begin by forcing the other person to go for help is very difficult.  I found this to be true in my own life.

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on Angry All the Time
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