How angry am I? What does my anger look like? When does it manifest? These are significant questions to ask ourselves in the process of self-evaluation. How we answer them will determine how we address our anger. To successfully address our anger we have to first understand the scope and impact of our anger.
Anger manifests itself in a hosts of ways. It’s not always the “blown-top,” fuming rage spilling out in hateful speech or fists into dry-wall. Often anger lies below the visible surface, bubbling, boiling, and stewing. It might manifest through irritability, grumbling, frustration, bitterness, or sarcasm. Sometimes it looks like the violent and aggressive person. Other times it looks more like the “negative person.” Sometimes it reveals itself in how we approach others, other times it reveals itself in the distance we create between us and others. Anger is a bit more complex than we sometimes think. We might learn to modify our behavior by not yelling and screaming, but we may still have a very serious anger problem. Assessing the breadth and depth of our anger is the first step towards addressing it with hope and healing. If we don’t acknowledge how far our anger goes we might strive to address it in minimal ways. But if the problem is bigger than our efforts acknowledge then we will not only become unsuccessful in working on it, but we will become bitter and hardened about it. “I’ve tried to work on my anger, it didn’t accomplish anything,” we might say. In truth, however, we have not put forth equivalent effort to address the actual depth and breadth of our problem. We must be careful, then, to thoroughly assess our anger.
To help us assess our anger it is worthwhile to think through some pertinent self-evaluation questions. Answer the following questions with this scale: Never, Sometimes, Frequently, Always. I am grateful to Brad Hambrick for this general approach and outline (see Overcoming Anger Notebook). Answer the following questions honestly:
1. I lack patience (N S F A)
2. I have critical thoughts (N S F A)
3. I can’t stand stupid people (N S F A)
4. I replay past offenses (N S F A)
5. I vent at or to others when I am upset (N S F A)
6. I yell when I am angry (N S F A)
7. I misrepresent people on purpose when I am angry (N S F A)
8. I oversimplify things to prove I am right (N S F A)
9. I continue to argue even when I know I am wrong (N S F A)
10. I make degrading comments when I am angry (N S F A)
11. I must have the last word (N S F A)
12. I pout when I am upset (N S F A)
13. I give the silent treatment when I am upset ( N S F A)
14. I “shut down” when I am upset (N S F A)
15. I stop listening when I am in an argument (N S F A)
16. I use body language to communicate that I am upset without having to directly say “I am upset” (N S F A)
17. I use physical violence when I am angry (N S F A)
18. I have threatened harm to myself during an argument (N S F A)
19. I have threatened harm to someone else during an argument (N S F A)
20. I refuse to help someone with whom I am displeased (N S F A)
Now think about your answers to these questions. Tally up your marks. Give yourself one point for an “S,” two points for an “F,” and three points for an “A”. If your score is equivalent to the number of questions your anger should be a legitimate concern. If your score doubles the number of questions then it is a serious concern. If your score is more than double the number of questions listed then it should be considered a life-dominating sin.
How we answer these questions is important and evaluating ourselves will help us start to sense the depth and breadth of our problem. But we ought to consider more than just the basic manifestations. We should consider the intensity of these manifestations. Our anger manifests in a number of categories, we might term them as follows: grumbling, suppression, active aggression, passive aggression, and control. Think about each definition and which characterizes your anger most significantly.
Grumbling – “This low-grade, pervasive focus upon dissatisfaction creates a negative lens by which we begin to interpret all of life” (Hambrick, 9).
Suppression – A refusal to deal with issues, to acknowledge anger, or to address people with whom I am upset.
Active Aggression – This is “classic anger.” It manifests through yelling, hateful speech, and even violent behavior.
Passive Aggression – This is an attempt to punish others for offenses through “covert operations.” Instead of direct assault, it covers over the punishment so as to make another person feel guilty without my having to be vulnerable.
Control – Attempts to manipulate people, situations, and conversations to get my desired result.
What category most defines your struggle with anger. How does that anger affect your life, your relationships, your responsibilities? Think about the ways others respond to you or how they might describe you? Are people afraid to have serious conversations with you? Can others offer advice without you becoming upset? Are you known for holding grudges? Does the intensity of your anger match the reality of the offense? Do others feel like they have to “walk on egg shells” around you? Has your anger cost you any relationships? Do you ever feel “out of control” when you become angry?
The more honest we are about the breadth and depth of our anger the more hope there is that we can change. Own your anger, friends, and find that the gospel can help you heal and change. Start here, because once you admit your problems you don’t have to stay here.