Biblical Help for Angry People: Accountability and Evaluation

angry_couple_istock_0000154_620x350Evaluation and accountability are vital parts to the process of change. It’s one thing to think about my anger and to make some appropriate changes; it’s something entirely different to evaluate my progress over time. Consistency is the real evidence of change. No one is perfect, and as you address your anger you will see successes and failures. But if your anger problem looks exactly the same month to month then there is no real transformation happening. So, as we conclude this series we want to consider how to, when to, and who will evaluate our progress.

Our plan for change involved looking at three specific areas of life: contentment, control, and communication. To evaluate ourselves well we should consider how we are dealing with each of those areas of life. Several questions can guide us in this estimation of change.

In the area of contentment we want to consider two key issues: patience and disappointment. Am I being more patient? Do I find myself still growing restless over situations, desires, and schedules? An impatient person is not content. Impatience sets us up to be irritable and easily frustrated. How we handle disappointment will also reveal our level of contentment. Can I handle not getting my way? Am I okay with interruptions and changes to my plans? Will I still be at peace if I have to forgo my desires? These two questions reveal much of what is driving our hearts and how content we really are with the life that God has given us.

The area of control is often more difficult to observe than we might expect. Our dramatic displays of anger are very noticeable. Everyone is aware when we blow up, when we express a bad attitude, when we stomp about the house. When we are in control of our emotions, however, most people don’t notice anything. They don’t pat us on the back, applaud us, and celebrate our overcoming. They just go about life. But I will know that I am doing better with self-control when I find I am better at problem solving. Ungodly anger diverts our attention and energy away from issues and directs it at people. Can I articulate the things that are really frustrating me? Can I identify the problem and separate it from the person? Can I lower the volume of my voice during a disagreement? Can I sit down during an argument? Brad Hambrick very helpfully states that if we cannot sit down during a fight we do not have an interpersonal problem, but a personal problem.

Finally, I should be able to see change when I evaluate my communication. Think about the ways you converse with others during a fight. Are you good at listening, understanding, and representing the views of others well? Do you believe the best about the intentions of others or do you automatically assume the worst? Am I getting better at having conversations that I do not want to have? Answering these questions will help us start to sort out our growth.

We are looking for three types of change: intensity, duration, and frequency. Can we see changes in the level of my anger? Do I grumble more than I blow up now? That’s change. It’s not sufficient to quit working on my anger, but it is progress. Can I see changes in the length of my anger? Do I get over offenses more quickly or am I still prone to replay and recount the specific details for days and weeks? Do I get angry less often? If my intensity is still high when I do get angry then I know I still have work to do, but if I find I am not getting mad as often then I can recognize growth is happening.

Ultimately, however, we are not always going to be the best judge of these issues. We are too quick to justify and excuse ourselves. We can easily put a positive spin on our responses, see the best, or overlook sinful habits. So, we must be willing to allow others to speak to this change. A willingness to receive criticism and accountability may, in and of itself, evidence some growth. There are two kinds of people I need to involve in my accountability: someone with authority and someone I’ve regularly offended.

The individual with authority is important because accountability really only works if it comes with teeth. That is to say, accountability that cannot deliver consequences for failure won’t really motivate me to change. Instead, it will deceive me into thinking that I am doing better than I really am, because after all I have “accountability.” We need people who can put pressure on us, discipline us, and utilize their authority in godly ways to help encourage change. This may mean talking to a parent, a pastor, or a fellow elder.

Inviting someone we have regularly wronged into our accountability is also important because they are usually they ones we get the most frustrated with and they see our anger. They know it personally and they can help us to judge the degree of change in our lives. It is also a sign of repentance when I can willingly invite, listen, and not defend myself as this person critiques my responses. It may be a great encouragement to those you’ve wronged that you in fact do desire to change. Invite them to help you.

It’s important, finally, to consider when we should do evaluations. If we invite accountability and evaluation too soon we may become discouraged at the lack of progress or the lack of “speedy” progress. If we wait too long, however, we might become complacent in our work. Likewise if we constantly ask people to evaluate us they will become frustrated and we will become overwhelmed with the amount of work still needed. So, considering when to do evaluations is important.

As we begin the process of fighting our anger I believe three levels of evaluation are warranted. First, I need weekly accountability with a leader on basic work. As I begin to address my anger I may need to work through a book, fill out some self-evaluation forms, do exercises in a work book, etc. I need someone to hold me accountable to this work, someone to keep me on task and make sure I am doing these basic things. Secondly, I need evaluation following a situation of temptation. After a fight, after an offense, after a particular acute temptation to get angry I need to talk with a trusted friend, counselor, or spouse about how I handled that situation. I need to let them ask me probing questions about my motivations, desires, thoughts, responses, demeanor, and general attitude. Give yourself sufficient time to calm down before inviting such accountability (several hours or days), but then be sure to review the specific details of the temptation. Journal the incident for your accountability partner: when was it, where were you, what happened, how did you respond. Thirdly, I need accountability on monthly progress. This is a big picture evaluation. How am I doing overall? Do my two primary accountability partners see growth? Am I able to see changes across the three categories of intensity, duration, and frequency? Am I more content, more in control, and better at communication? These monthly evaluations may be the most difficult, but they are also extremely important for they will focus on patterns, and patterns reveal truth.

Change is possible! We can overcome our anger and learn to respond to frustration, irritation, and even people in God-honoring ways. Accountability and evaluation are keys to change. They invite others to help us, because ultimately change is a community project. As you fight your anger, don’t do so alone. Get the right people involved.

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