Once we have learned to recognize and identify the way we personally express our anger, we can learn to distinguish right and wrong ways of managing it. We always have a choice about how we handle it, no matter what the other person is doing. That places the responsibility for our emotions on our own shoulders. We never have to be prisoners of the situation. We can choose how to respond.
When we feel anger, here are some of the options for how we can respond:
Holding anger inside us. Others who hold their anger in may do so because of an attitude of feeling superior to others. Being image-conscious, they feel it is dangerous to show any part of themselves—including expressions of anger—that might reduce their superior position above others.
Open aggression. This is anger expressed without considering the needs and feelings of others. Personal insecurity causes us to try to force people to hear us. We attempt to communicate, “Hey, notice that I have true needs here. Respect me!” This is a normal, healthy attitude, but aggressive people carry it too far. They are so needy of worth and respect that they demand, “You have to acknowledge me. I can’t stand it when I am not affirmed.” Their emotional balance hangs by a thread because they depend on other people’s approval.
Passive aggression. It happens in a quieter, controlled way that you think protects you. This category of anger includes sneaky sabotage, slander, silent treatment, pouting, procrastination, avoiding and attempts to control others. The passive aggressive person is out to win. Like the openly aggressive person, the passive aggressive person is in a battle for superiority—they want to stay in the driver’s seat of the relationship.
Assertive anger. This is anger expressed while considering the needs and feelings of others. This form of anger can actually help relationships to grow. It represents a mark of personal maturity. It allows us to express our concerns about personal worth, needs, and beliefs, but is done in a way that keeps the door open for ongoing love. This kind of anger allows you to keep a clean page with others.
Dropping anger. This is the most difficult of the 5 choices. There are times when assertive anger simply doesn’t work. Dropping your anger means you accept the fact that you cannot completely control circumstances and you recognize your personal limits. This option includes tolerance of differences, as well as choosing to forgive. It is far different from holding in your anger. The person who lets go of anger also lets go of grudges and opportunities for revenge or payback. They are choosing a life anchored in kindness.
“Holding in anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” — Buddha
This blog entry is part of a series of thoughts on anger management, based on a class I teach to residents of the Salvation Army based on The Anger Management Workbook. The thoughts are equally applicable to ministry leaders. If you are reading this series after it has come out on this blog, you can pull up all of the entries at once by doing a search for anger management in the search box within the blog.
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