On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
(Mark 11:15-16, NIV)
The story of Jesus at the Temple should put to rest one of the greatest myths about anger management -- that anger is something that we shouldn't feel, and something that we certainly shouldn't show to the world. Anger is, in fact, a healthy and natural reaction to stress and difficulty in our lives.
In the above example, we can see that some anger, when properly justified, is actually divine. The people at the temple had turned the square into a "den of thieves," placing money and greed above the sanctity of the area, and as such Christ was justified in his anger. Anger is not always harmful or destructive; it can also do God's work.
Identifying Passive Anger
For some of us, being outwardly aggressive and angry with others isn't a problem. Rather, we have a tendency to turn our anger inward, which can be just as harmful to our well-being. Many psychiatrists link depression with this sort of passive anger.
Part of the problem with this sort of anger is how hard it is to identify -- there are often no obvious signals. Telltale signs, however, do exist. Though they're a bit more subtle, people with passive anger problems often exhibit certain behaviors, such as:
- Secretive Behavior: Muttering under one's breath, avoiding eye contact, stealing.
- Manipulative Behavior: Provoking aggression between others, emotional blackmail, faking illness, provoking others sexually.
- Self-Blaming Behavior: Overly apologetic, overly critical of oneself and others.
- Ineffectual Behavior: Being accident-prone, sexual impotence, frustration with insignificant problems, ignoring serious problems.
- Dispassionate / Unemotional Behavior: dampening feelings through substance abuse, overeating, oversleeping, objectifying others.
- Obsessive Behavior: Feeling the need to repeat daily activities more than once, to "make sure" they're done even when one knows that they are.
- Evasive Behavior: Avoiding confrontation and conflict to the detriment of personal morals and beliefs.
Changing Our Behavior
If we find ourselves engaged in these sorts of behaviors, how do we change them?
First, by accepting that some of these sorts of actions may be due to a problem with anger. Are we turning the anger we may feel toward our co-workers, neighbors, friends, or family against ourselves?
Second, by understanding the things that make us angry or depressed, or that make us behave in the ways listed above. These are our "triggers," and they're different for everyone. Maybe it's our mother-in-law bringing up money matters; maybe it's a co-worker who doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word "quiet".
Third, by confronting our anger to express it openly and honestly. We must be prepared to be assertive, to defend our anger, which requires courage. We must also learn that sometimes our anger will cause discomfort or discontent with those around us. As Jesus showed us, sometimes anger is justified!
These kinds of stresses trigger anger in everyone's life. Understanding them allows you to choose to react differently to the things that upset us, and to avoid them when we can. Reducing the stresses in our lives is a great way to manage passive anger.
Anger From Unavoidable Stressors
But what about the stresses we can't avoid? Some of the things that make us angry can't be reduced, so how do we control our reactions to them? There are a number of different relaxation techniques many people use with a fair measure of success. When a stressor enters your life, try:
- Meditation and Prayer: there any many different kinds of each, but the basic idea is closing your eyes and focusing your attention on the here and now. Prayer allows you to directly ask for divine help in releasing your anger.
- Tense and Release: Beginning with your toes, tense and release each of the muscle groups in your body, moving up through your feet to your calves to your thighs and so on. Concentrate on completely tensing your muscles and then completely relaxing them. This exercise should take a few minutes to complete.
- Deep Breathing: Take ten deep, slow breaths, pausing briefly between inhale and exhale. While breathing, imagine a cool blue color and a pleasant humming sound.
Not all of these techniques will work for everyone -- the key is to find the one that works for you. The goal of each of the techniques should be to find the conviction and courage to calmly and assertively be able to express our anger without turning it back to ourselves.