How Should You Handle Anger?
Everybody has to cope with frustration; that is a very real part of everyone’s life. Psychologists say that women, in particular, have to deal on a daily basis with anxiety and stress. Far too often, we use these daily challenges as an excuse for actions that have to be defended. Since we all experience anger, it is natural that, with our different personalities and temperaments, we express that anger in many different ways. For instance, recently, for the first time in my life, I was called a “cream-puff”. A what? Naturally, I wanted to find out why that person was calling me a “cream-puff.” In the process, I learned that there is a new book out that describes the various ways Christians express anger and being a “cream-puff” is just one of the unhealthy styles of anger management described by Tim Clinton, Archibald Hart and George Ohlschlager in their book, Caring for People God’s Way: Personal and Emotional Issues, Addictions, Grief and Trauma. According to these learned men, handling your anger in a positive way can actually work to a person’s benefit when they master their emotions. Actually, it’s Biblical to express anger appropriately. Too often, though, Christians, like their secular counterparts, are controlled by their anger rather than learning how to control those emotions productively. The unhealthy ways that anger plagues Christians and non-Christians alike include being a “cream-puff”, or “locomotive” or “steel magnolia.”
The Cream-Puff is repressed. They tend to be vague about how they think and feel. They focus on protecting themselves or others and avoid conflict at all costs. People are often unaware of the pain a “cream-puff” is experiencing because their silence keeps their needs and concerns hidden. Cream-Puffs are so focused on others that they can’t hear God and wonder why He is so involved with everyone but them. They apologize rather than express their anger. When they are angry, it comes out as subtle and cold. Over time, the anger becomes repressed so often that the Cream-Puff is not even aware that they are angry.
The exact opposite of the Cream-Puff is the Locomotive. This is what Cream-Puffs think will happen to them if they allow themselves to become angry. Locomotives are confident of their feelings and emotions; they won’t allow anyone else to interpret their feelings for them. They believe only they can explain or interpret the emotions, events or circumstances that are driving them to anger. They appear cool and confident outside but are inundated with insecurities on the inside. They won’t compliment others because they want others to compliment them. They refuse to be wrong, and if they are, they are tough about it. The locomotive is so focused internally on their own needs and wants that the needs of others are irrelevant and unimportant; they ignore or don’t care about the needs of others. They definitely do not want others to see their insecurities or vulnerabilities. The locomotive personality reacts explosively and their vices often include attacking, labeling, putting down and humiliating others. Biblical principles aren’t relevant to them; instead, they use conflict as an excuse to blame someone else.
The third type of person is a “Steel Magnolia.” This person is passive aggressive. I would describe many females this way. The “Steel Magnolia” appears soft and tender on the outside. They are calm, sweet and peaceful—exactly like a woman entrenched in the loving-kindness of God should be. Unfortunately, they are a contradiction. You want to trust them, but know you can’t. Inside of the calm façade, they are seething with resentment, bitterness, angst and turmoil. The problem is they present themselves like a Cream-Puff. They are indirect about what they want, but one little blip and they bite. Sarcasm is their go-to weapon due to the fact they can “joke” and, at the same time, be very serious. It’s their way of putting others down. If anyone dares call them on their ploy, the Steel Magnolia snaps back at their negativity and the fact that others just don’t have a sense of humor.
We can all identify with one of these anger styles. Fortunately, there is an alternative, healthy anger that God enables us to use. It’s assertiveness –– not domination or being autocratic, but plain assertiveness. Assertive people can respond in a way that balances their emotions without putting others down. They are proactive, enjoy serving others and are tough, but tender. They take time to reflect on their anger and aren’t reactionary. They are direct and communicate respect for others without using put downs. The catch is dealing with the anger before it happens. One has to recognize when particularly frustrating events, circumstances, or experiences arise or when one has to interact with irritating people. Planning your reaction before you reach a boiling point eases the situation and enables a Christian to respond Biblically rather than emotionally – in control rather than out-of-control.
Some people don’t see a problem with handling their ire in the anger styles described in the Caring for People God’s Way book. The authors asked clients about benefits when anger is appropriately channeled. Some answers include: Improving overall physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, improved quality of marriage and relationship with children and clarifying and protecting personal boundaries. A point they make is that there’s a difference between not dealing with anger and dwelling on resentments or problems in the past.
The way we Christians learn to “deal” with our anger can become a personal habit. The good news is that when the Holy Spirit lives in us and fills our hearts, we can change how we deal with our struggles. Whether it is anger, depression, anxiety or some other destructive vice, we can overcome whatever Satan throws at us through the empowerment that is available through the Holy Spirit. It may not happen overnight –– indeed, it probably won’t happen instantaneously –– but we didn’t develop our habits by repeating it only once or twice either. God has promised that as long as we are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these things will be added unto us –– that includes the mastery of our emotions, especially anger, resentment and bitterness. That is a promise which is an occasion for rejoicing for most of us who need all the help we can get in handling our individual responses to destructive emotions.
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