Healing Line

Healing Line

Anger: Friend and Foe

by Linda Strickland
Mar/Apr 2011

Once while I was flying to a conference, I witnessed an outburst of anger that I have never forgotten. I was flying an airline that does not reserve seats, so it is always a “first come, first serve” situation. I boarded the plane and was seated across the aisle from a young mother and her baby. Everyone was quietly choosing their seats when suddenly; a shrill voice pierced the air. The voice belonged to a small woman who was yelling at the young mother across from me, “You’re in my seat!” she screamed.

Even after the young woman explained her plight of needing to sit beside her husband and other child, the woman continued her tirade. Eventually, the angry woman gave into the pressure she felt from the other passengers, including me, and she finally sat in the window seat, growling and seething for the entire trip.

Her explosive tantrum was over a seat on an airplane, but it was evident that the anger behind it came from a much deeper place. When we don’t deal with anger, it builds up and crowds us on the inside; causing us to overreact when something hooks into the unfinished anger we carry within us. Watching this poor soul, who was obviously miserable, I found myself wondering about her life, and what had happened to her to create such rage.

Thomas Aquinas once said that anger is meant to be our servant, not our master. However, all it takes is witnessing this sort of outburst, or listening to the evening news, to realize that the world we live in today is more violent, selfish and angry than ever.

People seem to have more difficulty with the emotion of anger than with any of the other emotions. Anger is probably the most misunderstood emotion and can certainly be the most damaging — to oneself and to others.

Problems with anger can often, but not always, be traced back to childhood, when parents may naturally try to control their child’s anger or even suppress it. Some parents punish their children for being angry, when what children really need is to be taught how to deal with their emotions. However, if the parents are not able to process their own anger in healthy ways, the tactics they employ will only inflict emotional damage on their children. Being chastised and forced to suppress emotion can cause a child to feel guilty and ashamed for even having experienced the emotion — as if it were sinful. The emotion is not eliminated but goes underground where it continues to grow and does untold damage. The deeper message the child gets from the parents who do not allow healthy expression of anger is, “I’m not acceptable.” Thus, the true self recedes and the false self develops out of the child’s need to be accepted.

There are several other reasons why people have problems with anger. Cultural influence is a primary source. For example, the deep human need to belong may cause someone to join a violent organization, where anger is the driving force, just to feel accepted by others. People who experience emotional wounding or severe trauma, especially as children, are apt to get stuck emotionally and be unable to grow beyond the pain if they are not helped. The emotions get buried alive at the point of trauma and continue to lead a very active life inside us (One of the leading causes of depression is repressed anger). Some emotional disorders may be due to a chemical imbalance and should be treated by a professional. Then, there is always the additional possibility of a demonic component — spirits of anger — that can attach itself to a wound or sin.

Very few of us (including Christians) are taught positive ways to process anger. So it is easy to see why, by the time a person reaches adulthood, some serious or destructive patterns of behavior may have developed.

Anger has a very pure purpose: to correct an injustice. Jesus expressed great anger in situations where there was injustice — especially injustice towards the poor, dispossessed, and people on the margins of life. Anger also serves us in instances where we need to defend ourselves or others. Anger generates an energy that motivates and empowers us. Though anger is part of the human condition, violent anger is escalating out of control worldwide, among many different cultures. What is the deep root that is shared throughout the world that has created this level of anger?

Of course, to discover the answer, we have to go back in the Scriptures to the Fall, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden and separated from God. Because of disobedience, not only did sin, sickness and disease come into the world, but it caused our emotions and our minds to become out of balance. The first mention of anger in Scripture is in Genesis 4:5 (“… Cain was very angry …”). Then the Lord tried to reach out to Cain and asked him, “Why are you angry?” God gave Cain a clear warning to do what was right, because “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Cain did not heed God’s warning. Something in his heart and attitude — in his interior self — was not right. We know that Cain’s anger eventually led him to murder his own brother.

When we live out of harmony with God, when we are in disobedience, when we listen to the evil one, we fall subject to the brokenness that is within us. Anger does its basic destructive work in our interior. If it is not dealt with in a timely manner, but is allowed to build up, it comes out in unhealthy ways and can damage other people.

Ephesians 4:26–27 gives clear guidelines about anger: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Here we can see that God gives us permission to not only feel the emotion of anger but also to express it — and yet not in any way that causes us to commit sin. Harboring anger creates resentment (which literally means “to experience something again”). This unfinished anger is what damages and destroys and develops into sin. The Lord gives us a time frame (before the “sun goes down”) to keep things current within the present day. Many times, we cause unintentional wounding, but when anger moves into punishment and causes intentional pain, it crosses the line into sin and even the demonic. Unresolved and undiffused anger opens the door to evildoing.

In prayer ministry, the prayer recipient must be able to own his/her anger, to accept it, and take responsibility for it. The recipient also needs to realize how important it is to exert control over the anger and to make an action plan: what should I do about this so that I do not just stew in my anger? An action plan involves coming to a resolution about the anger and almost always involves forgiveness prayers, and possibly inner healing prayer. Many times, underneath the anger lies a deep pain from a wounded memory that needs healing.

It’s important to note that a person with excessive anger or rage needs professional help. Prayer ministry is not meant to replace medical treatment. However, with written permission from the client, many therapists welcome prayer ministry alongside the therapy, because professional counselors realize that rage is also a spiritual as well as an emotional problem.

Our emotions are what make us human, but as long as we are entrapped by buried or excessive unhealthy emotions, we will never be free to experience true joy.

God is always reaching out through his Spirit to offer us new life. Only when we bring our anger to the foot of the cross can the healing process truly begin.

(Taken in part from the teaching: Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, School of Healing Prayer®, Level III)

Linda Strickland Linda Strickland is CHM's Associate Director of Ministry and Assistant to Judith MacNutt. Mar/Apr 2011