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Anger Management: A Bigger Job Than You Thought

By Steve Gerali | September 1 2006
Anger, the fifth in our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, is a difficult sin to write about. In our minds there seems to be an appropriate anger and an inappropriate anger. The believer just needs to discern the difference.

If that were true, all of our anger could be justified and, thus, be deemed appropriate. I thought about the road rage I feel on the L.A. freeway. After all, self-centered, ignorant drivers disregard others to the point of endangering their lives. That’s justifiable anger, isn’t it? I could further rationalize it by saying this type of anger isn’t soul destructive — I don’t hold on to it. Certainly this isn’t the murderous wrath the early fathers identified. Or is it?

Actually, the deadly sin of anger — ire — is a broad category. It runs the gamut from aggravation to rage and war. Early theologians like Evagrius, Gregory the Great, St. John Cassian and Aquinas saw ire encompassing a long list of vices: hatred, prejudice, discrimination, denial of truth, injustice, impatience, spite, malice, holding grudges, bitterness, vigilantism, assault, murder, blasphemy, insults, and filthy language! Clearly the issue runs deeper than just developing discernment between inappropriate anger and righteous indignation.

Secondary Emotions

Look closely at that list. It is very revealing. We tend to harbor anger more than we think. As a matter of fact, most males in American culture have formed a masculine identity around anger and its derivatives. Our competitive spirits, personal power and range of emotion is fueled and defined by some form of anger. Most American men are conditioned to feel forms of anger only as negative emotion. Ask any man who feels something negative what he is feeling and he might fill in the blank with mild anger responses like “aggravated,” “confused,” “frustrated,” “pissed off” or “upset.” They are mild because a man cannot let his anger get out of control and grow to become rage or hatred. Thus, the profile of a strong leader is detached, cold, aloof, professionally distant. It’s interesting to note the phenomenon that many women are adopting the same identity, disguised as feminine strength.

We fail to see that anger is a secondary emotion. That means a person often may feel something first and then move it quickly to anger. For example, if someone makes a derogatory statement about another person, the person may feel upset (an anger response). But in actuality, the person may feel hurt first, then quickly opt to an anger response. Another example is if your child doesn’t follow your advice, you may feel frustrated (an anger response). But if pushed to identify the primary feeling, you may have felt disrespected or saddened.

This enculturation of anger breeds an angry identity. Could it be that the love, exhibited in kindness and grace, which marks us as Jesus’ disciples, slowly has been compromised by the imprint of an angry society? Anger, like the other deadly sins, creeps in undetected and suffocates the vibrancy of a soul.

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