By Dr. Lisa Dunne.
“Much of our problem is not, as is often said, that we have failed to get into our head what is down in our heart. Much of what hinders us is that we’ve had a lot of mistaken theology in our heads and it has gotten down into our hearts.” – Dallas Willard, The Great Omission
ANGER: DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT AND INJUSTICE
We’ve all experienced disappointment and injustice, but many people haven’t been taught to deal effectively with the emotions that surface when we experience disappointment or injustice. Sometimes, we experience a number of injustices in our lives and these build up, resulting in one of two expressions of anger: externalizing anger or internalizing anger.
Externalizing anger is anger that is directed outward, like road rage, domestic violence, or even constant criticism or complaining. Internalizing anger is anger that is directed inward, like cutting, burning, eating disorders, or other forms of self-abuse.
Anger, as Gary Chapman reminds us, is evidence that we were created in the image of a just God. When you consider what it is that made you angry last week, last night, or this morning, the feeling is probably rooted in a perceived injustice. It could be as small as the driver in front of you not using her turn signal, or it could be something as tragic as violence against the innocent.
However, anger can be distorted by our lack of personal wholeness as well as our lack of perspective. For example, screaming out the car window at someone who didn’t use a turn signal is probably an overreaction. The screamer may be angry about a host of other issues, present or past, that may be clouding his present vision. Or, we may not see the big picture. Perhaps the driver’s car is on fire and she is pulling over to flee to safety. In that case, it would certainly be understandable if she didn’t use her turn signal, right?
When we experience injustice and disappointment, which is itself often rooted in the sense of disappointment (e.g., we expected something to happen, and it didn’t happen), we want to avoid responding in an unhealthy manner. This ACTION acronym can help remind you to slow down and respond appropriately.
A: Acknowledge the emotion (okay, I’m angry).
C: Consider the true source of the emotion (is this really about the current situation?).
T: Think before you act (resist the knee-jerk responses like yelling or kicking the wall).
I: Invest time and energy in healthy relationships (surround yourself with people who model good emotion regulation. King Solomon warned us that we become like the company we keep).
O: Open up to opportunities for growth and development. Anger and other emotional responses can be mirrors that teach us a great deal about what’s really in our hearts.
N: Negotiate new patterns of behavior with yourself and others. In time and with diligent practice, you can learn new patterns of behavior.
Anger is constructive when it compels us to change something in our world or ourselves for the better. Anger is destructive when it mars our relationship with others (as externalizing anger often does) or with ourselves (as internalizing anger often does).
Learning to regulate and manage our emotions will help us deal more effectively and constructively with the inevitable occurrences of disappointment and injustice. As Dallas Willard notes, when we discover our “holy discontent,” the injustice that compels us to make a difference, we can ride that emotion to initiate positive change within our realm of influence.