13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.
14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”
Mark 10:13-14 NLT
In her book Atlas of the Heart, Brenè Brown writes of anger:
"If you look across the research, you learn that anger is an emotion that we feel when something gets in the way of a desired outcome or when we believe there’s a violation of the way things should be. When we feel anger, we believe that someone or something else is to blame for an unfair or unjust situation, and that something can be one to resolve the problem."
I once had a client ask me whether anger was a primary or secondary emotion. The construct of primary and secondary emotions was created to differentiate between responses that are indivisible (primary) and reactions that are nuanced and complex (secondary). Defined as a primary response or a secondary reaction, anger exists at both levels. The construct goes on to propose that a primary response of anger is more associated with “justified indignation” while secondary reactions are more destructive and corrosive. This is potentially a simplified way of envisioning such a complex and expressively varied human emotion. Expressed anger also has more social currency than any other emotion in that its expression has a certain amount of acceptability and credibility. Another client once shared with me that “anger and rage were the only emotions that were acceptable in my house when I was growing up.” As a child he was not allowed to feel sad, lonely, afraid, anxious, or grief-stricken. These emotions were seen as communicative of weakness. To be sure the muting of anything but anger is also not a function of gender, although this is a significant misconception. Females have as much capacity as males to disconnect from emotions that betray vulnerability.
The other interesting thing about anger is that although, in the church, we categorize it as “good” or “bad” (with specific reference to Ephesians 4:26-27) the experience (of it) communicates physiological reactions that are similar to the general population. Church folk are as equally likely, as the general population, to describe their anger as “red hot”, “fuming”, “thumping”, “burning”, “raging” and “uncontrollable”. Something happens and the response feels dissociative, i.e., “I didn’t even realize what I was doing/saying, I was so mad.”
Instead of categorizing anger as bad or good, I want to propose it as a symptom of something deeper. It communicates real or perceived loss as the result of an actual/hypothetical transgression against a personal domain. Something of value in the person’s world has been diminished and the only response known (and socialized) is to lash out in anger. The irony is that anger is really a smoke screen that prevents a deeper analysis of the transgression. Why is this thing so valuable to me? What is the internalized message that is interacting with my interpretation of events to cause this reaction? Would others respond in the same way? Is there an opportunity to craft a different internalized message that does not leave me so susceptible to this emotional trigger?
Anger warped is anger misdirected. In the scripture passage, Christ’s anger creates a teaching moment for the disciples. I cannot say that my anger has always created teaching moments. It should and can if I ensure that it is available to God for his purpose. Doing the challenging work of inventorying and recalibrating it, achieves this.
If you are struggling with anger, there is help. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.