Note to Audience: the information and worksheet is not meant for therapeutic or professional purposes and does not equate any professional advice or help. This worksheet is merely for educational, self-edification and improvement from a Faith-Based Christian perspective. Always seek out professional help from members of your clergy or seek out professional therapy and support if needed. At the end of this post is a downloadable PDF for your own personal use
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil. … Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
~ Ephesians 4:26-31 ~
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
~ 3 Nephi 11:29-30 ~
What do we do that causes contention, and what can we do to interact with people without anger? The same things are going to happen, the same things that usually trigger our emotions, but God asks us to choose differently. Can we? I think so. Not saying it is easy, but because we are human, we all have mental space between a trigger and a reaction. We can choose to breathe. To think about what we are doing, what we are saying, what we are feeling, and what God expects of us. At first, maybe we’ll only find a way to not explode, or only to quickly recover and apologize… but eventually, with practice, maybe we’ll even find a way to love. To overcome challenges in a way that isn’t angry. To even talk about things that we disagree about without being defensive or attacking.
~ Scriptural Commentary – Doing Away with Anger ~
One of the most interesting scripture passages that started my own personal journey in identifying issues with anger is that regarding the conversation the Lord had with Cain. Something I had never considered before and have read numerous times. Yet it is this conversation that caused me to ponder and rethink my own issues dealing with anger.
Most of us are familiar with the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. Both presented their respective sacrifices before God. However, Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God while Cain’s was lacking and displeasing. This story is found in Genesis 4:1-16. In the following verses we find the conversation:
And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
Here, the Lord recognized the nature of Cain’s anger because of the disappointment, frustration, and the jealousy he held toward his brother. Such emotions stirred within Cain and he moved upon his anger and murdered Abel. What struck me is the powerful statement in the latter part of the verse 7. First, we have a choice in how to manage our anger. Second, if we do not manage it wisely, anger may lead us toward sinful behavior. Third, we are empowered to rule over our anger.
When it comes to our Christian faith – we are to learn to become better individuals. It is not only striving to be more Christ-like in our lives. It involves being mindful in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We may not believe that there may be a solution to those problems that evoke us toward anger. One of the motivating factors toward our natural disposition toward anger centers on perceived (whether real or not) danger. When we experience anger, chances are that it is due to us feeling quite threatened.
This instinct is at the core of our need for survival. The fight-or-flight response that is shared in all of us. Unlike our prehistoric ancestors, who were faced with real threats of danger, our anger typically revolves around perceived threats of danger. Such things we are not physically able to fight. Such threats to our self-image, our beliefs and worldview as Christians, and how we understand present social issues. These threats appear to be just as dangerous as those toward our health and safety.
Scripture reflects the harm anger has toward our faith and relationship to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It also reflects the harm toward our relationship with those within our families and communities. It is important for us to mindfully reflect on those situations that may have evoked our anger and identify what the threat was and ways to find solutions that help us manage such a strong emotion.
Develop Mindful Awareness
It is important to recognize anger as soon as it starts to develop. There are early warning signs of anger. These manifest physically and mentally. Physical effects of anger may include:
- Muscle tension or shaking
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Reddening of the face
- Rapid heartbeat
- “Butterflies in the stomach” sensation
- Agitation and restlessness
Mental warning where our thanking changes when we are feeling angry may manifest in these ways:
- Impulsiveness and impatience
- All-or-Nothing irrational thinking
- Inability to see others perspectives
- Feelings of power and certainty
- Taking things personally (personification)
- A sense of being wronged (victimization)
Recognizing and acknowledging these warning signs helps us learn to develop self-control and manage our temper.
Take Every Thought Captive
Not only are we to be mindful of these early warning signs, we also want to become mindful of our own thought processes when we start feeling threatened. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian Church (see, 2 Corinthians 10:5):
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
What I believe the Apostle Paul is teaching us is that we have the power to develop awareness and ability to manage our own thoughts. How we see ourselves and life. This is only accomplished when we do the following:
- Accept responsibility for our own thoughts
- Our mind and not our behavior is what needs to change
- Process and learn to be emotionally responsive and not emotionally reactive
- Challenge those irrational thoughts and beliefs in order to bring them captive unto Christ
- Confess them to yourself, our Heavenly Father, and to another person
- Think through and choose the right solution whereby we experience peace
It is possible for us to bring our thoughts into obedience to God’s will. It is possible for us to come to recognize ways to better manage and respond when we are threatened.
How does one begin the process of taking every thought captive and bring to the obedience of Christ? First, it is not something done overnight. It takes practice. A spiritual discipline through mindfulness, prayer, meditation, and personal reflection. Practice never makes perfect yet it does make such discipline permanent.
To better understand how to develop such a discipline one needs to understand the nature of automatic thoughts and how it influences our need to react out of anger.
Nature of Automatic Thoughts
When we are angry, due to feeling threatened, we are automatically making specific interpretations of a particular situation. These situations may cause us to be reactive whereby we take action. Such interpretations are judged and labeled: good or bad, pleasurable or painful, safe or dangerous. These judgments and labeling stem from our own dialogue we have with ourselves. They are constant and rarely noticed. However, they are powerful enough to create intense emotions. Characteristics of these automatic thoughts are:
- Often appearing in shorthand: composed of a few essential words or phrases in telegraphic style. For instance, “Lonely, sad, hungry, no good, getting sick“
- Are almost always believed: regardless of how illogical they may appear automatic thoughts have the same believable quality as direct sense impressions. We attach the same truth value to such thoughts as we do to sights and sounds.
- Experienced as being spontaneous: We tend to believe our thoughts arise spontaneously out of ongoing events.
- Are often crouched in terms of should, ought, must, could, would: based on unrealistic expectations or irrational and rigid beliefs that we have come to use for survival when stressed.
- Tend to awfulize: prediction of potential danger – catastrophe – where we anticipate the worse.
- Are relatively idiosyncratic: How we interpret and view an event differently than others may interpret and view the same event.
- Are persistent and self-perpetuating: Difficult to turn off or change due to their nature of being reflexive and plausible. One automatic thought cues a cascading effect of other automatic thoughts.
- Often differ from our own personal public statements: How we talk to ourselves internally may differ than our public statements
- Repeat certain themes: Chronically angry people repeat automatic thoughts about seemingly deliberate hurtful behaviors of others – creating a tunnel vision effect.
- Are learned over time: Developed over time as a means of survival and have become habitual.
Learning how to manage our automatic thoughts is a step toward developing healthy ways to manage anger. Even when our anger is due to feeling threatened. If unchecked, we may react out of our anger where we cause harm toward self or others. And since such thoughts appear in a flash – it takes persistent discipline to develop healthy coping strategies.
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