“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” –Ephesians 4:31
Why do we allow ourselves to harbor anger? The payoff is often the energy we derive from the release of adrenaline and cortisol in our systems. Many of us learn to like the sensation of the “fight or flight” response, the feeling of power and invincibility. I have to admit that I like it. It’s usually quite a bit more enjoyable than the trod-upon feeling that precedes it.
Anger is known in psychology as a secondary emotion. In a given situation, anger proceeds out of initial feelings of hurt or fear (primary emotions). Anger is the body’s response to empower us to deal with threats. The problem is that we like the feeling of fighting back better than the feeling of getting hurt, so we often stay in a fighting stance even after we have become aware that there is no actual threat, or (as is so often the case) when what is hurt or threatened is only our ego or our personal preferences.
We use anger as a pain reliever, though, ironically, it usually leads to more pain in the form of relational rifts, arguments, physical fights, or irrational and destructive choices, made on impulse in the heat of the moment. If left unchecked, anger can cause abdominal pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
I believe the worst effect of anger is estrangement. Many times people get hurt so badly that they resolve to make sure the other person suffers as much or more than they have by severing the relationship. What a wasted effort it is! In so many cases the other person doesn’t even acknowledge the wrong. And then there is the game of, “I’ll speak to him when he apologizes to me.” How often are the occasions when both people in a dispute (each feeling like a victim in the matter) wait for the other person to apologize? The two become like the Dr. Suess characters who approach each other on their journey through the country, each in the other’s way. Instead of yielding so they can be about their business, pride compels both to stand their ground, and there they remain like sad statues while an entire city is erected around them. People actually do this. Meanwhile, marriages and friendships end, family members stop talking to each other and people kill themselves with bitterness.
Surely it is better to feel defenseless, to look weak and hapless in front of others, than to allow bitterness to ravage our lives (and our insides). Pride is a cunning foe. Many of us treat it like a friend, even as it works its way into our affairs under the cloak of legitimacy. The only sensible conclusion is that, in matters not related to life and limb, we ought to abandon our posture of self-defense and leave our welfare and reputation in God’s hands.
Easier said than done. Lord help us.