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Monday, March 18, 2013

Why Am I So Angry? A Look at the Primary Causes of Our Anger

I used to think I was a very spiritual guy. I wanted everything I did to be spiritual and good. I occasionally even spent days fasting, without eating anything, in order to pray and focus more on God. Once when I was fasting, I had planned to have a meeting with one of my mentors. Rachel had a meeting that night, so one of us had to be home with the kids. He was able to come over to my house to meet so I could be home. Gene was supposed to arrive at bedtime, so I rushed around to get the kids in bed on time. I had to do a little extra yelling and rushing, motivating, but I got them into bed. I was proud of myself for getting the job done and a little flustered from all the yelling. Then, Ethan came walking down the stairs. Knowing Gene could arrive any minute, I lost it, totally lost my temper. I screamed and yelled and scooped him up and brought him to his room and told him not to get up again. He was almost 4. He should know better. Then, he was screaming and crying. In the living room waiting for Gene to arrive, I wondered, "What am I doing? Why am I so angry? What is going on? I'm a spiritual guy. I'm fasting."

Healthy anger is a gift. It was designed to save our lives, to help us figure out who the alpha dog is, and to protect those we love from danger.

But, mostly, our anger doesn't look like a gift. It looks pretty ugly and it can be quite destructive. Before I can deal with the emotion of anger, which I will in the next blog, we need to understand the underlying emotions.

Anger is not a primary emotion. It is secondary. And, it is very easy to misunderstand it.

If we want to know why we are angry, we have to get back to that primary emotion. What triggered the anger?

Usually the primary feelings are: hurt, fear, disrespect, and/or frustration. These lead to the feeling of anger. Let me unpack that a little.


Have you ever stubbed your toe and wound up cursing in anger? You got hurt because it was dark and you lost track of where you were in relation to the coffee table. Feeling hurt makes sense.
But, why are you angry?
Who or what are you angry at?

Usually, we will cleverly find someone or something to be angry at. We will be angry at our wife for buying that stupid thing in the first place or angry at our daughter for asking for a cup of water in the middle of the night or angry at ourselves for not turning on the light. But, in reality, we are just hurt.

How about if you get betrayed by a friend or ignored by a love interest? Feeling hurt makes sense, but why the anger? Any number of situations cause us pain. If we try to ignore it or stuff it, it will just give us an ulcer or heart attack. If we try to react without really facing it, we can wind up being self destructive or trying to control those around us. Some drink or drug to medicate. Some cut or have an eating disorder. Others become controlling and manipulative.

Instead we need to face it. What caused us pain, physical or emotional? What can we do about it now?


Your child is out late. He told you when he would be home and you are worried that he might have gotten into an accident because the roads are getting icy. You feel fear. "What if's" race through your head.

Finally, your son gets home and after that feeling of relief that he is ok comes...anger.

Your worst fear was that he was hurt or dead. If he was hurt or dead, you would turn your anger toward God or someone else. But, since he is just late, you turn your anger on him. In some form of parental logic, you yell, "You're grounded! Forever!"

Face your fear. What were you afraid would happen? Now think through it. If that did happen, what would you do? How would you go on? If your answer to that is, "I couldn't go on," then you have an idol in your life. You are actually declaring to God that you won't go on unless he stops this thing from happening. You are putting your own needs and wants, fears above God Himself. Face that. Confess that. Repent from that.

God is patient. Take your time and examine your heart, follow your faith and face your fear.

Bonus: If you struggle with fear, here is one band's hilarious solution.


When our coworker belittles us in front of the boss or a client, we feel disrespected. We want to set the record straight and demonstrate our capability.

This feeling of being disrespected quickly turns to anger. We want revenge. If we feel helpless at work, we take that anger out on someone else: the guy driving too slow in front of us, the idiot talk show host on the radio, or our unruly family. We try to control other people with our anger so we won't feel so helpless.

Facing disrespect can be tricky. Do you have respect for yourself? Do you believe the lies that are being told, the gossip or that the way you were treated is deserved?

Until you respect yourself, it will be hard for you to require that others give you the respect you deserve. But, it is easy to fall on the side, the side of arrogance and to start believing the lie that you are better than someone else.

As we are learning to respect ourselves, we need to balance a healthy respect for others. Respect others as much as we respect ourselves.

Then, standing on this firm foundation, we can begin to face disrespect when it occurs whether it is directed at us or someone else. This often involves confrontation, speaking the truth in love, standing tall and extending grace. It takes tact and grace to confront someone with truth without judgment or condemnation, but it is possible.


You have just finished cleaning the whole house, you sit down for a cup of tea and the kids get home from school. "I just cleaned the house, please don't..." But, before you are finished with the sentence, everything seems to unravel. The shoes track in mud, the coats and backpacks are dropped haphazardly on the floor, the juice is spilled and the volume is turned way up. You feel frustrated, like all of your work was unappreciated.

Then, the anger starts to build. Do you retreat and hide in your room or try to keep them from destroying the whole house by yelling and demanding?

Frustration is most often the source of my own anger. I find it so difficult to slow things down enough to realize what is going on, but I think it is actually the easiest of these four primary emotions to face.

Face the source of our frustration. "My child is getting out of bed again! I am so angry." What are we believing at this moment?
           - We can't handle this because we are so tired from a long day.
           - If we were good parents, our children wouldn't do bad things.
           - If our child can't even stay in bed, how can she hope to succeed in life.

I hope you can see the lies in each of these statements. First, if we are trusting God for our strength and this is what is happening, we can handle it in God's strength. Second, our children's bad behavior has more to do with our children than with us. We are responsible for our bad behavior, but not theirs, though I can influence it greatly. Third, slow down! We are talking about a little thing that we will forget in a week. This is not the end of the world.

So, take a breath, we must face our false beliefs, the source of our frustration, and decide what we want to do about it. What can we do that we will be proud of when the day is done?

A Few Last Thoughts...

Determine if our primary emotions are real or embellished? When we feel betrayed by a friend who stood us up, were we really betrayed? Did the person not call us because they wanted to hurt us OR did they do it for some other reason? Unless they intentionally tried to hurt us, they didn't betray us. Our feelings of hurt and fear of losing a friend and feeling disrespected are all more or less created in our own minds.

We must be careful of what we allow to play around in our heads. Our thoughts can create images and feelings that aren't based in reality. We can take a little knowledge and think that we understand the whole picture.

The only solution to this kind of anger is humility. We must acknowledge our lack of information and face the truth. We need to confront the person we are angry with. Tell them the truth about how we feel and ask them to fill in the missing information. We may have a good reason to be angry. We may not.

Facing the person that we feel has sinned against us is the only path to healing. If there is sin, then our path to health and wholeness is forgiveness. If there is no sin on their part, then we can only confess our mistrust and the lies we believed and receive grace and forgiveness from God and hopefully from the person we have mistrusted.

Usually, it is one of these four emotions that is driving our anger. If we can get to the bottom of it, figure out which of these are behind our anger, we can face it and decide what to do next.

Tomorrow I will post about "Anger is Power" and explain how we can use anger for our benefit.


  1. Very interesting analysis. Great job Dave! I feel my anger issues arise when I feel things (both big and small, important and trivial) spin out of my control. As if I am in control of anything! Wrestle with it time and time again. Prayer helps.

  2. Thanks, Larry! Control is an unsatisfying illusion, isn't it? It is odd that so many of these blogs deal with how to have better control of our lives. Maybe I should do one on losing control and the joy we can find in the unknown and holy limbo of obedience driven life. Thanks for the comment.