Understanding The Roots of Anger

By Ian Wilsher

Anger is like a flashing red light on the dashboard that says something is happening. A useful tool to discover what’s going on is this: Anger signals a blocked goal. The question to ask is what is the goal that is being blocked? Should it be a goal? And is it going to be met this way?

Sometimes (quite often) that goal is simply that I want my own way and I’m not getting it. I’m being selfish. So James tells us What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. (James 4 vs 1 – 3)

Obviously, as followers of Jesus, we need to die to that selfishness and allow Jesus’ grace and love to flow through us.

But often there is something more subtle and deeper going on. A wife may be angry when her husband is continually late home. What is the goal that is being blocked? Probably to have a husband who shows consideration and love for his wife and family. The problem with that goal is that it is not in the wife’s control. She cannot control her husband. She can nag or rant in which case he will be even less inclined to come home early. Of course he should come home earlier but she cannot make that happen. She can work on changing herself by asking “What is the goal being blocked? At the root her blocked goal is to be loved and valued. Most blocked goals relate to fundamental needs we have, like to be loved, or valued, to be secure, to belong, or be accepted. The reason we get angry is we (subconsciously) look to others to give us these things and when they don’t, (as is inevitable) we get angry. The problem is not the need itself (we were created to be loved and valued and have significance etc.) but it is our strategy to get the need met apart from God which causes the problem. We look to other people or the world to satisfy those needs, rather than looking to our loving Heavenly Father, who alone can meet that need.

I get angry sometimes when I don’t get the respect I think I should get. It may well be that the person should be giving me more respect, however, I set myself up for anger and disappointment if I depend on them to meet that need. The answer is to look to the Lord, see how valuable and precious I am to Him (despite my behavior and lack of performance). As I drink in His estimate of my value, it sets me free from people around me. I might still be angered by disrespect as it can be hurtful, but my anger will be so much less.

So when the red light of anger comes on, ask yourself “What goal is being blocked?” “ Should this be a goal?” “What need does this goal relate to?” Turn away from trying to meet this need in people or this world and trust the Lord to meet that unmet need. Trusting the Lord and receiving all that we need from Him sets us free. This change is a process but a process that causes us to grow and change at a fundamental level.

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