Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Resources for Transforming Anger

Central to the work of forgiveness is
the task of working through our feelings of anger.”
– David Augsburger

Now that we've explored the idea that anger is not sinful but is something that tells us key information about ourselves, our hearts, and our environment, we can begin to appreciate the usefulness of the emotion. It is not a negative thing if we give into it and feed it, but we can honor it as a gift that God gave us. Though the Bible warns against the power of anger as a precursor to sin, it's the indulgence and avoidance of anger that becomes sinful. Though it is true that vices and negative character traits can be the source of anger, those Christians who deem all anger of sin cheapen it and rob it of it as a transformative power that can work for virtue. “You can use anger or let it use you.”

Quite interestingly, anger often emerges as an emotion that is really just a reaction to a threat. It's often not at the very foundation and is often not the first manifestation of a particular feeling. Grief, fear, confusion, frustration, fatigue, loss of control or a violation of a personal boundary often manifest as anger. Guilt and shame may also become an expression of anger as well. In many of these circumstances, anger is actually self-protective and part of a means of survival. The references noted in this post have shaped my understanding of anger as I have described it in this series.

Note that later in this series of posts, I'll offer a more extensive list of titles on forgiveness, but for now, I'll just highlight those that concern how to conquer and master anger as it relates to forgiveness.
“Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger
but faces it head-on.”
– Alice Duer Miller

Christian Books About Anger in Forgiveness

In his many titles concerning forgiveness,  David Augsburger writes extensively about the role of anger in forgiveness and a natural emotion that often follows an offense, particularly in outright sins against the offended. He explores the ranges of intensity of anger, noting not only the normal types of irritability and sensitivity, but he goes on to identify both ends of the spectrum of anger. In my own case, I explained how my anger progressed from normal anger into what Augsburger calls hot flashes into “boiling/scalding” anger, right into explosive anger. But he also talks about the freezing response of anger which can often accompany PTSD which can be a cool anger to something that is “icy cold,” an irrational hostility of frozen rage.

One word of caution about Augsburger is that he views reconciliation as the full expression of forgiveness. He doesn't merge the two processes in a way that asks an offended or abused person to forgo justice and safety in the name of forgiveness. But there are aspects of his work that tend to push for reconciliation. I don't necessarily disagree with him all that strongly in the right context, but for those who have been deeply heart and threatened and are faced with great difficulty with a recalcitrant abuser, the way he handles some of these issues could be difficult to process. That's said, his books are well worth the read. On the broader discussion of forgiveness, I tend to agree more strongly with other authors, but in the context of anger in the forgiveness process, Augsburger's work is excellent.

Neil Clark Warren's book, Make Anger Your Ally, is another great resource that defines anger as a symptom of a greater problem and explores the emotion specifically. It's a relatively short book (first published many years ago by Focus on the Family) that presents the topic well from a Christian perspective. Of course, having been awhile since I've read it, I have a copy of it packed away where it's not easily accessible as I prepare this post. As I recall, he also does a great job of explaining how we can transmute anger into other emotions when we deny and avoid it. Many turn anger inward as depression and self-hatred. If you struggle with this aspect of forgiveness, I highly recommend this title that I found to be a fast read.

Though they don't target anger specifically as a primary topic, I find that the better books on codependency and woundedness that results from chronic, toxic shame to be essential, too. Lewis Smedes' many titles on forgiveness and Sandra Wilson's Released From Shame as well as Hurt People Hurt People delve into this topic and offer excellent insight into developing emotional self-awareness. They're also focused on how to heal, so they are tremendously helpful for those coping anger. I also outline my favorite titles on this topic in this post which offers a more extensive list of books and what I like most about each of them.

Also in respect to the topic of shame, David Stoop's Forgiving our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves was an early favorite of my own that changed my life soon after it was published, and I would be remiss if I didn't specifically mention it here. :)  He also wrote the very helpful Forgiving the Unforgivable.   It was one of the first books I read that presented the topic to me in a way that validated my fears about cheap forgiveness that never results in change that protects the wounded from their abuser.

Les Carter and Frank Minirth offer the Anger Workbook, and it is a favorite of a dear friend of mine. I've gleaned much from a great many of the books in the Minirth Meyer Clinic Series when they were first published decades ago, but I've never delved into this book very deeply. (But I can't tell you much about the content of it!)

Christian Material Online

This is not an extensive list, but these resources may be helpful to Christians who are working through what anger means and how the Bible encourages us to deal with it. I know virtually nothing about this website, but their review on the Biblical texts concerning anger provides a great overview that is short and sweet.

Pastor Steve Cornell who studied at Philadelphia College of the Bible, shares a treasure trove of sound wisdom concerning forgiveness on his blog, Wisdom for Life. As I think that anyone who really understands forgiveness in a healthy way does, he's written many posts on the subject of anger as it relates to the process. He wisely balances justice for the wounded and abused with mercy, but he also considers the character that we should have as Christians and those things God requires of us. You can also download a pdf of Anger: Don't Let it Destroy your Life from his church's website.

Secular Resources

This is not a comprehensive list but is rather a list of resources that I've found helpful and informative on many of my own journeys. Keep in mind that these books are secular, so note that I don't necessarily advocate everything and all approaches that the sources take to every aspect of the subject of how to transcend the difficult aspects of the human condition. Anger proves to be such a difficult thing for many Christians to understand, so consideration of the importance of learning to appropriate and use our anger in healthy ways to help us grow, I found the unique insights offered in these sources very valuable.

Gender and Grief. Men often process grief as anger, whereas women will tend toward manifesting grief as depression. Though I don't want to spend a tremendous amount of time on this subject which can be readily researched online, I believe that these gender related differences in grieving style are noteworthy. And in terms of working through grief itself of which anger can be a part, one of the most commonly recommended resources is The Grief Recovery Handbook by James and Friedman.

A Master Class in Gremlin Taming by Rick Carson offers a very well rounded approach to anger and other types of self defeating emotions that people tend to like to ignore. I found this book very helpful towards understanding my own habits, both good and bad, but I also found that it helped me understand how other people deal with anger. I tend to forget that not everyone handles emotions in the same way that I do, and this book helped expand my appreciation for perspective. I'd picked it up thinking that it would most benefit me as I wrestled with my own internal state, and I was surprised at how it helped my empathy for others grow in that process.

The Get Your Angries Out website offers a wide variety of pragmatic information concerning how to cope with anger as a motivator for personal growth. The site offers specific encouragement and exercises for adults, children, parents, and couples, and much more, focusing on the issue of anger and other emotions that most people consider negative ones that are really just part of the full spectrum of being human. When you first learn how to cope with anger and when you find yourself in the midst of it, this specific material can be very helpful. (And it's free!) The Analyze Your Anger and Do It Better Next Time page can be a great place to start.

~  Anger makes you smaller  ~
while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.

– Cherie Carter Scott in

Other references used in the development of this post:
Therapy/course material on forgiveness developed by Sylvia Hartsoe, MA, LPC, NCC

Much more to come
on the subject of forgiveness.

(Click HERE for the next post.)