Anger is Only the Symptom

I woke to the sad story of the suicide of Aaron Hernandez. A gifted former NFL player whose life spiraled out of control, landing him a life sentence before this tragic end. Just last week he was acquitted of additional murders from an instance in a Boston nightclub in 2012. He was seen blowing kisses to a little girl he fathered, in the courtroom on Friday. How does one lose hope so quickly?

As I read the short ESPN story, one detail jumps out at me. Two men were gunned down sometime after that nightclub incident where one of the men accidentally spilled Hernandez’s drink. An awful big response to the spilling of some liquid.

But I have to step back and look only at myself to see big responses to little things in my life. I get so angry over the auto-correct on my phone that I start yelling “How dumb can you possibly be?” I become easy frustrated over the way my workout bag shoulder strap always ends up underneath, making me work to pick it up. I freak out in frustration when the recyclables fall all over the floor when trying to get them out of the house. I’m no different than Aaron Hernandez.

Aaron to anger
I can’t merely ask how Aaron Hernandez could move from happy to angry so quickly, I have to ask myself the same question.

So this anger thing…this frustration…how does it jump up and overwhelm my entire being so quickly? It boils so fast. And in some instance I could easily do something I deeply regret to my children, my wife, or a friend. So I need to do something about it.

When I have talked to my counselor about my anger and frustration, we end up talking about the campfire analogy. The smoke rising is the experienced emotion, but in dealing with the smoke you first figure out what the logs are made of. An insightful Focus on the Family article on anger says this: “Anger always reveals other mitigating factors going on down in the ‘springs of life.’ In that sense, anger is a very helpful warning light on the “dashboard” of life.”

So my campfire logs are some other mitigating factors. It is never really just about the boxes falling, coat hangers getting caught, the auto-correct doing it’s stupid interpretations. The source is always something deeper, and so the anger is always just a symptom of something else.

The anatomy of managing anger is no small task to explain. Why do you think there are entire courses on anger management or 240-page books like Gary Chapman’s Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion out there? My few words can’t possibly compare to all the wisdom in those resources. So perhaps I’m just going to speak to myself, reminding me to do these small steps in discovering the reason for the fire and how to manage it.

  1. Observe when there is smoke. Notice when I’m angry or frustrated, and remember it is a warning light that something else is going on.
  2. Remember the smoke is not the fire. Try to reasonably think about the logs down below the smoke.
  3. Slow down and evaluate the whole situation. Evaluating the logs needs a clear mind, not one overwhelmed by the frenzy of intense emotion.
  4. Is there a violation? This is getting to source, what are the logs made of? Has something been done to me or has some value that I hold been trespassed?
  5. Is the violation reasonable? Has it truly harmed my person or is it an inconvenience?
  6. Is the value I hold reasonable? Is it useful or do I need to re-evaluate it’s importance? Is it a preference or a perceived entitlement? An entitlement puts one in a position of advantage. Honestly, any entitlement I feel I deserve needs to be re-evaluated because they all tend to elevate myself and put others down.
  7. Can I let the violation go or do I need to take some reasonable step of action like a constructive conversation? Do I need to let some time pass so I don’t harm a relationship?
  8. Is expressing the anger worth more than the damage it could cause? Relationships are worth more than the relief of blowing off some steam. We need to slow down and evaluate quickly.
  9. Do I need to ask forgiveness of someone because of my reaction? Mending bridges is another discussion entirely, but this is a good evaluation question to ask.

All these points seem like a lot to process in the seconds it take for auto-correct to hijack my sanity. As a person in process, I need to be better at slowing down and making these points part of how I do life. The greatest skill in this process is slowing our thinking so we can reasonably approach evaluating ourself.

Some additional wisdom from an outside source has been helpful for me. James 1:19 speaks into this where it shares, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” The encouragement is to ask questions more quickly and show the emotion more slowly. Counterintuitive at first, but oh so wise. This is why most of my points above are questions aimed at myself.

Another insightful secret comes from Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” Perhaps confusing but consider the picture of someone in anger torching everything around himself only to find out he didn’t know the whole story. If I control myself enough to slow down, ask questions, figuring out what the logs are before causing damage, does that not show wisdom, maturity, and leadership? Wisdom and maturity are better leadership skills than capacity to destroy.

In managing my anger, the overarching goal is not “don’t get angry” but growing in maturity so I don’t get out of control in my anger. Ed Chinn, the author of the above cited article sums it up this way, “Being slow to anger is a mark of strength, mastery, and leadership. Self control (ruling your spirit) brings more leadership and success than being able to capture a city.”

These words are written to myself to help me grow so I don’t get out of control in my anger and perhaps hurt someone I love. Is blowing up really all that valuable? Most of the time it isn’t. So if I can take my points to heart, maybe I can be better at displaying the patience and kindness I want my kids to pick up from me rather than a quick temper. If these words encourage you, well, all the better.

Mr. Chinn wrote a whole series of posts on Changing an Angry Spirit where much more insight has been provided. I’d encourage a read to understand better how to deal with the logs of your campfire.

3 thoughts on “Anger is Only the Symptom

  1. I liked your dashboard and log metaphors. The verse Proverbs 16:32 is a great reminder and compelling vision, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” Thanks for sharing so vulnerably Mick. It was so sad he committed suicide. Sounds like they are going to donate his brain to the concussion research. Do you think that had anything to do with all this?


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