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About this series
Overcoming Emotions that Destroy
Practical Help for Those Angry Feelings that Ruin Relationships
How do you deal with those angry feelings we all experience? In the series, Overcoming Emotions That Destroy, Chip Ingram will help you identify whether you are a spewer, leaker, or stuffer. You will learn the difference between good and bad anger, how to gain control of it, and how to use it in constructive ways. This no-nonsense, practical series, will give you biblical tools to express your anger appropriately and deal with those who express their anger toward you.More from this series
Anger is a secondary emotion. Why we all struggle with anger. I have to start by, I’ve got to tell you a story. It’s a true story, unfortunately.
I am studying and I’m preaching this material for the first time ever, so all week I’m studying, studying, studying. It happens to be about a Tuesday night and I’m preparing for this and all I can tell you, I won’t give you all the details but have you ever had one of those days where you just felt beat up?
I mean, this phone call and this person complains and you get a bad look from someone and this was planned and it didn’t come through and beat up beat up beat up and the projects weren’t going well. It wasn’t bad, no one treated me terribly, but I had one of those moments inside where I just couldn’t wait to get home.
And at our house we ate dinner at five thirty and I just made that a practice that apart from a very rare exception we just ate together. But now and then there would be something, a big meeting, and so I wouldn’t. And, so, it was about nine o’clock and I’m driving home and I’m thinking, I just cannot wait to talk to Theresa. And I don’t have anything big to say and if I was really honest I want to walk through the door and her to go, “Oh honey, it’s so good to see you. How’d your day go? Is everything okay?”
I mean that’s really unconsciously, that’s sort of what I’m wanting. And then, Ryan was a real young guy back then, he was about in his senior year of high school and he always wanted to play some ball or talk or goof off and Annie was this little cute girl about ten or eleven years old or so.
And, so, in my mind, I’m going to go home and I’m going to see them. And I don’t know what happened, I walked in the house, it’s nine thirty – it’s dark. I mean, the whole house was dark. I don’t know if everybody had a big day, a bad day and so I’m thinking, Well, Theresa is probably lying in bed quietly waiting for me to walk to say, “Oh honey, how did your day go?”
So I walk in and I’m waiting for that... and I hear, you know that rhythmic breathing? “Hmm-hmm-hmm.” So, okay, plan A doesn’t work, I’m going go to plan B – Ryan. I mean, he’s seventeen years old, it’s nine thirty. Are you kidding me? The kid can’t be asleep! What did he have, a hard practice? He’s gone. Well, Annie’s already been gone.
All I can tell you is that I just bolted to anger. I was mad. I think I made some popcorn, got a glass of orange juice, forty-five minutes of ESPN. “I worked really hard today. Kind of bummed out.” Now, I didn’t know I was mad. Okay? I just felt something’s wrong. I didn’t know.
And I went to bed. And there are some verses about going to bed when you don’t know you’re mad. It doesn’t get better. It grows. But a disconnect occurs. Often, you have emotional feelings and just respond in ways – you make no connection. I had no idea.
So, I get up the next morning, amazingly, in a bad mood. Imagine that. So, I can still remember. I can picture it right now. I’m coming around the corner, as I walk out, Annie’s coming out of her room. Little eleven-year-old. I look in there, “Annie, make your bed.” “Dad, I just got up.” “Annie, don’t talk back, make your bed.”
“Honey,” Theresa goes, “Honey, she just got up.” “Look. Hey. I’m the father of this house.” You know? Then Ryan comes out, “Hey Ryan.” “Yeah?” Did you have your quiet time yet? Did you do your chores yesterday?” “Hey Dad, I haven’t even brushed my teeth.” “Hey son, don’t talk back to me.”
And so I walk into the kitchen, Theresa’s doing some stuff for breakfast. “So, what happened to you?” “What do you mean, what happened to me?” “Well you just seem really out of sorts.” “Well you know what? If I’m going to get criticized all morning I’m just going to go ahead and go to the office.”
And literally I walk out the door. Now, I didn’t scream. I didn’t yell. I didn’t slam the door. This is a Christian anger. Alright? So, I go and I get in my car and I slam the door. Okay? And I start it and I get ready to pull out and then I’m just thinking. Literally, I’m studying all this stuff. Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like the red light on the dashboard of your soul. It tells you something’s wrong under the hood. Chip, what are you going to do with this? And I’m thinking, I’m going to go get a cup of coffee and get out of here.
Chip, that’s not what you’re supposed to do and that’s not what you’re going to tell people this weekend is it? No. I literally sat in my car with the car running for ten minutes in this moment of: really what’s wrong. Now especially for men, now I’m not going to put you other guys on the hook but at least for me, it’s hard for me to admit, “Oh, I feel sad and disappointed because my wife wasn’t awake to give me the strokes that I really wanted.” That sounds kind of like a weenie. You know?
I feel hurt and rejected because my seventeen or eighteen-year-old son wasn’t awake to hang out with me and I can’t think of a good reason to be mad at my daughter but she was just in the hall at the wrong time. And I sat there and I thought, Now what am I going to do with this?
After ten minutes by the grace prompting of God, I turned off the car, I went inside, Theresa looked at me like, I wonder if round two is coming, and I said, “Honey, can I get just a minute with you?” She goes, “Sure.” I said, “I realized I was angry.”
She looked at me like, “Oh. Rocket science. You’re really coming along here.” And I said, “Honestly I came home last night. I really had a hard day yesterday. I missed you, and I felt really sad and really disappointed and it doesn’t make sense. I felt rejected because you were asleep and you didn’t do it on purpose. I had these expectations and I had this hurt and I really needed to talk to you and you weren’t here and I didn’t know it but I got mad but it just felt too vulnerable or like there’s something wrong with me to admit that I was really hurt and feeling lonely. And I bolted to anger. And I went to bed with that. I just realized that in the car.”
And then I went to Ryan, and I said, “Ryan, you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a great kid, I’m really sorry. And, Annie, uh, have a great day. Dad just, it’s too much to try to explain.”
That changed, literally changed, a process of the sanctification of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life when I saw: anger is like a red light on the dashboard of my car and what I had realized is that a lot of the times what we do is we go, “Oh, wow. The red light’s flashing.”
And so we stop the car, get in the trunk, get a hammer out, and smash the red light. That’ll take care of that, right? Instead of when it’s on the light of the dashboard, what do we know? Something under the hood is amiss. Something’s wrong.
In your notes, I tried to lay it out a little more systematically. It’s easier to be angry than to face the deeper issues of anger. Anger is not the problem, it is the warning light. I came across a quote as I worked through this from Doctor Becca Johnson. She seems to say it smarter, clearer, and better. She says,
“When I was late to pick up my son from school I got mad at the clock, the school, the traffic
lights, my watch, and the stupid school schedule before I finally realized the real issue. I was embarrassed that the school secretary had to call me to come and pick up my son. When a client of mine was mad at his boss, he realized that the strong underlying emotions were really insecurity and fear, and not anger. When I got mad at the driver who made a virtual gesture at me, I later realized that the root feeling was guilt because I had pulled out too far in traffic and put him and me in danger. When I got angry at a colleague for not including me on a decision, I discovered really my anger was covering my own hurt pride underneath. If you and I are honest with ourselves and brave enough to peel back the anger, we can discover its true motivating force. When people abandon us, let us down, when someone doesn’t come through, when we feel rejected, left out, lonely, sad, or sorrowful, we usually cover it up with anger because these emotions are so strong, painful, and confusing, anger serves as a more satisfying substitute. Anger artificially helps us feel in control when we’re feeling out of control and falsely helps us feel powerful when we feel powerless.”
And then she goes on to highlight some common emotions that cover anger. And just, I’ll give you the quick version again so that you’ll go, “Oh.”
We often cover our anger with, when what’s underneath is hurt, guilt, shame, powerlessness, betrayal, insecurity, rejection, dashed hopes, feeling trapped, hopelessness, helplessness, unmet expectations, envy, jealously, resentment, pride, low self-esteem, failure, sense of worthlessness, loneliness, depression, worry, anxiety, pressured, stressed out, disappointment, remorse, exhaustion, fatigue, and grief.
Those are real things that every human being experiences all the time in life and what I want to suggest is, the great majority of the time, that’s not what comes up on your radar.
You get angry. Some of you, though, know that angry is illegal so you stuff it and you don’t even know that those are the real issues. Some of you stuff it for a while, because you’re a Christian and you feel like blowing up is not very healthy – then you blow up.
Other people you’re eating because you’re angry, some of you are taking prescription drugs because you’re angry. Some of you started off with social glass of wine at night and now you have to have two or three. And you’re covering stuff inside that God wants to heal and forgive and restore.
We learned that we spew, we stuff, and we leak but I want to tell you that anger is a secondary emotion and we all struggle with it. It’s the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many underlying causes of anger. I just read about twenty-five of them.
But when you pull them together, you basically can come up with about three big categories. We get angry as a result of unmet needs. And I’m going to call that hurt. Because that’s what it feels like. I just feel hurt. I had a need to talk. I had a need to get connected. I had a need for someone to come through for me. I had a need to be loved when I was grieving.
The second is unmet expectations, and we’ll look at each of these individually. And I just call that frustration. I expected people to be awake. I expect a friend to be available. I expect people to return my calls. I expect people to do what they said they would do. I expect people that love me to help me when I have a need. Right? When they don’t, I get mad and so do you. The third underlying cause is insecurity, when we’re personally attacked or threatened.
And so, with that, what I’d like to do is I’d like to walk through each of those, give you some Biblical examples, and see if we can’t, here’s what I’m going to ask you to do. I’m going to pray that God begins to help you have an “a-ha” experience so that from now on when you get angry, you’ll go, “Ah! This is a secondary emotion! I have bolted to anger. I wonder, is there an unmet need or hurt that I need to address? Is it an expectation issue? Or was I personally attacked?” And I’ll give a tool for each one of these and how to deal with it so God can use your anger to help you instead of make you a prisoner.
So with that let’s look at hurt – real or perceived unmet needs. Notice Proverbs 19:3. “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.” Haven’t you seen this? People make stupid, bad, terrible decisions. They drive drunk, they do all kind of crazy stuff, they blow up at maids, they don’t care about people, and then when life falls apart, they shake their fist at God. “How could you do this to me God?” Because it’s too scary to admit their own guilt, their own lack, their own culpability, and take responsibility for their bad behavior.
Isn’t it insightful what Solomon has to say? “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.” Notice Proverbs 27:4 it says, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming but who can stand before jealousy?”
He pictures anger as this storm and it’s cruel but he says there’s something behind it. Jealousy is rooted in hurt. Jealously is the fear of losing someone, the rejection we feel when affection or attention or honor or money goes to someone else that we think belongs to us. And when I feel that, when I feel like, “Well, my kids need to be giving me this attention, or I should have gotten credit for that,” and I start to get jealous. Let me show you that biblically. Let’s look at a quick picture in Scripture with regard to the whole issue of jealously here.
Joseph’s brothers, okay? You know the story. You have the youngest son at this point. And Genesis 37 to 39 is the long story. And we pick it up in verse 4. It says, “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.”
So you have a father who is showing partiality. He gets the nice coat. He gets the easy job. He gets all the attention. You have the other brothers over here and what are they feeling? They feel hurt, they feel rejected. This isn’t fair. So, they go to their father and say, “You know, Dad, I’ve been reading a couple good books on parenting, and I just really want you to know that this type of behavior is going to be unhealthy for Joseph, for us, and for you as a father. And what I want you to know…”
What do they do? They bolt to anger. And so, what they do is they, this is what we do. They take their anger and their jealousy, that’s the root cause, out on, not the object of it, but on the person who’s receiving the attention. Isn’t that interesting? They displace their anger to a safer object. Why am I yelling at my kid in the hallway for not making his bed? Because I bolted to anger and I’m going to take it out in a safer place.
Joseph’s brothers. The lament psalms are – sometime read these with a little less sanctified view of how wonderful David and psalmists are. Twenty-five percent of all the psalms are someone whining and complaining to God. But you know why they’re so raw? They don’t cover up their anger.
David loves God with all of his heart. “Why have You forsaken me? What’s the deal? This isn’t fair! The enemies are this. You anointed me king! I’m hiding in caves! I’m dodging spears! I don’t get it! I loved You – I risked my life, I risked my life and I’m out doing Your work and I come back and my kids and wife and everyone they’ve been taken away and now I’ve got to go fight? Where are You, God? I’m depressed. Why does my soul…why does my soul, where is the living God?” And he pours out his lament.
And when he’s really honest with his emotions in almost every lament psalm, “Yet thou are enthroned on high, O God. You are the faithful One.” And he’ll get perspective and he’ll look back, “You’re the one that delivered us. You’re the one who’s done this. You’re the one who has done this.” But he takes the raw emotions of his anger and he gets down to what the real issues are, and then he gets back and he gets God’s perspective and then he responds differently.
Some of us don’t feel like it’s safe to share with God our anger and our hurts and our frustrations. My favorite passage in this one is Psalm 73. I was so bummed out. I was so mad at God and life. And I made a commitment in college after becoming a Christian to be sexually pure and I decided I was going to walk with God and that commitment meant that I ended up breaking up with a girlfriend. But I loved her and I thought she was going to be my wife.
And I was playing college basketball and for a year and a half after every college game she would be at the top of the stairs waiting for me. And we had broken up and time went on and it was about four months later and I prayed God would change her heart and we’d get back together and all that good stuff.
And I came out of the locker room, hair wet, and she’s at the top of the stairs and it was like, “Yes. Thank You, Lord, thank You, thank You, yes.” You know? And I get to the top of the stairs and she kind of looks at me and then one of the other guards on the team walks by and the two of them walk out the door.
And from that doorway to my dorm room, I was enraged. “God thank You, I really appreciate how You treat Your servants. I’m really glad for how You bless the, I’m doing life the way You say and this is what I get.” And I was just ready to can it. “If this is what You get for following You with all your heart, for staying pure well I’ll tell You what, God.”
And some of you, haven’t you felt that? “My finances are in order and now look what’s happening in this and that and people are getting bailed out and this and that. I did this and what happened and my husband or my wife or one of my kids, someone walked out on them. And I was faithful and I came in on time and now they’re downsizing and I get ripped off,” right?
And I remember that night saying, “God, this isn’t fair.” And I was angry and I opened Psalm 73, and I read Psalm 73 and it says, “My heart was embittered. I was like a beast before You. I was ready to give up the Christian life. I looked at the arrogant and the evil and the pride as they’re neckless, and they don’t have any pain and everything goes great for them, yet when I came to the sanctuary of the Lord, I perceived their end.” Then I got perspective. “Their life is like a vapor.” God in a moment can pull out the rug and all they have is gone and they have no future. “As for me the nearness of God is my good. I’ve made the Lord God my refuge. My heart and my flesh may fail, but You’re the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And all I want you to see is that underneath your anger often, it really is hurt. And the tool is what I call an “I feel” message.
I shared that Theresa and I had a lot of struggles and we went to counseling and we paid a lot of money to give you a lot of help later. And we didn’t know how, so when she got angry she closed down, she stuffed, and I leaked. It was not a good combination.
And so, we went to this counselor and he realized, “You guys can’t resolve anger, and when you do, you attack each other, which is not good either.” And we did it in really godly ways. We weren’t throwers and shouters and screamers and cussers, we just, but you know what? It just tore us apart. And so, on a 3x5 card he wrote, “I feel _________ when you _________” and we put that 3x5 card on the refrigerator and he taught us: this is how you communicate your hurt or your anger.
It goes something like this: “I feel hurt when you pay more attention to the kids than me.” “I feel disappointed when you don’t come home for supper and don’t call.” “I feel rejected when I want to be physically close to you and you shut down emotionally.” “I feel angry when you shout and yell when we talk about a sensitive issue.” And for two years that was on our refrigerator and we learned to say “I feel” messages to one another. And God really used it. He used it in an amazing, amazing way.
And I would like you to think about who might need to hear an “I feel” message from you. When’s the last time you really got angry with someone or something and as a result of our time already you realize you kind of stuffed it or you sort of spewed and that really didn’t work very well. Or you find yourself joking about the same thing, you know, a little sarcasm, little barbs. And I’d just like you to just think about, what would it be like? What’s the real, what’s the real issue? What’s behind it? What really bugs you? Why are you mad?
Okay, the red light, it’s anger. But what’s underneath that? Who hasn’t come through for you? Which one of those grandkids, after helping them go through college, doesn’t write, doesn’t call, and you’ve realized, “I’m just ticked off. I’m just mad.”
Who at work? You’ve helped them get to where they are and they’ve made some progress and it’s like, hey, you don’t exist anymore. Who’s one of your friends that you used to hang out with a lot? And now, there’s sort of that unwritten rule if you’re a really close friend and you call, you get a call back the same day and now it’s like four days or five days and you don’t even get a call, you get an email, “Hey, I got your call. Thanks, I’m busy.”
And there’s just something that’s happening inside, you understand what I’m saying? There’s something happening inside and it’s not like you’re going to go, “Hey, I’d like to really confront you about our relationship right now. Okay? Coffee shop, just you and me. Mano to mano. Womano to womano. Alright? You are not responding to my email in a timely manner and I feel deeply hurt.” I don’t think we’re going to go there.
But what it would be like to have some time together and say, “Hey could we get a cup of coffee?” And just say, “You know, I sense a little drift in our relationship. And this may sound silly but I feel hurt after all that we’ve been through when I call and I don’t get a response for three or four days. Could I just share that with you as a brother?”
See, you’re attacking the issue not the person. And I will tell you, when you hold that inside, you know what? You get resentment toward the person. And then for some of us, you know what? “I won’t call him back. When he calls me, I’ll give him an email.”
And we start these silly games and God wants you to know, He wants to use your anger for your good. Anger is a secondary emotion. One of the primary causes is hurt. We see it from Joseph’s brothers and we see it throughout the psalms. I want you to just stop right now, okay? Close your eyes. I’m going to ask a question and let’s just do a quick little exercise.
Father right now, I ask You to bring to mind, a person or a situation in the lives of the people in this room, where they have been hurt. And I’d like you to right now just practice visualizing in your mind what it would look like and it might be a phone call because they’re too far away but what it would look like just to say “I feel hurt.” “I feel left out.” “I feel wounded.” “I felt disappointed when you didn’t invite me to the wedding.” “When you…” you fill it in. You got it?
And Father, I pray that You would grant us the grace and the courage to not bolt to anger but to realize that we’re human and as humans we get wounded and hurt. And we don’t want the wounds to fester and we don’t want resentment or bitterness or anger to cause a root of bitterness and many be defiled. Help us to have the courage to deliver a loving, kind, “I feel” message to get the issue on the table and to speak the truth in love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.