About a week ago, I was working through a bible study by Debbie Alsdorf. The study is on loving others well and the lesson I was working through that day was on anger. I hadn’t previously given a whole lot of thought to anger. It’s kind of a yucky topic, to be honest. Maybe that’s why no one talks about it. As I thought and prayed through that lesson, I felt like God was telling me I needed to really explore this topic to see what He wants me (us) to take heart concerning it.
In an attempt to learn more, I sought out some wisdom from an expert in the area of psychology. I had the privilege of interviewing a friend of mine, Dr. Jennifer Anderson, on this topic and OH MY GOSH. So good, you guys! I have posted our interview here for your reading pleasure. Whatever you’re doing right now, stop and ask God to open your heart to hear what He wants you to hear from this. I truly believe every single person reading this can benefit from it.
Here’s a little about Jennifer’s background: Jennifer is married to her husband Jeff and has a blended family of 6 grown boys. She has overcome so much in her own life in practically every way, which is probably what makes her such an amazing counselor. She is a licensed and ordained minister with a Doctorate in Christian counseling and holds multiple certifications in women’s issues, grief, and a specialization in childhood sexual abuse issues. In more recent times, Jennifer has taken on the role of president of Kingdom Community Ministries, a faith based counseling practice. So basically, she’s a #BOSS in so many ways. Now you know what I mean when I said it was a “privilege” to spend time talking with her.
Me: So, the focus of our conversation today is about anger. Would you say that as a counselor this is something you see women dealing with a lot? And do you think as a society this is something we have “masculinized” in a way?
Jennifer: I’ll address that last part first. I think in part we have masculinized the expressions of anger. There are certain generalized views and expressions of anger that are more associated with men . Men have an easier time expressing anger than women do. Women are typically better about talking through the other vulnerable emotions, where men struggle with that more. When it comes down to it, both have the same capacity to struggle with anger in different ways.
So, back to women. I can pick up on it a lot as a counselor, but it’s very infrequent that a woman comes in and says she has anger issues. Most people wouldn’t call it that. I have to help them work it out over time. It’s usually not that they’re afraid or defensive of it. It’s that a lot of women struggle to identify the emotion(s) underneath it.
It’s important to start with what anger is. Simply put, anger is an emotion. But, it’s not a primary emotion. I explain to my clients that just like colors, there are primary and secondary emotions. The primary emotions are: fear, frustration and hurt. Anger is a secondary emotion that is created by one or more primary emotions.
A lot of women don’t realize their anger has so much underneath it. I have to work with them to get to the root of why they are repressing it.
Me: Wow, that is so good! I love the color analogy. It makes so much sense. So, when you notice that a woman is repressing anger, how do you go about addressing that? How do you help her see what’s underneath?
Jennifer: I have to dig into their view of anger, first. What previous beliefs do they have about anger? A lot of women believe anger is wrong either through the experiences in their upbringing or in a spiritual sense. Some people think anger is a sin. We don’t know what we believe is a lie, until it is exposed.
When women don’t recognize they’re angry and I help them uncover what they believe about it, then we can explore the emotions behind it more. The next step is giving themselves permission to actually feel anger.
It’s one thing to believe anger is a God-given emotion and another thing to actually allow yourself to express it.
Emotions are both God-given and learned. If you don’t give yourself permission to be angry, confusion sets in and leaves you trying to suppress it and attempting to cope with it in some way. This makes women feel like something is wrong with them.
Me: That’s such a great point. I have never considered that maybe we don’t allow ourselves the permission to feel anger. I think I have a definite tendency to get into a trap of feeling guilty or indignant for expressing anger. Obviously there are some ways that are more appropriate and healthy than others.
We know the Bible does speak on this topic. The passage in Ephesians that most people have heard of regarding anger is a good one, but I feel like it can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Jennifer: Yes, so Ephesians 4:26-27 says “In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” I would say a lot of people mistake the part about not sinning in anger. Many women I’ve talked to seem to believe that anger itself is sin, because their view has been distorted. But, anger is a God-given emotion. Jesus himself displayed acts of righteous anger. It’s what we do with that anger that can turn to sin.
Another common misconception is the part that talks about not letting the sun go down on our anger. I think most people read that and think we have 24 hours to get past our anger, but that doesn’t make any sense. God created us with complex emotions and knows our capacity to process them. I believe what Paul was referring to here is not repressing our anger—not letting it sit under the surface instead of working through it.
Me: That makes so much more sense than seeing that verse as a sort of time crunch put on us. It goes right with that last part of the verse, too, about not giving the devil a foothold. If we are working through those underlying emotions, then the devil has no foothold. But on the contrary, if we’re refusing to work through them, the devil can have a hay day in our thought life. Working through those negative emotions is a way God can protect us from the enemy’s attacks.
So, when that anger is not dealt with, how do you see it manifest itself in women’s lives?
Jennifer: Suppressed anger manifests itself most often through anxiety and depression. There may be experiences and feelings that were never given any exposure. Those things will continue to plague and inhibit the woman from moving forward.
Me: Anxiety and depression are huge issues for women, so it makes sense that is how repressed anger (plus those primary emotions underneath) lead to feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. It also provides a lot of hope for women, to hear that by sorting through that mess of emotions they can experience freedom.
Ok, I’m going to veer a little on this next question. As moms, I feel like it can be so hard to not react. The demands and the pressures of being a mom and wife (plus whatever other roles we have) can feel like so much to carry at times. Then our kids have tantrums, attitudes, fighting, etc. Honestly, these things make me feel angry. I often end up in a vicious cycle that looks something like this: my kids misbehave, I react, I feel shame, I apologize, I move forward and pledge not to do it again. Then, before I know it, it happens again. How do we break cycles like these and handle anger in a healthy way?
Jennifer: Yes, I remember this when my boys were young. As a counselor, there are a lot of things I would dig into to try to figure out why the anger is coming on, so it’s hard to give a general answer. I do have some helpful tools though that anyone could use to express anger in a healthy way.
Things to consider:
When you feel angry, ask yourself what primary emotion is causing it. Are you frustrated about something? Fearful? Feeling hurt?
For a lot of moms, you might need to consider how you discipline. Is it causing more frustration than it is good? Kids need consistent and very definite consequences for their actions.
I remember when my youngest (and strongest willed child) was little. I often felt angry, because I was repeating myself all the time. There was one time where he was getting in trouble frequently at school. I disciplined him by taking away video games (which all the boys were very into at the time). Well, the behaviors kept happening. After three weeks, I finally realized that video games were not his value and therefore would not provide a powerful enough reason for him to change his behavior. Once I figured out his value (isolation from friends) the discipline was highly effective. You have to figure out how to discipline each child in the way that makes sense to you both and doesn’t leave you feeling frustrated and defeated.
Tools to Implement:
Take a break. When you feel that surge of anger coming on, do not try to sort out or solve a problem. You will end up sinning in your anger and regretting things you say or do. Just like we tell our kids to do, take a break before you try to work through the situation.
These next few tools are not so much for mom related anger—just anger in general. They are scientifically proven to release anger. The purpose is to allow the anger to surface and get the negative surge of energy out. It has to go somewhere. It is best to process it out loud and in a controlled environment before trying to deal with it rationally. A person who is repressing anger cannot deal rationally.
Journal. I don’t mean a diary entry. I mean throw up on the page all the raw and unfiltered things you feel. Say it all. Get it out. Then, once it’s out, see what’s true and whats a lie. (Make sure to get rid of it when you’re done.) Then, address the situation, asking God for His wisdom to communicate effectively.
Write a letter. This is very similar to the journal idea, except for in letter form directed at a specific person. Write a letter to the person who has hurt you. Write it all—all the things you would never actually say to them. Then when you’re done, destroy it.
Empty chair. This is really good for anyone who has been hurt by someone specifically. Do this alone as to not filter yourself. Pretend the person who has hurt you is sitting in the empty chair. Say (out loud) whatever you need to say to them. Angry things. Hurtful things. Get it all out.
Exercise. Take a walk or run by yourself and process in your mind and out loud the situation that is making you feel angry. Make sure to be raw and honest. Filtering it won’t fully release what is there.
Me: These are such great ideas! I’m excited to implement them into my life. I definitely struggle with not fully allowing myself to feel anger and get it out in an unfiltered way. I’m not helping myself by doing that. It helps to have the visual that the anger is always there sitting at the front of our brains. I have to tell my brain what to do with it, or else it sits there tainting all of my relationships, as I subconsciously and unfortunately spew out what’s unresolved, on my most favorite people. I’m so ready to grow in this area and I feel like the knowledge and tools you shared are going to be incredibly helpful for me and SO many other women as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom with us!
If people want to learn more about Kingdom Community Ministries and what you do there or if they are interested in finding a counselor, where can they go to get more information?
Jennifer: Absolutely! I love speaking on this topic, because I love to make women realize they are not powerless in this struggle. It just takes a little work to grow through it.
People can visit our website: http://www.kcmcounseling.com
They can call the office at: (661) 324-4070
We’re also on Instagram @kingdom_community_ministries
I hope you enjoyed today’s post and learned as much as I feel like I did! I’d love to hear your takeaways in the comments below or over on Instagram.
Have a wonderful week!