Today we’re talking about anger, more specifically, how I consider the question ‘is anger a sin?’
Not because I have ‘anger issues’ or an ‘anger management’ problem, but because research shows there is a relationship between repressed anger and chronic symptoms.
This kind of suggests that anger is a sin, certainly church life seems to reinforce this.
So today, I’ll give my understanding of how we are to view and deal with anger as Christians, why and how it causes illness and offer 5 steps to help release any anger so it won’t contribute to symptoms.
**Before I go any further, I am aware that some of you have ‘traumatic’ histories. If this is the case, you actually don’t need to delve into past experiences if they are going to retraumatise you.
Can I suggest utilising a personal counsellor or therapist to assist you in your recovery?
IS ANGER A SIN?
Expressed anger in public has social and even legal consequences. We know punching someone or vandalising things carries a punishment. Not to mention the hurt it causes.
Surely this means that anger is a sin?
As a Christian, I grew up believing that anger was a sin. If I ever became angry, there were often negative consequences.
The Bible says “When angry, do not sin”
To me, this doesn’t say that anger is a sin, but we do need to be careful regarding our behaviour and how we deal with our anger.
Anger is a survival response, given to us by our Creator. We need this mechanism, it’s essential to our survival.
If someone breaks into your house and starts vandalising it, as Christians are we passively going to allow this?
Or course not. We’re going to get angry.
Even Jesus had righteous anger when he turned the tables over at the money changers. (John 2:13-16)
It’s OK to get angry at the enemy and the problems he’s causing.
When I trained in counselling in a hospice, I would invite my clients to write to cancer in order to deal with their anger.
They found this therapeutic. A way of honouring their injustice at what cancer was doing. It releases the energy of the anger (I mention this below).
This is a correct use of anger, and not therefore a sin
THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
When we’re angry, our fight-flight mechanism is activated. Whether it’s righteous anger which is Godly or not, it is the sympathetic part of our nervous system, a survival state.
It is not wrong to be in this state at all. It’s how God designed us. Give yourself permission to be there, it’s ok.
As young children however we learn that anger is wrong or bad. Our parents tell us off, send us to our bedrooms, shout at us, confiscate our toys, belittle us… in order to manage our anger.
This shame keeps the anger at bay feeding dysregulation and keeping us shut down.
As a result, we learn to repress our anger from an early age. We continue to repress these ‘unwanted emotions’, becoming the ‘perfect and good child’.
Unfortunately this is not the way to deal with anger but of course we were too young to realise this, plus the repression is at an unconscious level.
Mindbody doctor Gabor Mate has written books on how the lack of authenticity causes sickness in adulthood.
Chronic pain doctor and mindbody expert John Sarno’s books teach us that repressed rage causes all sorts of chronic symptoms. In fact, he even wrote a book ‘the Reservoir of Rage’.
You see anger is an emotion. Energy in motion and of course energy needs to go somewhere.
Repressing the energy doesn’t allow it to go anywhere, it accumulates in our bodies and then causes physical pain or symptoms.
This doesn’t make the anger wrong or a sin. It just means we never learned what to do with it and now we’re programmed to not even feel it.
But we don’t want to stay in our stress state or have an accumulation of repressed emotions, because the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline will continue to drip into our bodies causing problems in our health.
Blood vessels constrict and we feel our heart rate increase. This impacts immune function as well as our nervous system which impacts every cell in our body.
Below are some steps that I am trying to take in order to address any anger. I believe that I am doing this through the lens of Scripture.
STEPS TO DEAL WITH ANGER
1. RECOGNISE ANGER
Firstly, I recognise that I’m angry.
I even name the anger and include the Lord. ‘God, I am really angry right now’. What is revealed, can be healed.
Naming it shows our systems that we are recognising how we feel. This is authenticity. We’re bringing awareness to our emotional state.
The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He won’t force His healing on someone who won’t acknowledge it.
2. FEEL IT
I tune into my body and notice where I feel the anger? Is it my tummy? my chest? I notice what my breathing is doing, my heart rate? Sometimes the anger has a colour or a shape.
Have you noticed, we often go into our heads and focus on the ‘story’ which only fuels the emotion.
The part of our nervous system, the prefrontal cortex, which causes us to think rationally and objectively switches off. So the thoughts we have when we’re angry or in this state are unreliable.
Look what happened to Naaman who almost allowed anger to rob him of his healing.
And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious, and went away…
2 Kings 5:10-11
Naaman desperately needed healing from leprosy and even though the prophet gave him the simple solution, the rational common sense part of his brain was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, the amygdala (fight/flight) part of the brain dominated him. That’s why we don’t want to listen to our thoughts when we’re in this place.
Feeling the emotion in the body is healthy and allows the emotion to move if it wants to and stops us listening to unhelpful thoughts.
You’re also showing your body that emotions are safe. “Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps 34:14)
3. RELEASE THE EMOTION
Now Pro 29:11 tells us “Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.”
My understanding is that this is referring to venting anger in public or at others. We don’t want that. But, it doesn’t mean we repress our emotions, pretending as though we’re not angry.
We get angry, just in a private way. I think this is healthy and ok.
When Cain was angry at Abel, God told him in Genesis 4:7 to ‘master his anger’.
Of course we know what happened when Cain didn’t do so. (Remember what we said about the rational part of the brain switching off!).
We may not kill someone when angry but we may still explode in someone’s face, say things we regret etc. This is not a healthy or wise way to deal with anger nor is it what God wants for us.
In fact Colossians 3:8 says “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage….”
So we do need to ‘rid ourselves’ of the anger. To me, I see this as ‘honouring the emotion’ or ‘honouring the part of me that’s hurting’ as though it is a child.
Here are some ideas:
- Punching a pillow,
- kicking your legs,
- roaring like a lion (seriously) can release the energy.
- Ripping up pieces of paper,
- star jumps
- or going for a run (if you’re able to).
- Moving to fierce music
- or using coloured crayons on a large piece of paper can creatively transmute some of this energy.
(Obviously this step can’t be done in public!)
Notice how this step involves some kind of movement.
Polyvagal theory (the theory of the nervous system) shows us that when we’re in the state of Sympathetic activation aka fight/flight we need to allow all that energy to move.
Otherwise, it gets stuck and causes symptoms in our bodies later on down the line.
Research papers have shown the benefits of freestyle journaling. This means pouring whatever unconscious thoughts we have onto a piece of paper. Here we have the freedom to be as nonsensical and unfair as we like.
Imagine it’s a 5 year old child with no filter.
Just say or journal exactly how you feel and don’t hold back. Again, you’re giving the part of you that’s angry a voice.
Remember you’re perfectly safe, the Holy Spirit is with you.
4. SOOTHE THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
When we’re angry, and even after releasing some of the emotion, our nervous systems are still activated so soothing ourselves is essential.
Here are a few ideas:
You see, we’re activating the parasympathetic part of the Nervous System and becoming more present.
We assist our Nervous System to do exactly what God has designed it to do.
The prefrontal cortex part of your brain (which switches off when you’re angry and in fight/flight) is now back online.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…
Inviting Jesus in may not instantly soothe, but for me, the belief that He is working things out behind the scenes in my favour and that there will come a time when this issue that is bothering me won’t activate me so much is key.
Remember certain issues involve a journey before complete resolution.
Perhaps right now, you don’t know what soothes your nervous system. I completely understand this because I also had no idea what I found soothing.
(Some people have no internal soother so it can be a journey just to develop this).
Notice how the above 4 steps are embodied. If trauma and stress (and anger) are stored in our bodies, we need therefore to use a bottom-up approach to assist the Holy Spirit in healing.
I personally don’t think praying for God to just take away the anger or take away the stored trauma is effective or the healthiest way to deal with anger.
5. EXPLORING ROOT CAUSES
Once I’m a bit calmer and a little more ventral, I can start to pray and explore with the Holy Spirit’s help what caused me to be angry in the first place.
And seek his guidance as to what to do. (ie, do I need to forgive someone, have a difficult conversation or reframe an experience?)
Otherwise, the same thing will happen again and again because I’m actually not dealing with the cause of my anger.
Usually we’re angry when we feel threatened in some way.
But, if the anger far outweighs the context you’re in, this is an indication that something from your past has superimposed itself on the present.
Trauma causes the anger response, not sin.
When we don’t deal with anger though, it accumulates. Just think of a pressure cooker! (It is then that anger might cause us to sin!)
This is where journaling is really helpful because sometimes a memory, a realisation or indeed a deeper emotion may reveal itself.
Anger is sometimes an indication of unforgiveness, not giving voice to our needs or a lack of boundaries.
I love that we can prayerfully seek God for revelation on our anger and ask Him to help us make the necessary changes.
Sometimes the answer doesn’t come as quickly as we would like, but knowing we have a helper is such a comfort. He will guide us to the answers.
RECOGNISE ANY PATTERNS
For me, I’ve noticed patterns or common threads linking those times I’ve gotten angry.
Let me give you an example: I’ve noticed that if someone devalues my experience, it’s like a knife wound. Perhaps this happened when I was a young toddler even though I have no memory, I’m not sure what started it.
This is my cue to meditate on appropriate verses. Those scriptures minister how I have a Great High Priest who does see, who does understand and who will never devalue my experience.
I may make a list of people who don’t devalue my situation. (The brain needs evidence).
This is also my cue to learn how to give voice to my feelings if necessary or put in boundaries when people are trying to take my truth away.
“Hey….., I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but I’m the one who lives this life day in day out. I’m allowed to feel this. When you say it’s wrong you’re devaluing a lot of suffering here….”
I haven’t actually said this to anyone yet, but it’s something that I know I need to speak up about. I think the more I do this, the less I’m likely to get angry when it happens.
I’m showing the hurt child part of me that I can be her competent protector when necessary.
This is how I allow the Holy Spirit to heal and restore the root cause of feeling devalued.
Of course the types of things that trigger you will be different and the verses that you will meditate on will also be different.
THE ANGER ICEBERG
Anger is often a secondary emotion. In other words, it’s a mask, a decoy, hiding deeper emotions that are too uncomfortable to sit with.
Think of a parent who gets angry at their child for running into the middle of a busy road. When you explore this, you realise that the parent was really terrified.
I think the anger I feel towards those who devalue my experience (example above) is really a comfortable decoy, hiding the grief I really feel.
The grief of a life not lived, the grief of missing out on living, the grief that I’ve lost over 20 years.
It’s more comfortable to project that grief under the guise of anger at others.
So if you’re exploring what makes you angry during this final step 5, it’s worth exploring what is really going on underneath that iceberg.
Can you imagine the difference it would make to your healing journey if you tuned into your emotions regularly in a healthy way?
Seeing anger as a messenger informing us that something needs attention.
If, instead of repressing the anger or condemning yourself for being wrong or in sin, you learned how to feel it and allow it to move?
How does this compare to how you deal with anger? Did you know there was a link to repressed anger and symptoms?
I hope this helps you on your journey.
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