…and it helps us know what we stand for.
Healing includes getting angry.
I have often said that a sign above the threshold of my counseling office should read, “For the brave and mighty only.” I have seen deep bravery as women have made their way to letting go and forgiveness, but only after the maelstrom of anger and doubt have passed through their system. These messy emotions can tarnish one’s image as an “authentic” or “forgiving” Christian.
These women who have sought healing have left image behind, worshiping no one but the Lord who carries them through this gritty—and often devastating—loss of ideals and false hopes. I am adamant about discussing the importance of anger, because so often we as family members, friends, ministers and therapists want to truncate the anger of a princess warrior. Doing this creates massive upheaval in healing. It leaves our princess warriors depressed, addicted, compulsive, and very, very alone.
(Excerpt from Scarred and Faultless)
Growing up, I learned that love was an equation. You add to the solution by smiling through your pain and your misfortune, and you are more wanted. You quote Scripture that supports God’s purposes and lessons to be learned, and you get a relieved smile back that says, “There you go. You’re not in a panic. You’re not in insurmountable pain. You’re going to be fine.” Anger was not an option.
It took decades for me to know what God said, and it goes something like this: “Your anger means you’re alive. Not only will I draw toward you, but you will finally hear me instead of all the insulting window dressing of platitudes and pontifications. Your anger engages me, and I, in my raw power and mighty strength, designed you to feel that strength that rises in your soul and body. Not only do I not judge you for your anger, your faithless skepticism, or your lack of vision and acceptance, but I am relieved that you finally trust me enough to feel those things in full awareness of me. With me, you get to stand for something. And, most of the time, the first time we take a stand is for ourselves.”
Every great leader stands for something, because they first learned to stand up for themselves. Meditate on that. Think about anyone you know that you love, honor and believe in. Did they take a stand? Did they rise up when everyone else faltered? Could they have done that without first standing up for themselves?
Whoa! Taking a stand for myself? I thought that was selfish, because it was always so upsetting to people around me. Well, here’s what I’ve come to understand: Jesus was killed for standing up for himself. What if he had cowered when people got upset about his claim of being the Son of God? What if he said, “Oh, I can tell that bothers you. Let’s pretend I never said it—I’ll just be a good guy. A great teacher. We’ll leave it at that.”
What if he didn’t stand his ground with Satan during the three temptations after fasting for 40 days in the wilderness? What if he decided that the drama that he created claiming that he was the Son of God just wasn’t worth it? I believe we would not have a Savior. But the good news is that He took a stand. By doing so, He saved our lives.
What is healthy anger?
Circling back to anger—it’s not revenge. God urges us to let Him to do the dirty work of revenge. “Revenge is mine,” he says.
Healthy anger is that gut instinct that says, “That was not OK. I am not OK with that. I need to part ways, speak up, or simply know that what is happening is not my fault, not mine to fix.” Without expression of anger, we just get sick. Ask any of us in the mental health field, depression is anger turned inward, as M. Scott Peck (psychiatrist/medical doctor) wrote years ago. Last I checked, the United States has a lot of anger-turned-inward folks. Depression can morph into any number of auto immune disorders, illnesses, migraines and so on. It does nothing to stimulate our relationships, grow our futures—nothing good comes from depression.
How do I express my anger?
You don’t scream at anyone, blast through a crosswalk in your car, rage at your neighbor’s dog for barking for the 45th minute in a row, correct people’s grammar, criticize, show contempt or disgust at politicians, in laws, or children, stonewall until you get your way, and the list goes on.
You do this—you let anger inform you. Anger is an emotion secondary to a primary emotion that may be more vulnerable like betrayed, neglected, used, hurt, disappointed, manipulated and so on.
Anger is the threshold through which you enter the room of the sacred, tender emotions that tell you what you need.
Invite the anger by saying, “Ok, I’m angry. What is my anger telling me that I need to hear? What is it I’m really feeling underneath my anger?”
From there ask, “What is my primary/vulnerable emotion (like neglected), telling me I need?” “What can I do to meet my needs?” “What do I need to take to the Lord in request?” He already knows what you need but you get better, sit in the control seat, do a better job of protecting and nurturing yourself when you figure it out.
You can physically release anger in a number of productive ways. From taking an axe to a tree stump (not your neighbor’s), sprint, bike terribly fast, take krav maga or self-defense classes, do kick boxing, lift weights. Buy dishes at the Good Will and smash them into smithereens. You bawl your eyes out on a walk or a run (maybe with huge sunglasses). Jesus formed a whip and went after the mini-mall guys who took up residence in His Father’s house. This would be a problem legally today;), but you get the picture. Physical release isn’t an option.
Anger is a threshold emotion. You walk through it to get to the part of yourself that has so much to tell you. Listen bravely, attentively and act on your own behalf. Take a stand for yourself.
God loves you in your anger. He created anger. He’s not going to wilt, break, or leave you. Promise.
Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.