A Manual for Counseling People Who Struggle with Anger
I. Definitions, Descriptions and Symptoms
A. Psychological Definitions:
- Psychodynamic View of Anger:
- a. An unconscious, instinctual impulse used as a self-protective mechanism to avoid death.
- b. An “energy fluid” inside of us that naturally seeks release (“hydraulic” model)
- Behaviorist View of Anger:
- a. It arises from imitating other people’s anger.
- b. It is a socially learned behavior.
- Cognitive View of Anger:
- a. It is a “response of frustration, based on your beliefs and expectations, to environmental cues that appear to block your goals” (Jones, BC401 Course Lectures)
- b. “The events of this world don’t make you angry. Your ‘hot thoughts’ create your anger. Even when a genuinely negative event occurs, it is the meaning you attach to it that determines your emotional response.” (Psychiatrist David Burns)
- Biblical View of Anger:
- a. “Anger is a whole-person response arising from a negative moral judgment against perceived evil” (Jones, BC401 Course Lectures)
- b. “A passionate, active, moral response of the entire person to a perceived wrong or injustice” (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual)
B. Further Descriptions:
- “Anger is more than mere emotion, volition, cognition, or behavior. Scripture resists simplistic schemes. Anger is complex. It comprises the whole person and encompasses our whole package of beliefs, feelings, actions, and desires” (Jones, Uprooting Anger, 15).
- “Anger does not come out of nowhere (although it sometimes seems like it does. Emotions don’t just happen to [someone]; they are what [a person] does or experiences as an expression of his heart before God. In other words, our emotions are tied to our hearts, our inner nature that is living either for God or against God in every moment” (Michael Emlet, Angry Children, 4).
C. Some typical symptoms (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual):
- Sinful anger prevents intimacy and oneness in marriage.
- Sinful anger is a primary hindrance to godly parenting.
- Sinful anger robs God of the glory due His name and can result in significant judgment.
- Sinful anger destroys relationships in the church and causes divisions.
II. Key Truths and Principles (Jones, BC401 Course Lectures)
A. Three Biblical Categories of Anger:
- Righteous Divine Anger (Deut 32:41; Ps 2:4-5; 7:11; Isa 34:2; Rom 1:18; John 3:36)
- Righteous Human Anger (Eph 4:26)
a. Reacts against actual sin.
b. Focuses on God’s kingdom, rights, and concerns, not on mine.
c. Is accompanied by other godly qualities, and expresses itself in godly ways.
- Questions to discern righteous anger (David Powlison, Understanding Anger):
a. Do you get angry about the right things?
b. Do you express your anger in the right way?
c. How long does your anger last?
d. How controlled is your anger?
e. What motivates your anger?
f. Is your anger “primed and ready” to respond to another person’s habitual sins?
g. What is the effect of your anger?
- Sinful Human Anger
- Characteristics of sinful anger (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual):
a. When it flows out of a selfishly motivated heart.
b. When it is characterized more by talking than listening.
c. When it attacks a person instead of solves a problem.
d. When it becomes the occasion for you to speak rashly or harshly.
e. When you brood over the failures and hurts of others.
f. When it is accompanied by other sinful tendencies.
- Causes of sinful anger:
a. World says anger is caused by: present hardships, past abuses, physiological factors, direct demonic activity or unconscious psychodynamic drives.
b. Bible says anger is caused by: our sinful desires that war within us (Jam 4:1-3). We must still show compassion when other explanations for anger are cited by a counselee because these other things do impact the person. However, they are not the root cause.
c. How do we determine when a desire is sinful?
i. When we desire a sinful object. (people rarely do this as much as “ii” below)
ii. When we desire a good object too much — inordinately—for selfish reasons.
d. How desires take control of your heart (Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands):
i. Desire: “I want”
ii. Demand: “I must”
iii. Need: “I will”
iv. Expectation: “You should”
v. Disappointment: “You didn’t!”
vi. Punishment: “Because you didn’t, I will….”
- Characteristics of sinful anger (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual):
B. Biblical Motives for Angry People to Change:
- To avoid damage to, and to promote the health of, your body and soul
- Physical health
- Spiritual health
- To avoid damage to, and to promote growth in, your personal relationships.
- To avoid God’s displeasure and to bring him honor and delight [the primary reason]!
III. Key Verses
a. Proverbs 22:24 – it is unwise to associate with an angry person
b. Ephesians 6:4 – parents are not to make their children angry when they parent
c. Numbers 20:9-12 – our anger demonstrates a lack of respect for God’s holiness
d. Ephesians 4:31 – we are not to have anger towards others
e. Proverbs 15:18 – an angry man stirs ups strife
f. Proverbs 14:29; 16:32 – learning to control your anger is wise
g. Job 4:9; Psalm 2:4-5; 7-11 – God has righteous anger
h. Mark 3:5 – Jesus has righteous anger
i. Ephesians 4:26; 2 Cor 7:9-11 – we have the possibility of having righteous anger
j. Genesis 4:6-7; Jonah 4:1-4; James 4:1-3 – Anger comes from a selfish heart
k. Matthew 5:44 – avoid anger by praying for and loving your enemies
l. 1 John 3:15 – hating is murder
IV. Ministry Strategies and Steps to Counsel
A. Helpful steps to counsel (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual):
- Help counselees analyze their anger. Use diagnostic questions to probe the heart and help them determine what desires have become their gods (James 4:1-3).
- Help them honestly acknowledge the emotional component of their anger (Eph 4:26).
- Help them factor the sovereignty of God into their situation (Rom 8:28-29).
- Help them learn to repent and confess their sinful anger to God and the appropriate persons.
- Help them freely cry out to their Redeemer for grace, strength, and wisdom as they seek to use their anger in a godly way (Heb 4:15-16).
- Help them carefully evaluate their thoughts and replace false, deceptive ideas with ones that meet biblical criteria (Phil 4:8).
- Help them carefully evaluate their desires and replace false idols for worship and obedience of their Living God (James 1:14-15).
- Help them seek to solve the occasion of their anger biblically.
- Help them guard their words and actions and withhold any response until they are certain it will please God and edify others (Prov 19:11).
- Help them to keep reminding themselves that their patience for others is minor in comparison to God’s patience with them (Psa 145:8).
- Help them to pray for the person who has mistreated them and seek to do good for him and not evil (Matt 5:44; Rom 12:21).
B. Put off/Put on:
- Put off: Anger
- Put on: Forgiveness, Self Control, Godly Speech, Biblical Peacemaking and Problem Solving, Christ-like Ministry
C. Diagnostic Questions (Jones, BC401 Lecture Notes):
- “How are you handling this hurt?” – trying to see the judgmentalism that may come out in a hurt-provoked anger
- Are you saying: “Mykingdom come, My will be done…”?
- Are you saying: “I want to be the sun around which everyone should orbit. My mass holds everyone in the proper place. Don’t mess with me or I will cast you out of orbit”?
- Are you saying: “I am the playwright and director. I write the script. If you don’t follow the script, then I will write you out of the scene. In fact the next scene, you will be in a car crash and die”?
- Use humor to help the counselee see themselves: Are they trying to be‘Captain You Planet’” [See Brian Regan Youtube video on flying]
- Helpful to look at Powlison’s x-ray questions(see link at stonebridgeadults.com)
- “Are you always filming the videos of everyone else?” You need to put yourself in this documentary. How are you the player? How are you responding?
- “Is anger just a cyanide capsule you are swallowing hoping the other person dies?”
- “Is this an anger which you really like having? God is content with His anger. Is your anger really sitting well with you?” – determining righteous vs. unrighteous anger
- Ask them, “Why are you angry?” Listen for what follows the “because…”
- “How can I pray for you?” (or have them pray) – this will show their desires.
- Have them say: “I must have to live a meaningful life”
- Have them say: “What I think I need or desperately want is ”
- Have them say: “You must give me or I’ll be angry at you or cold toward you”
- Have them say: “If only would change, I would be satisfied or content or joyful”
- Have them reflect on heart throne: what their desires are and where they are at on the staircase (see attached diagram)
- Have them answer some of Powlison’s X-Ray questions to determine possible heart desires (see link at stonebridgeadults.com)
- Use “Journal of Upsets” for problem incidents to understand the desires that cause their anger (see attachment)
- Use Robert Jones’ “Controlling Your Angry Behavior” Proverbs study.
VI. Recommended Resources
- Baxter, Richard (1615-91). A Christian Directory: Christian Ethics (reprint, Soli Deo Gloria, 1990), 283-87
- Jones, Robert D. Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem (P & R, 2005).
- Powlison, David. “Understanding Anger” in Journal of Biblical Counseling, 14:1 (F 95)40-53.
- Priolo, Lou. The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children (Calvary Press, 1997)
EPHESIANS 4:31-32 – PUTTING ANGER OFF AND KINDNESS ON
Look at each key word in these two pivotal verses on the differences between an angry person and a kind and forgiving person, and do the following: 1.) Write down instances of how you have acted out the words in verse 31. 2.) Ask God and those you have offended for forgiveness for sinning against them in these ways. 3.) Write down possible ways in which you can live out the words in verse 32 toward others.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Bitterness–causing harm to other relationships like a plant spreading poison or a spider its venom
Wrath – state of intense anger with sudden passionate outbursts that boils up then subsides
Anger – a settled and seething indignation toward someone that stays simmering continuously
Clamor – loud outbursts of yelling and screaming
Slander– harmful, abusive speech used against someone or said to others about them to damage their reputation
Malice – intense dislike of someone and feelings of ill will and hatefulness toward them
Kind – obliging and benevolent; people experience you as a blessing to them
Tenderhearted– being affectionate and compassionate toward others
Forgiving – to freely choose to remove any grudge or bitterness you might have toward someone who has hurt you
PRAY: Remember that you cannot do these things on your own strength. But God will give you the power to change by the Holy Spirit applying these biblical truths to your heart. Just ask Him for help.