By Dr. John D. Button
Have you ever thought that behind every genius, there is a wound, a wound that the person faced to become that genius? Think what Beethoven overcame in his deafness and what he produced. Some have said how terrible it would have been if Martin Luther had had Rolaids. We might not have had the Reformation. Think of Christ without the cross. We would not have Christianity. Think of the reality that you would not be the person you are today if you had not faced a lot of the important issues in your own life. What concerns me is what I see in the almost all the newspapers, magazines, scandal sheets, and news broadcasts. It is an issue that most of us would like to run from as fast as possible. The issue is what you see in the headlines: Virginia Tech Massacre, Jonesboro Slaughter. What in the world is going on that people have become so violent? Now it is in our children. What can we do about it? I hear people confused about it, and in their confusion say: “I am sure glad that I am not raising children in this age!” Most people do not know what to do about it. They think in terms of hand guns, but I think it is more serious than that. I think it is a problem of people not knowing how to deal with frustration and anger. As I meet youth and adults in my work, most are not trained how to deal with anger in a healthy way. When I mention the Virginia Tech Massacre, don’t you tend to think of it as someone else’s problem? It reminds me of a ten year old boy who was heading out the door to go fishing, pole in hand, when his mother told him that he had to take his little sister with him. He responded: “I don’t want to take her with me. I never catch any fish when she is along!” The mother said:“ I will talk with her and get her to stop talking and sit still while you are other there.” He said: “Mother, that is not the problem! It is not the talking that is the problem. The problem is: She eats the bait!” That to me is like the problem of anger and when we talk about it. We tend to eat the bait and say: That is someone else’s problem, when the reality is that we are all in need of help in dealing with our own anger. I know I do and I have been working on this issue for years and years.
I have found three things that really help in dealing with anger. They are three things that I don’t hear talked about very much. The First: In dealing with our own anger, we tend to let it go to our head, hold on to the anger, but move it upstairs to the brain. There is a lot of wisdom in that. If we are faced with an angry person we know that sometimes we can not just get angry back or it will turn into a big fight. Sometimes we do it when we say: I think I need to count to ten: 1, 2, 3….. hoping that by the time we reach ten that we will be able to calm down enough to think logically. We have learned the wisdom of that old axiom: “Be sure Brain is engaged before putting Mouth into gear!” Somehow we know that if we think about it logically we will not shoot off our mouth inappropriately. It is interesting that Jesus in dealing with the men who were ready to stone the woman caught in adultery said: “He who is without sin cast the first stone!” It stopped them in their tracks. When they thought about it, they stopped what they were ready to do. We can do the same thing with our own thinking, we take time to think consequentially what we are about to do. It is a very positive thing to learn! We teach it to our children. It is important that we all get the point, but then we need to move to the next step.
The Second method of dealing with anger is one most people don’t use. It is called “Let it out physically!” Quite a few years ago I was invited to a conference for healing professionals at Northampton State Hospital. It was at a VA hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts. I was invited to hear a man speak there by the name of Alexander Lowen. What I saw happen was one of the funniest and most interesting things I had ever seen. Dr. Lowen took the adult people who were angry, had them lay down on the mattresses scattered around the room, and then had them kick or pound their anger out on the mattress. Can you picture a room full of people beating on mattresses, having a temper tantrum? I was stunned and fascinated to watch this. I noticed that when they got up after the exercise that they looked like different persons. They were happy. They were relieved. They were calm.
I really didn’t think about it for 20 years until I was in training at the Samaritan Counseling Center in Ft. Lauderdale. Part of their training program was that you had to be in therapy all the time you were in their program. For me that was 4 years as I was their pastoral intern. They suggested that I go into body therapy since I had had so much other kind of psychotherapy. And was I surprised to find out that body therapy was what I had seen happen in that room 20 years ago in Northampton with people getting their anger out on mattresses. I can tell you that having beaten the mattress a lot over those 4 years that it is a tremendous way of getting anger out safely. You feel so refreshed and alive afterward. What I am suggesting is that you get your anger out in a safe way physically and not hurt other people. There are variations of this method that are helpful as well: such as by yourself in the car, at a stop light, roll up the windows and verbally let your anger out loudly, or if you are in a house with a lot of people, go to the bathroom, stuff a towel in your mouth and scream. No one will here you. Sounds pretty silly, but it works. Finding ways to get your anger out in constructive ways is a big key to coping with anger. It does a wonderful job of improving your emotional health and how you feel about life! Jesus let his anger out on the money changers. He turned the tables. He did not hit anyone. Anger can bring out the worst in us or the best in us. It can be a good crisis, if we deal with it constructively.
Third, Let go of it emotionally! That is the hardest thing to do: Let go of it! We have all felt betrayed. We have all felt disappointed, hurt, run over, embarrassed, abused, and put down. I would hope that there is not a person who cannot identify with that feeling, and the challenge to let it go. The best example I have ever head of is the example of the Christ on the cross. From the cross he says: “Forgive them, they don’t even know what they are doing!” What an incredible ability to release the past.
Dr. Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit, said that 90% of the illnesses that we have is because we cannot forgive those who have angered us. If somehow we could place what we are upset about in God’s hands, we could be entirely different. To let go, and let God! To let go of those pains, those sorrows, those disappointments, those hurts and crosses we carry, by rising above them and placing them in God’s hands, then we can let the past be gone and move into the present, the right now, in God’s love fully. “ I walk with God, From this day on, His helping Hand I’ll Lean upon.” To let go, forgive, and move into the present that is what dealing with it is all about. Anger need not be bad, if we deal with it.
Many are saying today, and I find them right on the mark, that the way to deal with anger is through slowing down, centering on God’s love, keeping calm, and follow your breath, and feel that breath. After a while you will feel the presence of God’s love, and your anger will be gone. Then in that acceptance, you have forgiven all.
I challenge you to move anger First into your head, but don’t leave it there. Second, deal with it in your body by physically getting it out. If it is still around then Third, Let it Go emotionally in Christ’s love! What a creative adventure God has handed us by giving us the emotion of anger! Don’t Waste a Good Crisis! If we deal with our anger, it is a good crisis and others will pick up what we have learned: our children, our grandchildren, our parents, our friends and associates wherever we are.
I am reminded of a church that was faced with it’s own anger. The church had a deacon who was also treasurer. He embezzled a lot of money from the church, and the members were furious. The deacon was found guilty and spent 10 years in prison. The church worked hard to deal with its anger. When the deacon came out of prison, the entire board of deacons was there at the prison to accept him back with open arms. They had dealt with their own anger, and forgiven him!
The challenge is: What do we do with our own anger? We always have it work on! Make it a Good Crisis! Where is it now in your live? What are you going to do about it, right now?