How To Get Rid Of Anger
One of the ways that has really helped me to understand anger is to see it in the context of a debt to debtor relationship.
That framework of ‘debt to debtor’ can help us understand a lot of different emotional issues that we struggle with.
Like, for example, guilt says “I owe you” because I hurt you or offended you. Greed says “I owe me.”
Anger says “You owe me.”
The angry person lives in a place where their dominant filter on the world is “YOU OWE ME.” And the reason this is true – and this is so important – is that whenever you are hurt, whenever you are offended or mistreated, there is a sense in which the person who hurt you or mistreated you took something from you.
At work, if a colleague takes credit for your project or stole your idea, they owe you the recognition that comes from your idea. If you grew up in a home where Mom or Dad took off or left, they took a part of your childhood from you. They robbed you of the opportunity to be tucked into bed at night by your Mom and Dad. If your husband or wife left you and you went through a terrible divorce, there is a sense in which they owe you your first marriage, because you stood at that altar and you made a promise, and they robbed you of the opportunity to finish a life that you started with them. They took something from you.
This is real important.
Every time you are hurt in life, there is a sense in which you perceive something was taken from you. And anger says “You Owe Me.”
You owe me my business reputation.
You owe me my childhood.
You owe it to me to have been at my graduation.
You owe it to me to have stayed with my Dad.
You owe it to me to have given me a better mark.
You owe me respect.
You owe it to me to have raised our children with me… you owe me you owe me you owe me.
Anger is like an open account, where I am a bookkeeper. I am the judge and I am the jury and I rule that you owe me, and I am not going to close this account until you repay me. And as long as that account is open, I am carrying that anger.
The worst thing you could do to yourself – the worst thing I could do to myself – is to allow the sun to go down, not on a day of anger, but to allow the sun to go down on a season of my life, and to carry the anger that was created in one season of my life into a new season of life: To carry the anger that was created in childhood and to carry it into adolescence. To carry the anger that was created in adolescence into my 20’s. To carry the hurt, the rejection, the anger from my dating experiences in my 20’s into my marriage. To carry the anger from my first marriage into a second marriage.
Whenever you allow the sun to set on a season of your life, and you carry the anger from one season into another, you run the risk of destroying every subsequent relationship and even of self destruction.
And here’s why: Because when the sun sets on a season of your life, and you’ve not resolved your anger, once you move to a new season it is very easy to lose sight of the source of your original hurt.
That is so critical – because if you bring the anger from your past into a new season of your life, the people in your life will be powerless to give you what your anger thinks is owed to you.
Why? Because your anger account is not with them.
I see this in marriage all the time. If you are engaged right now, and you are engaged to an angry person, I don’t care how cute she is, or how cool he is – you need to run. And if you turned to me and said “But I’m in looooovve” I’d say “Get over it!” because you are either going to get over them now, or they are going to crush you later. They are going keep being angry, and they will hurt you, they will cut you, they will beat you down with their words… and with their words they will murder you.
They have junk in their trunk that has nothing to do with you. And no matter how hard you try to understand, no matter how deeply you empathize, no matter how many times you cry because your physical relationship seems ice cold, no matter how many times you say “I’m sorry”, they are never going to be able to close the account because the account is not with you.
And unbeknownst to them, sometimes through no fault of their own, the sun went down and they lost sight of the source of their hurt and the source of their anger.
So, let me ask you … If you were God and you loved you the way he loves you, what would you say to you?
Because if there really is a God who loves you, he desperately wants you to close the account on your hurt and your anger. To end it. To get RID OF IT, to put it to rest. If you don’t, you’ll carry your anger into another season of life, and you’ll be hurting people who have nothing to do with your anger.
Here’s what Paul, one of the people who wrote some of the letters in the New Testament wrote from prison – he’s not writing from Cancun, but from a dungeon. He writes “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” You know how you take your trash down to the street? You need to do the same thing with your anger. Just get rid of it.
“But … you don’t understand! It’s complicated. It’s not that easy. You don’t know my story. You don’t know what happened to me. Let me tell you my story, and you’ll understand.” And Paul would look around his dungeon with the rats and the excrement and the rusted chains and say “Go ahead and tell me your story. And at the end of your story I’m going to say ‘Thanks. Now get rid of your anger.”
Everyone has a story. Everyone can defend how they got their anger. It’s easy to do – you just point a finger and say ‘They stole this from me. That person owes me.”
If you went into the doctor this week and found out you had cancer, I don’t think your first question would be “Well, can we sit down and figure out how I got this?” I don’t think so. You know what I think it would be? “How do I get rid of it?”
But when it comes to the issues of the heart, we spend so much time defending where we are at, instead of ramping it up and saying “I am ready to get rid of this.”
And I think that part of the issue with anger is that we feel if we just took it out with the trash and walked away from our anger, that would be unfair.
You need to understand something: Getting rid of anger bypasses the issue of fairness. And bypasses the issue of being paid back. It takes fairness and payback and says “You know what, that isn’t the most important thing any more. My priority is to get rid of it. Not to get it all resolved or to balance out in my ledger.”
And here’s how you do it. Paul says: “Get rid of your anger: Be kind and compassionate to one another – and here’s the big word, here’s how it’s done – forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” You FORGIVE. You close the account of what you feel is owed to you.
But that wouldn’t be fair! Yeah, you’re right.
Forgiveness bypasses the whole issue of fairness. You know what it means to forgive? To forgive is simply to cancel a debt. That’s all it is.
It’s to decide, “Ok, according to the records here, you owe me. But I’m cancelling that debt. Not because you paid me back. Not because you made it right. Not because you said you were sorry. I’m deciding. Debt. Is. Canceled. You don’t owe me.”
You should have been at my wedding.
You should have been at my baseball games.
You should have been there to raise our kids.
You should have been there when I needed you.
You should have kept your word, but you didn’t.
And for years I have lived with the expectation that you had to make it up to me. But I’ve made a decision. You don’t owe me anymore. You are forgiven. I’m deciding to cancel your debt.
Forgiveness closes the door. Forgiveness closes the account. Forgiveness cancels the energy of anger. And it is the only thing that does.
Listen… if you’re struggling with this forgiveness thing, you do realize that you can’t ever get paid back anyway, right?
You can be mad at your Dad for the rest of your life because he wasn’t there for you as a kid, but if your Dad came to you today and said “How can I make it up to you?” you’d look at him and say ‘you can’t’. I can’t be 16 again, and you can’t give me my family vacations back.
If that boss, or that ex wife or ex husband, or that partner who ripped off your business, or that man who groped you as a kid came back and said “Ok, how can I make it up to you?” it wouldn’t take you long to say “You can’t make it up to me! You can’t pay me back. Its un-doable.” You can’t undo those years of fear and worry and anger. I may appreciate the apology, but this is a debt that can’t ever be paid.
And according to the Christian worldview, that’s the place where God comes alongside of you, he puts his arm around your shoulder and he says ‘Why don’t we just close the book. Why don’t we just let it go. Why don’t we just say “you don’t owe me”. Why don’t we just forgive. Like I forgave you.
Some helpful ideas on how to get rid of anger
1. Identify specifically who you are angry with.
Your tendency will be to point out people around you now who are taking the brunt of your anger.
Would you be willing to go back a couple of seasons of your life and see where you have an open account with someone who you feels ‘owes you’? With whom are you really angry?
2. Identify specifically what you are angry about. What was taken from you?
Get a pad of paper and something to write with. Start writing down what you feel that person took from you, at the core. Was it your ability to trust others? Your reputation? Your family? The property you had worked so hard for? Your sense of security?
Be specific. What exactly do you feel that person owes you?
This is usually not a quick process. This is a very personal thing, and may be a painful process. You may need to start a list, and keep this list open for a week or two. Carry it with you. Write down specifics. Spend some time on this. Pray and ask God to help you.
3. Cancel the debt. Close the account book.
You can cancel the debts that others have incurred against you!
What very often helps us human beings to solidify something in our hearts is to make it a memorable, symbolic event – a one time ritual.
Take your list out somewhere and do something with it that will help you always remember that the book is closed. Many people find it helps to pray before doing this exercise.
Maybe you and a close friend can get together, build a fire on the beach and burn it.
Maybe you’d rather do that alone.
Maybe you need to take your list out into the forest, and bury it. Build a simple cross out of twigs and plant it over the list.
Every time those old feelings come back, the sense that the person who hurt you still owes you, draw on the memories of the ritual and remember. If you burned your list, maybe keep a piece of charred wood from the fire somewhere so you can look at it and remind yourself. Or a small container of dirt from where its buried.
Or maybe take a walk or drive by the beach where you had the fire – and remember: Gone forever! Remember, you took out the trash. There is no way for the person who hurt you to ever pay you back anyway.
4.You must choose daily, with help from God, to not reopen the matter.
When memories of the past hurt surface, use them as opportunities to renew your mind to what we know is true. Maybe memorize a number of Bible verses on forgiveness. Recite them to yourself in weak moments, and you’ll be surprised at what happens.
The day will come when you will see or think about the person who hurt you, and you’ll be shocked at how differently you feel towards them.
Forgiveness, and forgiveness alone breaks the energy of anger.