How to Deal with Unresolved Anger


Dissolving Anger:

Chapter 6 of The Search for Inner Peace

One of the things that results from inner peace is intimate, long-lasting relationships. Genesis talks about how God created the first man and woman, brought them together, and declared, That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one. The man and the woman were both naked, but they were not embarrassed.(Genesis 2:24-25)

 

God wants us to have intimate, long-lasting relationships, but the question is how do you maintain such relationships? How do we stay in love?

 

We preachers are always using superlatives—something is always the best, the worst, the deepest, the farthest—but I’m going to use a superlative anyway. I believe that my task is always to call people to do something great. The deepest hunger of the human soul is a hunger for what people call “at oneness” with another. This “oneness” is a desire for intimacy with God, and with other people.

 

We all have this hunger to be reunited, and when we “fall” in love, that is what happens. We have this momentary rush of reunion. Genesis calls it becoming one flesh—the two become as one person, so that they are no longer two people but one person.

 

This is the metaphor used in Genesis when it says that the man and woman were naked and unashamed. They were fully exposed, and yet not afraid. Intimacy is to be fully known, and be fully safe. Relationships that work are built on intimacy. A true mate is someone who knows you as you are—warts, pimples, and all—yet loves you anyway. If you have as many as five of such persons—spouses and friends—you are wealthy.

 

I won’t spend a great deal of time examining intimacy because there is so much about it in books and marriage seminars. I want to talk about what I think is the number one enemy of intimacy, namely, unresolved anger. We talk a lot about falling in love, but not much about staying in love. I think the most difficult thing about staying in love, or maintaining intimacy, is dealing with unresolved anger. I think it is the number one killer of intimacy.

dissolving anger

How to deal with unresolved anger? No one ever taught me. Lois and I have been working on this problem for 40 years. What I have to share is gleaned mainly from trial and error. Lois and I are still working on it. This chapter won’t give you philosophical or psychological jargon, but some practical things we have done to resolve anger.

 

Face The Facts About Anger

First, we had to face realistically some basic facts about anger.

 

Fact number one:  Anger is normal and unavoidable. I grew up thinking that to be angry was to be bad. I was told as a child, “Don’t be angry!” Were you ever told that? Have you ever told your child, “Don’t’ be angry?” It’s like telling them not to breathe.

 

Anger is normal. It is a God-given early warning system signaling us that we are in trouble. When we are in danger, we get angry. When we are about to lose something we need, we defend it and try to hold on to it. Anger is frustration born out of something being threatened. Anger is God’s way of telling us we are about to lose something that is dear to us. You can’t avoid being angry. To feel that it is abnormal or sinful is something you must get out of your head.

 

Fact number two:  The most popular ways we deal with anger simply don’t work. For instance, you can’t swallow it. If you try, it won’t digest. You are either going to regurgitate it in the form of rage or internalize it until it makes you ill.

 

I often ask people, “How do you handle your anger?” Some get this pious look and say, “Oh, well, Jesus is in our hearts and we just don’t get angry.” The other extreme equates anger with rage—“I tear something up! I let it boil until it explodes, and then…watch out!” That is not anger—that is rage. Swallowing anger will not work. It will come out as rage, you will transfer it to someone else, or you will get sick.

 

I remember when I first got out of seminary and was pastoring this nice church. I was the young “Dr. Mann,” and the building was filled for services three times on Sundays. After I preached one Sunday, we were in the car going out to lunch. My little six year old daughter was in the back seat and she asked, “Daddy, can I have someone over to play today?”

 

“No, shut up!” I answered. I ordinarily never talked to her that way. She was my number one buddy. Whenever I did talk to her gruffly she would always break into tears.

 

A little later I heard her whimpering in the back seat and then I heard her whisper to her mother, “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

 

Lois calmly looked over the back seat, glanced back at me, and then answered, “Well, Stacey, your Dad’s sermon stunk this morning. He did not prepare for it. He went out and played golf instead. It was a boring sermon. He knows it, the people know it, and God knows it. You and I are just going to have to catch for it the rest of the week!” Transference! And we usually transfer our anger to people who can’t strike back.

 

As I said, many people get sick by internalizing their anger. This has been scientifically documented. Quite often I see in relationships what I call the low-level hum. This is when people have been angry with each other for so long that they have stopped fighting, stopped shouting, and there is a boiling, seething animosity just below the surface. You will see a couple come into a restaurant to have dinner and they grunt at each other a few times, and that’s all the communication there is.

 

You can’t swallow your anger and forget about it. You must deal with it. When we come to realize that, then we make the second mistake. We use the other technique that won’t work—ventilating anger. We were actually taught in the 60’s that we should vent our anger. I went to “primal scream” therapy one time. They taught you to scream from your diaphragm. You start from way down inside and just let it gush out. But now we know that there’s a problem with venting anger because it creates an endorphin rush which is like a runner’s high. You can actually become addicted to anything that creates endorphins. The more you do it, the more you have to do it. You become a raging person, and you trigger the same thing in the people you are mad at. You say things you don’t mean to say, and they can’t be taken back. Ventilating anger is addictive, destructive, and it is ineffective in resolving anger.

 

So What Works?

What does work? I wrote in my journal a silly thing that I hadn’t thought of for years until I was writing this chapter. I had been married for six months and I had bought into the whole fairy-tale story about the handsome prince who—after many trails, tribulations, and adventures—married the lowly kitchen maid. It is a beautiful story, and in the end “they live happily ever after.”

 

I bought into that whole deal. I married the most beautiful girl in the class. After six months of marriage I sat down and wrote a sequel to what happened to the prince and the kitchen maid after they got married. It was based on my six months of experience. I skipped the wedding night and went to breakfast the first morning:

 

“He brought her strawberries and cream. She had never had anything like that. He looked across the table at her and the cream was dripping off her chin. She was burping regularly because that was the accepted way in her culture of telling him how wonderful the strawberries and cream were. Every time she burped, she thought it was a compliment, but he got more angry each time. He diverted attention to an impressionistic painting of a castle hanging on the wall. He began to tell her how beautiful it was, how it had great form. She thought that their puppy had had an accident on the canvas. She couldn’t relate.

 

And therein began the accumulation of a whole series of differences. As the months went by, he would criticize her. Her friends would make fun of his tight pants and his prissy talk. His friends would make fun of her clumsiness and inability to dress right. This multiplied and escalated until, when he began to criticize her, she would cry, and they got into what we call the ‘love-anger’ cycle.

 

They would be angry, make up, have momentary respites of love, and then be angry again. Then he moved from criticism to shouting. At first she was afraid of that, but finally one day she screwed up the courage to shout back, and they started hollering at each other. Then the shouting escalated to the point where he slapped her. She went into the stable and cried for hours, then came back and found him asleep; whereupon she took the skillet off the wall and rearranged his face.”

 

That was my silly story written just six months into our marriage, but let me tell you something important about that story. It was a revelation of my inward pain, and my inability to deal with anger.

 

So we began to search for some system for handling anger. I want to share with you four practical things we have learned, using the acronym PRAC—which represents the word practical—which helps me remember these steps.

 

An Acronym for Anger

 

P: Permission. It was a wonderful day when we gave each other permission to say, “I am angry,” and to say it the moment we felt it. Early detection is everything.

 

We made an agreement that we could say it without being counterattacked. It is wonderful when you can say, “I’m angry” without the threat of retaliation. Without such permission, when your mate says, “I’m angry at you,” then you will say, “Well, I’m angry at you too!” But we gave each other permission to say “I’m angry,” the moment we felt it. This does an amazing thing. It stops anger from escalating. It nips it in the bud.

 

R: Reconstruction. We also agreed to reconstruct the anger event. When did you get angry? Why did you get angry? Were there other things going on in your life? What was said to trigger it?

 

Step-by-step, you reconstruct the anger event together. We found out that about 90% of the time something was not stated correctly—we said something that sounded different from what we meant. It was misheard. Most of the time when we reconstructed the anger event we discovered that we had no reason to be angry at all.

 

A: Alliance. We made up our minds that we would form an alliance against the real enemy. What or who is the real enemy in an anger event? The other person is not the enemy. Anger is the enemy. So we decided to form an alliance against anger.

 

Let me show you how that works. I’m angry at you, but I’m not going to attack and you aren’t going to attack me. Instead, we reconstruct the anger event, then you say to the person you are angry at, “I need for you to help me dissolve this anger.” Something magical happens when you do that. It is like the sun evaporating the mist in the morning. The anger dissolves and disappears. When you form an alliance against anger, both of you are on the same side, and that is what dissolves anger.

 

C: Christ. You would expect me to say this because I am a minister, but I’m not saying it because I am a minister. I’m saying it because it is true. Everything I am sharing about dissolving anger won’t work unless you have a power that comes to live in you that is beyond natural capacities.

 

Whenever I am driven by anger, that is Gerald Mann’s ego. Whenever I am driven by Permission, Reconstruction, and Alliance I am driven by the Spirit of Christ. That is what Paul was saying in Ephesians 4. You can’t have the power to deal with anger unless you possess a new power within you.

 

There are many substitutes for intimacy. I preached the material in this chapter in a sermon a few years ago, and one man wrote me a note and said, “I’ve been married 50 years. My wife is not a Christian, I’m not a Christian, we don’t even believe in God, yet we have a wonderful relationship.” Through a series of communications with him, I discovered that his “relationship” was actually a truce. He said, “We draw a line. This is my territory, that is hers, and we stay on our sides of the line.” Two, well-armed camps! If you step on the line, the sabers start rattling. That is not intimacy.

 

Then there is a kind of sick, symbiotic relationship that is sometimes called “intimacy” where people feed off of each other’s anger. Have you ever listened to people who constantly gouge each other and tear each other down? In the movie, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” two sick people stay together so they can feed on each other’s anger. The entire play is an exercise in fighting, gouging, and dismemberment. George and Martha—two alcoholics—just pick at each other all the time. Whenever the stress becomes unbearable, they have a way of calling a truce. They sing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” At the climax of the play, Martha is boring in on George and he is eating back at her. When he reaches his breaking point and starts singing, “Who ‘s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” she finally admits, “I am George. I am.”

 

There is another kind of relationship where you do your thing, I do mine, and we stay together for the sake of the marriage, the kids, and convenience. It’s cheaper that way and less of a problem. That’s not intimacy either. Intimacy with another person only happens when Christ comes to dwell in a relationship. Families who pray together stay together.

 

I remember once when Lois and I had a big fight which was totally my fault. I was wrong. She said, “I’m angry at you.” I said, “Let’s talk about it,” and we started through our process. It became so painful that after Permission and before we got to Reconstruction, I said, “Let’s pray.”

 

She said, “Oh no you don’t! I’m not going to let you off that easy. We are going to go through the entire process.”

 

Don’t use prayer as a crutch. Use the presence of God as the glue that repairs your relationship.

 

I don’t know what people do who try to love each other without asking the source of all love, our Lord, Jesus Christ, to come into the relationship. Don’t try to practice PRA—Permission, Reconstruction, Alliance—unless you are willing to add the C to the process. That’s the place to start.

 

It is perfectly normal to be angry. You can’t keep from it. Don’t swallow it or internalize it. Don’t vent it. Create a process where, by the grace of God, you can dissolve it and experience peace.

 

Reference

  1. This series of Posts is based upon Dr. Gerald Mann’s book The Search for Inner Peace. The author and the MakeTrix have received the permission of Gerald Mann’s wife, Sandy Mann, to use the contents of his wonderful masterpiece in this series of articles. We are honored and humbled and wish to thank her for her generosity. This series is of course, and as always, provided free at no cost to the reader.
  2. Dr. Gerald Mann, The Search for Inner Peace (Austin, TX:  Gerald Mann Ministries, 1999), pp. 81-95. ISBN: 0-9678502-0-7, Out-of-Print.
  3. For more information, read our previous posts:
    Introduction: The Search for Inner Peace
    Chapter 1: Challenging Our Illusions
    Chapter 2: Accepting the Truth About God
    Chapter 3: Feeling God’s Forgiveness
    Chapter 4: Giving God’s Forgiveness
    Chapter 5: Making Matter Matter

About Kevin

Kevin is an engineer, physicist, and author. As a result, his creations span the globe. He has a knack for developing simple smart solutions to difficult problems. He is the creator of the MakeTrix. The MakeTrix fulfills Kevin’s lifelong dream. His dream is to provide free technical solutions to the world.