A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Three of a three-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Biblical Counseling and Anger. In today’s post, Tim Allchin contrasts 10 Cross-Focused Principles Versus Horizontal Strategies for Dealing with Anger. You can also read Part One by Bob Jones on, 3 Compelling Reasons Why We Must Deal with Our Sinful Anger. And you can read Part Two by Steve Midgley as he addresses the question, What Is It About Parents and Anger?
Rage Is a Heart Issue
In the past year, we have seen more conversation about domestic violence than ever before. Spurred on by high profile cases where athletes and celebrities have crossed lines, domestic violence and anger management has been thrust into national conversation like never before. With various views on exactly how to rehabilitate those who perpetrate violence in anger, differing strategies are part of the conversation about rehabilitation.
Perhaps more than ever before, those who lose control in anger and perpetrate domestic violence reap swift consequences from the law and employers. Churches have begun to craft policies about dealing with domestic violence as well. This is a conversation we as biblical counselors will be asked to address.
While domestic violence is far more complicated than simply getting angry, it is undeniable that domestic violence involves rage out of control. Sometimes this rage is an intentional strategy to intimidate, and other times it is the less intentional result of conflict blown out of control. Either way, domestic violence is evil and destructive and must be addressed better than just behaviorally and culturally. Rage is the spiritual antithesis of who God calls us to be (Proverbs 25:28). Rage is a heart issue, a worship disorder.
How do we help those who are stuck in patterns of destructive anger? Typically, the culture focuses on horizontal strategies to manage emotions by controlling the environment or surrounding people. While these may help for a season, the world fails to recognize the spiritual battle going on in the hearts of those who are filled with rage, so changes often fail to last.
Listed below are 10 common horizontal strategies employed by those who seek to help angry perpetrators deal with anger. These are primarily cognitive-behavioral. While they may not be all bad, they are incomplete. We must look vertically at each one through the lenses of the Cross—and see how Christ brings hope into conversations about rage.
Strategy # 1: Manage It
We’re told, “Focus on learning self-control over angry outbursts; know yourself better. When the dial is being turned up, defuse the situation with an appropriate thought process.”
The cross reminds us that we can do better than just managing our emotions. We can have increasing victory over anger through heart change, learning to defuse it at the foot of the Cross where we lay down our life in exchange for His life in us (Philippians 1:21), and letting His emotions reflect through us by the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and is developed through dependent, obedient practice. The heart (thoughts and beliefs, desires and intentions of the will) dictates behaviors (right or wrong) and emotions (positive or negative). As we learn to control angry thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5), acting in godly ways regardless of how the other acted (Romans 12:18-21), the blessings of positive emotions follow.
Strategy # 2: Distract It:
Cognitive-behavioral teaching says, “Go to your happy place, Tahiti, Hawaii, or a remote mountaintop cabin…escape there and you will feel less angry.”
Rather than mentally checking out, the Cross provides a focal point to reflect and to transform our negative attitude into gratitude. Thankful people don’t struggle with anger the same way that critical complainers do because they are focused on what has gone right, not what is going wrong (1Thessalonians 5:18). God calls us to look for the good that can come out of difficult circumstances (Genesis 50:20).
Strategy # 3: Redirect It
The world tells us, “Run, swim, box, climb mountains—use the energy of anger to accomplish great things. Punch a pillow, scream, or take bubble breaths to calm down.”
The Cross reminds us to remember love in our redirection efforts (1 Corinthians 10:13-14). God expressed wrath at sin by reaching out in love to save sinners. We must use the energy of our anger to correct problems, as Jesus did in the Temple, redirecting His Father’s house from a den of thieves back to a House of Prayer. Energy used in destructive ways is sinful, and even neutral acts do not address the heart issues. Only by asking ourselves how we can constructively solve problems do we use the energy in ways that honor God.
Strategy # 4: Avoid It
We’re told, “Make sure that what triggers your anger is no longer part of your daily life and routine. Set up boundaries, walls, and routines to avoid the stressors that trigger your anger.”
The Cross compels us to take risks rather than avoid pain (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Christ did not model for us to avoid the situation, but rather He endured the suffering for the sake of love (Hebrews 12:1, 2). Avoidance is motivated by fear, and fear suffocates those who are controlled by it (Proverbs 29:25).
Strategy # 5: Minimize It
The world says, “Take a deep breath, count to 10, it won’t be so bad 30 seconds from now once the adrenaline of your anger has come down. Remember the poor kids in Africa, and you will realize that you don’t have it so bad. Get over yourself.”
The Cross demonstrates just how severely God views the sin we commit and the sin committed against us. We can be grieved by sin and acknowledge the savage hurt it has caused, but we live in the hope that all will be made right (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
Strategy # 6: Redefine It
We’re told, “It’s not anger; call it venting, disappointment, hurt, frustration, annoyance, irritation, etc. If anger is wrong in your mind, then don’t be angry, but find a less intense way of expressing yourself.”
Because of the Cross, we don’t need to cling to robes of self-righteousness when a perfect remedy is available to us (Romans 5:8). Our anger/rage is ugly to others, and more importantly to God. Rather than redefine our anger as less than sin, the cross gives us confidence that our sinful hearts can be redeemed and changed. Our heart reveals what or whom we love through our words (James 3:8-10). For those who want God first, this is important to know and to evaluate about ourselves as we acknowledge sinful anger for what it is and how we are expressing it.
Strategy # 7: Medicate It
The world tells us, “Drink your blues away,” as often the means to deal with anger that has built up over time. “Life is short; have an affair,” as adultery soothes the pain of bitterness. “Happiness is a day at the mall.”
Jesus said, “Come to me all you are weary, and I will give you rest.” Rather than finding temporary peace in the bottle or other idol, God desires to give us comfort and rest. We don’t need to escape pain. In the cross, we are reminded of a God who understands and endured pain for us (Philippians 3:10). When we suffer wrongs for His sake, we are blessed.
Strategy # 8: Arouse It
We’re told, “Punch, hit, or kick a punching bag. Use your anger in aggressive physical activities. Funnel your anger into better tackles, extreme sports, or chopping wood.”
The Cross does not ask us to minimize our pain, but rather it gives hope in the midst of pain. Life hurts often and it is ok to admit that. We have a God who proved He cares by taking our ultimate, painful penalty upon Himself (1 Peter 2:24). The problem with the redirect and arouse strategies is that the real anger often comes out toward innocent bystanders, such as the spouse or children.
Strategy # 9: Pacify It
The world says, “Learn to negotiate better and improve your peacemaking strategies. Rather than facing conflict, avoid it by almost any means.”
The Cross is God’s ultimate and universal solution to peace. His love brings peace, where angry conflicts bring pain and confusion. The Cross gives us confidence we will eventually have peace, but it also reminds us that we should not be fighting for peace! God has already won the battle, and through the sanctification process we can all enjoy the victory won at the Cross. God blesses Peacemakers, not peace breakers or peace fakers!
Strategy # 10: Toughen It
We’re told, “Develop thick skin and refuse to care. Life’s disappointments hurt less this way!”
We don’t need to overlook life’s disappointments. The Psalms are full of anger, rage, fear, disappointments, guilt, and shame—all the negative emotions we experience (Psalm 32, 73, 77, 102, etc.), yet the Psalms always point us back to a loving God who is ready to help in times of our trouble (Psalm 20:7; 50:15). Without the Cross, life is hopelessly futile, but through the Cross, God’s love covers us throughout the disappointments of life.
When we proclaim the truth of the Cross and focus on the vertical with our counselees, we help them to overcome anger because their heart focus and worship changes. As biblical counselors, we can employ many of the healthy horizontal strategies, but we must not stop there. Helping counselees to see the Cross as the answer for their anger is crucial to defusing anger in a way that pleases the Lord and setting them on a path of permanent change and continued growth.
While this is a brief skeleton of what we must flesh out in counseling, my hope is that we are learning to think biblically about cultural issues and that our conversations will point others to Christ and the Cross.
Join the Conversation
How would you compare the world’s counsel for dealing with anger with the Word’s counsel?