Anger: Hulk-Smash Edition
A friend recently encouraged a group of us to open up our conversation with the following statement, “I do have a serious problem with anger, but what does it look like?”
Before the question was posed, I hadn’t taken any time to try and put form to this particular feeling. Although it usually accompanies various aspects of life, I typically try and avoid this emotion like the plague. In my youth, any time someone expressed anger…something bad happened. Whether getting slapped, punched, or worse; anger was a fuse I tried hard not to ignite. Anger put me in the hospital. Anger set me on fire. Anger once ruined my life.
When it is present, I try to dismiss it, lest I seemingly manifest into a monster and hulk-smash everything around me. It’s not that I act out with holes in walls or 60 mph shattered dishes, I implode. Though my skin may not turn green, I might as well be Bruce Banner. Historically, when rage sets in, The Hulk takes over and I self-sabotage by way of vices. When everything around me seems to be working against me, I get angry.
Because God created our emotions, they are designed for good. But because of the fall, many of us practice unhealthy emotional expressions. Whether we learned our behaviors from parents, friends, or spouses, many of us have a child-like relationship with anger. We throw temper tantrums; flailing and whaling, kicking and screaming. When things don’t go our way, in jealous fits of madness, we lose our cool. Out of frustration, we exhaust ourselves to points of uncontrolled tears. Like Disney parades, we string imaginative and colorful language together while cursing the world. Misguided and manifested, we lash out against those who have little to do with our present frustration. Although our response seems extreme to others, it makes perfect sense to us. Besides, it’s their fault anyways. We justify our actions with displaced responsibility and, like The Hulk we declare, “You made me do it, you made me angry.”
For many of us, our steam transitioned from slow-cooker to instant-pot explosive long ago. What once provoked little grievance, now sets our world ablaze. Irritated and filled with indignation, we believe, ““If only things would go our way.” Control freaks, we are upset by the slightest notion of any perceived wrongs. Living in states of discontent, fear and pride, we become quick to anger. But because many of us find comfort in blowing off steam, we resolve to bottling it all up on the inside…until we no longer can. Then, like a match in a forest fire, we ignite. Lit with enmity, we make bad decisions and cause destruction all around us. For those experiencing addiction, we take life’s frustrations out on ourselves. As punching bags, we beat ourselves up pretty bad.
As I grew up, I avoided engaging angry people out of fear of response. It seemed no matter what route I took, whether silent or mouthy, I never got it right. Retaliation and retribution was the R&R I lived in. Instead of putting a voice to my concerns, I dismissed any associated feelings. Out of fear of becoming like my abusers, I kept my mouth shut. In silence, bitterness and resentment manifested. And before too long, anger aimed inward. Frustrated with a lack of control, I started eating my feelings. To the untrained eye, I was just a fat kid because - for me - anger looked like nourishment in excess. Unfortunately, where I found comfort had its consequences; lack of self-confidence, always the butt-end of jokes, pants that never fit and constant fighting. Even then, kids were brutal. In times of frustration with my weight, I can still hear their playground taunts, “Fatty, fatty, 2x4 can’t get through the bathroom door, so he did it on the floor, licked it up and did some more.”
Though that was long ago, I still have a hard time expressing when I’m upset. Often, I tell myself that no one cares - that my anger doesn't matter to others and that because it doesn’t matter to others - it shouldn’t matter to me. When I do muster up the courage to voice my concerns, like Drake, I get in my feelings. Hyper sensitive and overly emotional, any chance of conveying how I feel is clouded by immaturity. Because when anger arises, I feel like a child all over again. Unsure of myself, I tend to dance around issues rather than confronting them head on. I’m quick to dismiss conversations if I interpret my views as non-important to others. In my experience, I am the angriest when I am insecure the most.
Historically, when the tension of anger arose, I pacified my emotions with whatever I could get my hands on. Anesthetized by addiction, I swept anger under the rug until so much stuff accumulated, it became the elephant in the room. 22 years later, I wore a US-mens waist size 44 jean; nearly 400 lbs of emotions once hung from my frame. After gastric sleeve surgery, I got addicted to cocaine. Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I met the demon known as methamphetamine. And even though the symptoms of those substances could be seen, there was something far more sinister lurking underneath it all. As destructive as The Hulk, pornography wreaked havoc in my life. Like Bruce Banner, when I gave in to anger, I became a monster.
Although there is a type of anger that is righteous, mine usually isn’t.
Bruce Banner’s genetic makeup was corrupted by one of his experiments, thus turning him into something he was not originally created to be. Although he is a fictional comic book character, what causes his transformation is not. Gamma radiation is real! Gamma rays and, or, gamma radiation, is a penetrating electromagnetic radiation arising from radioactive decay. The thing corrupting his body, is the very thing transforming him into a character many of us love, The Incredible Hulk. With all of his strength, even The Hulk has weaknesses.
One of the few ways the Hulk has been consistently defeated is through the Silver Surfer. The Surfer uses his cosmic abilities, AKA “Power Cosmic,” to drain one of the most unpredictable, impulsive, and discontent rampaging lunatics found in the Marvel Universe. In my experience, the only thing capable of diffusing blinding rage has been the cosmic power of God; His presence changes hearts. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they set off a chain of events lasting until the end of time. Like the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei, the more we expose ourselves to sin, the further corrupted we become. Working against our original design, we die a slow death. When feeding fleshly anger, we bite off more than we can chew. Like eating the forbidden fruit, the consequence of engaging rage casts us out of His presence.
So what do we do when encountering unrighteous anger?
We let go & let God. We surrender control. We quit trying to get our way. We stop manipulating those around us and recognize our world does not revolve around us…unless we let it. We can choose to further enable our irritable state by acting out OR, we wave the white flag of surrender. Easier said than done, I know! But with practice, surrender does not have to be incurred after the hands of great tragedy. We can either yield to our feelings or to the Lord. For the believer, enabled by the Holy Spirit, we get a choice!
When I allow my thought life to wander aimlessly, I am prone to bouts of rage. When left unchecked, rage manifests itself into destructive behaviors; internal and external. And as I’ve heard it said, What we think about most, we eventually become. If this is true, then dwelling on anger fuels explosive (or implosive) rage. Abuse, trauma, and addiction are undoubtedly evil. It’s hard not associating feelings with memories of past events. The way to move forward, isn’t always to move on. It’s to move in the right direction - the right direction being towards God, not our feelings. When our anger feels impossible to overcome, the Lord invites us to lay our burdens down at His feet. It may seem counterintuitive to defuse a monster with the Messiah, but as He demonstrates time and time again…Jesus Christ gives us rest (Philippians 4:6-7). He heals our hearts and extinguishes unholy burning anger(Psalm 147:3). He is the Living Water (John 7:38)!
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)
In moments of confrontation, I have to tell myself, “although it may seem familiar, the present is not the past.” When people raise their voices out of frustration, I transport back to moments of abuse. Sometimes, sudden movements cause me to flinch. Certain types of movie scenes trigger slideshows in my mind. It feels as if certain experiences are littered with mental booby traps. For me, it is of utmost importance to fill my mind with things of God; scripture, praise & worship, gospel-centered community, and honesty. Whether in frustration, anger, sadness, joy, or happiness, God wants us to cry out to Him. When we get real with God, He gets real with us! If we are honest with ourselves, are we being honest with God? Have we made Him aware of our feelings, or are we living like comic book characters, acting as if we are the hero?
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
When are you most angry?
How does anger express itself in your life?
Often, anger is referred to as a secondary emotion because it is linked to protecting or covering up vulnerable feelings. If it is tied to vulnerability, what are you trying to hide?