Anger is Not Sin or "Wrong"
Anger is a feeling in our body that arises when something we value is in jeopardy*.
It is a message from our body that we need to pay attention to what is happening around us, and possibly do something.
Our choice of what we do with our anger is what makes all of the difference.
I attended a workshop led by a celtic shaman** in which she categorized our responses to anger as “life-affirming” and “life-corroding.”
Life-affirming anger is when we choose to act in ways that honor life and lift us up. This could look like taking action on the matter that is making us angry, choosing to go to a protest, having a conversation with the person who wronged us, etc.
Life-corroding anger slowly eats away at us (like rust corroding a bucket) and destroys the connections, community, and life within us. Life-corroding anger looks like someone reacting with words solely intended to hurt (instead of repair), staying silent and letting the anger brew within us, and more.
These explanations of anger make sense to me.
I can easily and readily apply them in my life. When I feel angry, I honor that emotion by understanding WHY I am angry, and then I select how I would like to respond.
As a child, I did not have this understanding of anger.
I grew up in an evangelical Christian environment where anger was categorized as sin.
Sin was considered something against God. It was not a holy feeling, such as the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.)
The only time anger was talked about in a positive way was if it was righteous anger, implying there was a Biblically-based reason to be angry (usually someone doing something against Christian principles).
Categorizing sin as sin misses the mark***. There is always a reason we are angry. Our anger provides us with good information every time. Even if anger is activated by something “small,” by investigating what valued thing was being threatened (maybe clear communication, understanding, respect, connection, etc.), we learn more about ourselves.
I don’t blame the Bible for the limited view of anger. The Bible is full of anger and multiple verses about its use.
The Bible is a complex compilation of translated letters written by numerous individuals. As a teen, I joked with friends that I could find a Bible verse to defend any argument I wanted.
I wasn’t far off though. What teachings we extract from the Bible comes down to how we interpret it. And we often interpret it through the lens of our environment and culture.
This is why there are so many overlapping “Christian” beliefs within American culture, and vice versa.
The majority of therapy clients I work with, whether they have a Christian background or not, believe that it is “wrong” to be angry.
One of the most rewarding topics I work with clients on is how to drop our judgments of our feelings and honor what is present - which includes anger.
It does not feel natural at first.
After a lifetime of being told anger is “wrong” or a “sin,” it takes time to reframe our view.
But with time, we can see that our emotions are helpful messengers, guiding us to honor our needs and values.
*This definition of anger originated with Dr. Richo in his book “How to Be an Adult.” A wonderful book that I highly recommend
**I wish I could remember her name to give her the credit that is due
*** I really hope someone caught my subtle humor here. Sin means “missing the mark."
If you grew up in a religious environment and struggle with its impacts on your life today,
I specialize in religious deconstruction.