Dealing with Pain, Anger and Loss
Anger has enormous costs. The impulse that felt so right at the moment, so justified, becomes in the quiet hours another source of guilt and regret.
If you are often angry, every one of your relationships may be affected. Marriage can become a minefield. Distance grows. Walls thicken. Children may become hardened, resistant, while carrying deep feelings of worthlessness. Co-workers may withdraw or sabotage you, bosses become critical. A bitterness may grow with certain friends.
Anger affects your health. A 15-year follow-up study of law students who had taken a test measuring hostility revealed a starling fact. Twenty percent of those who had scored in the top quarter on the hostility scale had died, compared to a death rate of only five percent for student who had scored in the lowest quarter on the same test (New Your Times, 1989). Frequent anger is damaging to your body and increases the death rate from nearly every cause.
Anger on the other hand can be adaptive. It’s a warning signal that something is wrong. Just a physical pain can be a warning, anger can warn you of imminent trauma. Anger can provide the energy to resist emotional or physical threats.
Anger can serve vital functions to protect and defend the integrity of the self.
Chronic anger does not make you strong and safe. It weakens you. It encourages attack. The truth is that anger begets anger. The more you shout, the more you invite shouting. The more you rage, the more you invite rage.
There are two kinds of anger…
- Anger at ourselves:
anger at our self triggers depression and damages our self-esteem.
- Anger directed toward others:
anger at others destroys and abuses.
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath…”
It’s hard to let go of anger after you’ve learned to employ it as a defence. It always seems as if the anger is easier to feel than fear or hurt or guilt or emptiness. And of course it is. At that moment. All addictions feel food at the moment, all addictions serve to block pain, and all addictions offer a short-term feeling of control and well-being.
The problem with addiction is never in the moment, but in the aftermath. The long-term effects of chronic anger on health and relationships. There is an equally damaging effect from addictive anger. In everything except direct threat, anger tends to lead you away from appropriate action.
When we use anger to block painful feelings, we never get to deal with the feelings themselves. And we never get to address the problem that generated the feelings to begin with.
- Anger keeps us from dealing with the source of fear.
- Anger keeps us from dealing with our pathological critic.
- Anger keeps us from examining the values that generate our guilt.
- Anger keeps us from facing loss.
- Anger keeps us from saying what hurts.
- Anger keeps us helpless by stopping problem solving.
- Anger keeps us empty.
Without anger, what are we left to feel inside? As we begin to identify each source/root we will find it will require a real commitment to go through these steps:
1. Facing fear
For each catastrophic fear that we uncover try to restate your concern using three guidelines:
a. Strive for accuracy rather than exaggeration.
b. Be specific rather than general.
c. Lay it all before the Lord and wait on Him.
2. Facing the fear of unworthiness
Facing the fear of unworthiness. This is perhaps the greatest psychological pain a human being can endure: the feeling of not being good, not being adequate, and not being loveable. While it’s roots lie in your relationship to your parents, the feeling of unworthiness is promoted every day of your life by the constant attacks of your pathological inner critic.
Spiritually: the enemy constantly condemns us.
Personally: our past accuses us.
Physically: our body reminds us.
To cope with the feeling of unworthiness we need to really hear what the critic is saying to you. If we immediately believe what is being said we do not give ourselves the option to choose. We always have a choice! That “critic” may be a voice from the past who has demanded their own law upon us which we have taken into our belief system. It could be an experience which we “interpreted” to be something completely different than what it really was.
People who were abandoned, neglected, or seriously abused often feel that the trauma happened because they were bad or because they invited it.
3. Facing guilt
Reaching a balance in knowing the truth about our guilt, in any situation, is crucial. Our true guilt can cause such pain that it causes us to react in many different ways…anger is one.
False guilt is accusation or condemnation. This comes from three sources:
- the enemy
- our past sins – our memory
- those around us
We also need to realise that some false guilt can come from rules that others have put on us. It can create in us a feeling that we are bad because we break them…these rules may stand in opposition to some important need we have…otherwise we wouldn’t be acting to violate them.
God has created guilt as a healthy response to behaviour we need to stop. We can do the same with situations in our lives which seem to create guilt with no apparent reason…we just know we are guilty. We can research the root and find out where it came from.
In some cases it comes from a rule that needs to be changed or rewritten in our lives so that it is more flexible. In other cases we can write a new rule which helps us to help us stop a certain behaviour. Then we can allow God to meet our needs according to His Word and not the word of others.
“And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
4. Facing grief
Taking time to mourn/grieve is extremely important.
It is important to trust the grief process. People run away from grief because they:
- resist pain and
- are afraid of being overwhelmed and engulfed by the powerful feelings.
The truth is that the human psyche is set up to experience grief (or any pain) in a sequence of waves. The awareness of a loss hits with crushing intensity. The pain goes on until we reach a natural shutting down process. There’s a respite, a quietness, and perhaps even a numbness in the middle of the pain. After the rest and numbness comes another wave, and so on. Grief can be enormous. But when it reaches overwhelming proportions, the natural shutting down process gives us time to get our breath. We can “work through” grief by letting the waves happen and remembering they will pass before their intensity overwhelms our abilities to cope.
5. Facing hurt
Hurt ranges from feeling slightly neglected or discounted all the way to an overwhelming sense of abandonment. If you find a propensity to cover hurt with anger then anger should be a signal for you to ask ourselves, “What hurts me?”
Hurt is either realistic or unrealistic. Unrealistic hurt occurs when a small slight or criticism triggers deep feelings of unworthiness based on our early relationship with our parents.
Hurt can also be a realistic response to a current slight, criticism, rejection. Realistic hurt is usually are less painful. We still feel basically good about yourself, even though something is wrong with our current interaction. Sometimes hurt has both realistic and unrealistic components. The hurt that we feel when a friend arrives late may also trigger echoes of earlier experiences of neglect.
The active work in facing our hurt is to acknowledge it, openly and directly. Anger is always blaming and accusatory. It’s focused on the other person. To communicate hurt, we must find a way to convey what hurts without implying that the other person is bad or wrong to have caused it.
6. Facing helplessness
Anger obscures the feeling of helplessness in two ways. (1) it keeps us from experiencing how stuck we are by putting all our attention on the failings of others. We are so concerned with their selfishness, their mistakes, and their stupidity that our own sense of importance is never fully faced. (2) by shifting the blame to other people, we don’t have to take responsibility for our own decisions or failures to act that led to feeling so stuck.
Facing helplessness requires that we give up the crutch of blame. Anger won’t change anything or anyone! People will keep doing what they need to do, not what we need them to do.
The first step in facing helplessness is to take full responsibility for being stuck right now. We need to accept that the ways we choose to cope, our game plan, our strategy for getting our needs met, falls short of the mark.
Step two in dealing with helplessness is to generate a new set of coping options. We need to face the fact that we are the only one who can solve our problem. We are the one in pain; we are the one whose needs are unmet. As Christians we need to generate a clear option for coping…develop a clearly stated goal. Along with Jesus we can focus on what His purpose is for us and how He sees us.
The third step in coping with helplessness is to take action. As Solomon asked for wisdom…in this situation, asking God for His wisdom is to take action! We are helpless without God…we are helpless without His grace…but as Christians we have all authority in His Name thus we are not ever really helpless. Ask God for His eyes and His understanding of who we really are in Him. He is faithful to do what we ask. The enemy’s ploy is to get us to believe his lie. John 10:10 says it all…(read it)
7. Facing feelings of emptiness
Feelings of loneliness and emptiness are so painful that some people will do anything to block them from awareness. The key here, as with all the other difficult feelings, is to separate blame from pain. You need to experience our loneliness directly without linking it to a fault or failing in others. To accomplish this, we need to literally encourage the feeling.
Since loneliness is extremely painful, we will have to arrange for it to come up in brief, manageable chunks. Set a time limit so that the feeling doesn’t overwhelm you.
- Take a 10-minute walk on a isolated part of the beach
- Sit alone for 10-minutes
- Spend 15 minutes in a place where you once felt happy and close to someone
- Turn off the radio and TV and just sit in silence for 20 minutes in your living room
- Resist your impulse to call someone…notice what it is like to postpone the contact for 10 minutes or so.
- Place a chair in the middle of the backyard and sit in it for 15 minutes.
- Spend 20 minutes alone with God…not speaking, just waiting on Him
Some of these exercises will make you more aware of your loneliness. Paradoxically, some of them may generate a strange sense of calm.
As God begins to bring up things…you’ll find one truth. God will never bring up several things at once…God is not a god of confusion…He will bring up one thing at a time so you can deal with it. Trust Him to help you as you face each issue and deal with it. Hiding from and denying the pain and/or anger will only prolong the lack of peace that is yours in Jesus Christ.
Pain of every kind of abuse, molestation, divorce, and death can be unbearable…although for some, burying the emotional pain is the only way they can deal with the crisis at the time. Every time we do bury an emotion, we bury it alive. Sooner or later it will resurrect its self…like the horror movies…and show its self ugly and horrifying.
Pain can come from so many directions…but the way we deal with it is what is most important. Let’s look at David. If we study his life story in Samuel we’ll find that in every instance, except for the story of Bathsheba, he always “…inquired of the Lord…” May I suggest here, that before we go on a “self search” of our past or running off to a psychotherapist…we “inquire of the Lord”. This is the job of the Holy Spirit…He is our Counsellor and Healer. He knows all about us…for God knows everything. The Cross of Jesus is the only place to unload the pain. However, before we can do that we need to acknowledge the pain and the source of that pain.
2 Key Steps to Freedom…
1. Humble ones-self —
2 Chronicles 7:14-16
14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will
forgive their sin and heal their land.
15 “Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
2. Forgiveness —
23 “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.
24 “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Forgiveness is the first step to healing.
As hard as it may seem it is the only road to freedom.