What is the root cause of a spirit of anger?
Anger is a universal problem. It is not limited to one age group, culture, race, economic level, social status, educational background, or any other classification.
Unresolved anger is one of the chief contributing factors to the destruction of marriages, the breakdown of families, and the weakening of communities. It is a major cause of health problems and lack of productivity in the workplace, and it is a common denominator among juvenile delinquents.
Identify the Root Cause of Anger
Anger is a serious problem. What causes it? The root cause of a spirit of anger is tension from past hurts and guilt. This mixture of pain and guilt is cumulative and it erupts in anger when new offenses remind us of past experiences.
Most people assume that hurtful events in the past will be forgotten and will have no effect on the future. That is not true. Past hurts do not just go away, nor does guilt simply disappear after a wrong response to a situation. Unless these experiences are resolved through repentance and forgiveness, we will continue to experience bouts of anger when our tension points are triggered.
Recognize Pain From the Past
The following situations often lead us into bitterness, where we typically lash out in wrath, revenge, or other hurtful responses.
- The pain of rejection
The pain of rejection is one of the strongest factors in a person’s life, especially in childhood. A child forms strong attachments to parents, friends, and relatives and finds security in these relationships. When those who are trusted communicate rejection, the child’s secure world collapses and he faces a host of fears. The pain of rejection and the torment of fears can cause the child to develop deep bitterness toward the one who is responsible for his pain. When parents get divorced, their children typically experience the pain of rejection.
- The reaction to unchangeable features of our lives
One of the greatest challenges facing every young person is that of accepting unchangeable features, such as physical appearance, mental capabilities, birth order, race, brothers and sisters, and parents. When someone mocks or ridicules a child who is already insecure, it is a devastating blow to his self-esteem. Ridicule does not just attack a child’s actions—it mocks him as a person. One who experiences ridicule will be extremely sensitive to anyone else who ridicules him or others. The anger he feels is motivated by a desire for the just punishment of anyone who mocks others.
- The grief of favoritism
When parents favor one child over another, they are not only damaging the self-worth of the child who is less appreciated, but they are also encouraging him or her to react toward the one who is favored. Favoritism to one will be seen as rejection by the other. The Biblical example of Jacob’s favor of Joseph over the rest of his sons is a classic example of this situation. Joseph’s brothers resented the favor Joseph received, and they sold him into slavery. Then they led Jacob to believe that Joseph had died. (See Genesis 39.)
- The anguish of false accusations
A person’s reputation has great worth. Solomon wrote, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). A false accusation not only damages the one who is accused, but it also stirs up indignation and a desire to see the false accuser brought to justice.
The mixture of guilt and pain that surrounds the memory of these experiences triggers anger when we hear of or face similar situations. Can you recall a past experience that deeply hurt you? How do similar situations cause you to express anger now?
Pinpoint Sinful Attitudes and Actions
Along with painful experiences, our own tendencies toward sin foster a spirit of anger. The following attitudes and actions lead to guilt and anger:
Pride is assuming authority that does not belong to us. Many conflicts arise simply because we step into another’s jurisdiction with efforts to control. No wonder others react to us in this situation. In turn, the rejection we experience as a result can then lead to more expressions of anger, which are often accompanied by bitterness.
- Personal faults
When we fail in specific areas, we tend to be very alert to other people who fail in the same areas. Unfortunately, the frustration we have toward ourselves is often redirected to them through harsh judgment. Also, when someone hurts or offends us, his or her actions may be partially justified, which can trigger an explosive combination of guilt and bitterness.
If someone who represents another group or race hurts us, we tend to project the misbehavior of one onto the entire group and often develop a general animosity toward everyone who is associated with that group.
When people make promises and fail to keep them, we tend to hold that against them and become resentful of their failure to fulfill our expectations. When we expect certain behavior or benefits from others—especially those who are closest to us—and they do not act as we expect, this resentment can also occur.
Envy is bitterness toward another person who has received something we want and we think we deserve. Envy is a form of anger that might not be obvious to others until something triggers an angry outburst or reaction by the envious person.
- Taking up offenses
One of the most entangling causes of bitterness occurs when a person who was not directly involved in an offensive situation takes up an offense on behalf of the one who was offended. This kind of bitterness is deep-seated and often endures even after the one who was offended forgives the offender.
When we become angry, we should identify the past experiences and personal failures that are contributing to our current frustration and seek to resolve them. Often, situations that are similar to ones in which we were hurt or in which we failed to do the right thing will trigger our anger. Usually the stronger the anger, the more pain and guilt there are from the past.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).
This article is adapted from pages 6, 38–40 of the Anger Resolution Seminar Workbook. Learn about the Anger Resolution Seminar.