Dr. Andrew Magers
June 6, 2022
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Why Anger is a Part of Healing
I want you to imagine walking into the home pictured below. The pathway that led you to the front door is the suffering, pain, and hurt you’ve experienced. The first room you step into as you open that front door is anger. As you stand in that first room there’s a door to your right and a door to your left.
The door to the right leads you through rooms of mismanaged anger and its consequences. That door is called regret. The door to the left leads you to healthy responses to anger and the freedom that can come from it. That door is called acceptance.
Many of us hesitate to walk into the house at all. We try to avoid feeling our feelings. Mainly because it’s really difficult. And hurts. We try to scoot around the side and take a shortcut to the back patio of gratitude, joy, and resolution. But unfortunately, there’s a fence blocking our way.
Processing our emotions is as natural and fundamental to our existence as eliminating waste from our bodies. Grieving isn’t just something that’s a good idea for the enlightened or mature, it’s something we are all designed to do. And when we don't feel our emotions, we get stopped up. It’s a lot like being constipated, to be frank. Things start to go haywire, and we aren’t able to function like normal. We become numb or addicted to things that keep us busy or preoccupied. The list of consequences of unprocessed pain is too long to list here. But suffice it to say, that’s why we can’t take the shortcut around the house to the patio. The only way to resolution is through the front door.
So, back to the house. Many of us have an odd relationship with the first room. Some of us can’t stop ourselves from being angry. Others feel guilty for even being frustrated. But one of the reasons we hesitate to get mad is that we know where it can lead. Anger can very easily turn into resentment or bitterness, and those things can easily fester into a stuck place of unforgiveness. That’s the room in the bottom right corner. There are no windows out, and no new doors to go forward. When our anger has festered into unforgiveness, the only way forward is to go back to the beginning.
Feeling anger, in its proper context, is exactly the right thing to do sometimes. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel the anger of the violation we have experienced, we will never be able to healthily move forward. If you would feel anger at what happened to you happening to someone you care about, it’s right that you feel anger that it happened to you.
Once that anger burns off and subsides we can come to accept what has happened. Not just cognitively or abstractly, but emotionally. Viscerally, in our guts. Acceptance leads us to the room of grief, where we must feel the pain of our losses. Proper grieving involves realizing and feeling what we had and lost, and what we hoped for and won’t ever get. When that happens, we feel lighter. More resolved. Ready to move forward.
We can then move to the room of legitimate forgiveness. We cannot forgive someone unless we know exactly what we are forgiving them for. How can we forgive someone for what they did if we have not acknowledged to ourselves what actually happened to us? How they made us feel, and what they took from us? There too, is much more to say about forgiveness, but the major point is that it allows us to be truly human again. Christ came not simply to show us how to be a good little boy or girl; He came to show us how to be authentically human.
And it’s through that last door of forgiveness that we can join the party on the back porch. Where the laughter, peace, and gratitude are. And not just the positive emotions, but also connection with other people - and with God. So, ironically, sometimes the only way to reconnect with one another, is to let ourselves get mad at each other.