Anger: Make it Productive


Did you realize that anger can actually be productive? In his book, The Other Side of Love, Dr. Gary Chapman explains how to turn anger into something that produces positive results in your relationships, instead of becoming a negative power in your life. Anger can be used to help you understand your own complex emotions and spur you to effective conflict resolution.

According to Dr. Chapman, begin by asking yourself two critical questions: “Is the action I am considering positive; i.e., does it have the potential for dealing with the wrong and healing the relationship?” and “Is the action I’m considering loving; i.e. is it designed for the benefit of the person at whom I am angry?”

Even though you may be tempted to retaliate, to express your anger through yelling, or to give the silent treatment, these will all make the situation — and the overall communication in your relationship — worse. In order to turn valid anger against someone who has wronged you into a positive response, Dr. Chapman advices the following five-step process:

Acknowledge Your Anger

While it may seem obvious that you need to acknowledge to yourself that you are angry, many times we become caught up in our verbal or physical response to a situation. In the heat of anger, we may actually neglect what is going on emotionally. Dr. Chapman advises saying to yourself out loud, “I am angry about this! Now what am I going to do?” In saying this to yourself, Chapman says, “You are now not only aware of your own anger, but you have distinguished for yourself the difference between the anger and the action you are going to take. You have set the stage for applying reason to your anger rather than simply being controlled by your emotions.”

Restrain Your Response

Most people tend to respond to anger in one of two ways: either by venting verbally (or physically) or by withdrawing into silence. If you find yourself giving into one of these destructive patterns when you are angry, you will need to unlearn these patterns. Part of that involves restraining that response that seems to happen automatically — whether it is yelling at your kids, giving the silent treatment to your husband, or throwing things against the wall. Chapman cautions that restraining your response is not the same as stuffing your emotions. Rather, it means refusing to act in the heat of your anger.

Chapman advises finding a technique that works best for you. You may need to stop what you’re doing and count to 10 (or 100 or 1,000). Or you can set up a “time-out” system with your husband, so that when things get too heated during an argument, you can both step away for awhile.

Pinpoint Your Anger

Before you talk with the person who has wronged you, stop for a little introspection as you are calming yourself. Ask yourself why you’re angry. Is it because of something the other person said or did, is it the manner in which he was talking, did his behavior hit a sore point (maybe it reminded you of a negative experience from childhood), or is your anger intensified from other circumstances (bad day at work, financial stress)? How has that person wronged you and why has that bothered you? Look beyond the obvious circumstances.

For example, you may be mad because your husband has been spending long hours at work. But working itself is not necessarily a negative thing — so why is it bothering you? Is it because you have unmet needs and expectations? Or maybe because he told you he would spend more time at home and hasn’t lived up to that promise? If you need a little help, seek the counsel of wise friend in helping you pinpoint your true source of anger.

Analyze Your Options

Once you have thought through the situation and have processed your emotions, begin to calmly think of a plan of action. You may find that talking to a friend, writing your thoughts down or even talking aloud to yourself may help you focus your thoughts. Basically, there are two routes of positive options.

One option involves letting go of the situation. This is not the same as storing unresolved anger, but an attempt to move on in the most productive way. Typically, this should not be the option you choose, but Chapman says there are occasions when confrontation is not necessarily the best plan. For example, if you feel your boss has treated you unfairly, but he has been known to fire employees who stand up to him, you may not want to confront him. Instead, focus on processing your emotions on your own, and look into other options, such as possibly switching departments or looking for another job.

However, more often than not, the wisest plan of action involves active reconciliation with the person who has wronged you. You may find it helpful to write out what you want to say or rehearse your words. If you need help using positive communication techniques, check out a book on conflict resolution or communication skills. Part of effective conflict resolution is managing your anger, but the other part is communicating your anger effectively.

Take Positive Action

Once you are ready to discuss the situation, calmly let the other person know you are angry, what your perception of the situation is, and ask if you are understanding the situation correctly. In doing so, Chapman says, “This gives the person an opportunity to share with you information that you may not be aware of or to explain his motives in what he did or said or to clearly admit to you that what he did was wrong and to ask your forgiveness.” Typically the conversation will either lead to confession and forgiveness, or will clarify misunderstanding on your part. If the wrongdoing was very serious, restoration of trust in the other person will take time.

Concluding Thoughts

Chapman concludes that whether there is admitted wrongdoing or whether you realize the situation was a misunderstanding, “In either case, the issue is cleared; the matter is resolved and the relationship continues to grow. Anger has served its rightful purpose. It has motivated you to take constructive action to see that the issue was resolved.”

This article is based on the book, The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way  by Dr. Gary Chapman.

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