Engaging Anger - Part 2: AcceptingMay 16, 2023
This is part two of a four part series on Engaging Anger as a Christian woman, written by guest author, Rachel. Read Part 1 here.
To clarify, MRC does not condone the use of anger for verbal or physical abuse. However, it is one of the many emotions that God has given us for healthy, productive uses.
It is our hope that this series will challenge the religious norms of maladaptive coping strategies commonly used to suppress anger. We hope, instead, to teach ways that anger, being neither good nor bad, can be integrated into healthy emotional awareness and positive uses.
Feel free to submit questions and responses using the Feedback button at the bottom of this post.
Bad Advice on how to be a “Good Girl”
A key part of recovery is developing a healthy relationship with Anger, but many of us struggle to do this essential task. In my earlier post, I shared some reasons why I formed a dysfunctional relationship with Anger. Those anecdotes were focused on the personal and relational, but I think there are bigger forces at play for why people, especially Christians and especially women, are likely to be uncomfortable engaging with anger. In this second post of a four-post series, I get into some misinformation about anger that gives it a bad rap.
“Don’t go to bed angry”
This “advice” is usually taken from Ephesians 4:26, which reads “In your anger, do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” I think it’s worth reconsidering the intent of this verse, especially how it’s interpreted with a modern, Western Christian lens. I believe that cultural lens - not the original intent of the verse - is where we get the saying “don’t go to bed angry.”
I have always struggled with this advice. If my husband and I were in an argument late at night, he would push to resolve it, even citing this verse to me. I knew I was mentally and emotionally spent, and I couldn’t access the part of myself that I needed to resolve the issue, so I suggested sleeping on it. I was simply too exhausted to engage in a HEALTHY way. During my recovery journey, I learned that it’s ok to take a time out and process that anger.
But honestly, before I could even take an “anger time out”, I had to accept that anger is okay to feel. Part of my path to acceptance was dismantling harmful and false Christian teachings on anger.
“Good Christian Girls are Meek”
Occasionally, I’ve heard seasoned couples share what tips and tricks have allowed them to stay together so long. “We never go to bed angry” frequently comes up - and it’s always said by the woman in the relationship.
Women, hear this advice and count it as “good,” because it fits within a narrative that they’ve heard for much of their lives, which is ‘“do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat” - in the words of Brené Brown “Listening to Shame”. In Daring Greatly, she summarizes the cultural message to women as “stay as small, sweet, and quiet as possible, and use our time and talent to look pretty.”
While it might be easy to think that such cultural messages are a think of a prior generation, Brown’s conclusion was published in her 2012 book and shared in her 2014 TED Talk, showing her research found this narrative alive and well in modern times.
When I think of anger personified, it’s not pretty, quiet or small. It is big, loud, sweaty, and does NOT CARE what you think is “sweet.” As I tried to reconcile my relationship with anger, I eventually had to throw this “good” Christian advice out the window.
Better Advice for Christian Women
For those raised in the Christian faith, especially in the more conservative, traditional, or fundamental circles, anger is positioned in direct opposition to “good girl” advice, of being meek, submissive, quiet spirit (ideas which come from passages like 1 Pet. 3:4; 1 Cor. 14:34, 35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).
If you’re a married Christian woman in these circles, the pressure is amplified, as you’re also told to be “submissive”. If you get angry at your spouse, you’re now a bad wife, bad woman, and bad Christian. To avoid such failings, we listen to the admonishment of those people who have put themselves in authority over us, and shame our anger as a result.
We forget that this advice actually runs counter to the ACTIONS of women heralded as servants of God, like Esther, Jael, Deborah & Huldah. They acted in ways contradictory to the narrative of “stay small and quiet” - directly opposing the modern cultural advice to women. They acted in this way to promote God’s truth and justice. Why do we forget the strong, assertive women of the Bible, who used anger appropriately for good?
Many of us know why: current Christian culture favors women who are small and quiet over strong and honest. It avoids biblical examples of women who rocked the boat, because that would disrupt current power structures. Considering the prevalence of sexual addictions among Christian male leaders and the emotional immaturity feeding it, it would indeed be a “wise” move, for the sake of the status quo, to keep women small and quiet.
And yet, the status quo is steeped in denial. To address a problem, we first have to accept the reality of what is happening and how it is affecting us. Anger can help with this.
Good Girls let Anger Speak
By choosing the path of least resistance in my marriage, I perpetuated a system where we never really addressed the issue of addiction. I didn’t know what to do with my anger and I didn’t understand how it could be used for good, so I stifled my inner voice and “gave it to Jesus in prayer.” I can now see that when I asked Jesus to work a miracle, he was telling me he’d work that miracle through me, and use my anger to do it.
If someone is sinning against you and lying about it and blaming you for it (which is what was happening in my marriage), it’s okay to get angry. Necessary even. I know it’s an unpopular opinion for many, and I know that even as reading this, your mind might be swimming with verses and “Christian lessons” that oppose the thought “anger is okay.”
I know your body might be really uncomfortable with what I’m proposing. You might even be angry when reading this, thinking “Rachel, it’s not okay to be angry, because when I was, this (inappropriate reaction of parent or spouse or religious authority) happened!”
I get it. I’ve been there, too. When I tried to express my frustration, I was told that I was “letting the Devil get a foothold” and “letting bitterness fester in my heart.” I’ve lived with the shame of being angry. I know you have stories of this, too.
Embrace Anger, Because You’re Worth It
Now, after years of work, I also have stories of how I’ve come to meet my anger and help it be more comfortable in my body, so I can get to know the emotions that exist underneath the anger (there’s always something).
In my next post, I’ll start to get into HOW anger can lead to healing, so you can see that Anger’s true intention is to protect you from the pain you’re feeling. By listening to Anger, we can start to find the wounds within us that need care and attention to be healed. This is hard work, but you’re worth it. You can do hard things, and you’re stronger than you think.
I encourage you to start getting to know your anger as well, and, in my opinion, the best way to do it is start with your stories - like I did in post one:
- What are your stories of anger?
- What lessons were you taught about anger in your youth
- How do you see them playing out today?
I’d love to hear your story! Click on the Feedback button below.
Bio: Rachel is a writer and educator, and has often been labeled a “force to be reckoned with”. She started recovery work after D-Day in the summer of 2019.
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