During the course of any given day, many of us get ticked off at least once. Something or more likely someone becomes a source of anger or frustration.
But why do we get so ticked off and what can we do about it?
Reasons We Get So Angry
Whether it comes up fast or boils up over a long period of time, there are a number of reasons why we get angry. But anger is never just anger – there’s always an underlying reason.
Here are just some of the reasons we get angry:
Hurt. Most of us know what it feels like to be left out, overlooked, undervalued, or put down – and these feelings can leave deep wounds on our hearts.
Injustice. We all have a sense of right and wrong and of what constitutes fair treatment. When a wrong is committed against us or someone we love; when people don’t do what they say they are going to do; when others don’t pull their weight; at those times a sense of fair play is violated. Betrayal, especially by someone we had trusted, is an especially difficult form of injustice to resolve.
Fear. When there is a perceived threat to something that gives us a sense of identity or security, frustration quickly follows. Everyone has a need for significance and to leave a positive mark on the world. We want to see our work make a difference. Sometimes roadblocks to moving toward our goals are people.
Why Can’t We Just Let it Go?
We know why we get ticked off – but if we’re really honest with ourselves – do we intend to stay ticked off indefinitely? And is that what we really want?
Well, actually an awful lot of us do indeed stay ticked off — sometimes for weeks or even years.
We just can’t seem to let things go. We have the capacity to stew on offenses and sometimes develop deep pockets of resentment or lack of forgiveness that research shows actually hurts our health over time.
Those who do not forgive show an increase in sympathetic nervous system responses and release more stress hormones over a longer period. In other words, if I don’t forgive someone who has hurt me, the one who will suffer the most is me.
According to researchers in psychology and health:
“As a negative response to an interpersonal offense that commonly involves a grudge, resentment, and revenge, lack of forgiveness has been consistently related to poorer health in published research.”
Soon after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison he was asked about how he felt after all those years spent unjustly behind bars. He said this, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
So, if it is liberating and beneficial to forgive, why do we resist something that is good for us?
It might be hard for us to admit, but harboring an offense can actually just feel good.
What stops us from forgiving others?
If we are really honest, sometimes we simply enjoy feeling that we are better than someone else. One of the shadow sides of human nature is self-righteousness. If we forgive others, we might sacrifice our sense of being “right.”
Self-righteousness is a belief in one’s own moral superiority. The impasse that prevents resolution and change in most human conflicts and prejudices is rooted in the refusal to release an inflated sense of moral superiority.
When we hold onto a grudge it feels like we are in control – in the long run, we end up being the ones controlled by the very offense that has hurt us.
Another reason we might resist forgiving others is the false notion that forgiveness means that she has to let them off the hook.
But forgiveness does not mean that hurt and injustices are allowed to continue. Forgiveness means that even in the face of painful hurts and injustices, self-righteousness will need to be released in order to forgive.
Self-righteousness feels like it will protect us because it does after all put us on “higher ground.” But giving up the “high ground” is an act of humility and submission to the nurture and protection of God without ever inviting continual hurt or injustices by another.
In an article called Forgive to Live, researchers state,
“Importantly, forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, denying, minimizing, or forgetting the wrong. It can occur without reconciliation, which requires the participation of both parties, if the person who caused the hurt is absent, deceased, or remains unsafe.”
“Forgiveness can be defined as a freely made choice to give up revenge, resentment, or harsh judgments toward a person who caused a hurt, and to strive to respond with generosity, compassion, and kindness toward that person.” (Toussaint et al. Forgive to Live)
A person who forgives does not need to deny that injustice or wrongdoing occurred.
If we forgive others it’s not a denial of the pain of their offenses. The offense is acknowledged with a sacrificial and costly willingness to absorb the debt without demanding repayment.
And as the debt of the person who has offended is canceled the result is peace of mind and heart for the one who forgives.
Finding Power to Let It Go and Forgive
But how can we find the power to forgive? A great place to start is to remember how completely we have been forgiven.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus powerfully prays, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us ”One way to forgive is to remember our own humanity and frailty. All of us who are loved well, are also known well, and that means we are not loved because we are perfect, but rather “warts and all”.
If we meditate long enough on being loved by God and others, it will create the space in our hearts to do likewise and to “forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction (1 Thes 1:4).
This good news is the antidote to those personal grudges birthed in the soil of self-righteousness.
The offenses we feel are real. Our time, energy, or emotions have been “trespassed” on by others. Our flesh will naturally want to hold on to the grudge and seek retribution– especially in our own hearts.
Therefore, we need a power beyond herself in order to forgive.
And thankfully we have the power of God dwelling within us through the Holy Spirit. We are made complete, righteous, clean, and totally loved by the work of Christ on our behalf.
The Holy Spirit nudges us to the holy place of discomfort with our state of anger. We can pray regularly for the power to forgive and the wisdom to respond with both strength and tenderness, especially when it feels like we are being used, overlooked, mistreated.
Forgiveness is an ongoing process but we are not alone in it.
Is it Time to Confront or Overlook?
Scriptural wisdom gives two possible responses to an offense by another. Sometimes you go to the person and talk about the offense, especially if it is needed to keep the relationship free of resentment and for the sake of loving the offender well.
- “If a brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” (Mt. 18:15)
- “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; It is to his glory to overlook an offense.” (Prov. 19:11)
Sometimes you overlook the offense if you are able to absorb the debt without resentment and it is more of a minor offense.
Part of living in any relationship, or any community is “patience, bearing with each other in love” (Eph. 4:2). Recalling the Lord’s mercy and sacrifice prompts us to become more intentional about confessing our own sin.
If we are better able to admit to God some of the darker pleasures we experience when feeling superior to others, we can more easily receive God’s grace to forgive others.
We will find ourselves approaching them with a cleaner heart that is not so dependent on their response to us.
Sometimes we will bring up offenses when they happen – and sometimes we can find the freedom to let them go.
When trying to decide which is appropriate – the guiding principle is love. We are recipients of a love that has covered “a multitude of sins.” So, we can let go of our need to be right, hold onto resentment, and cling to unhealthy grudges.
In doing so, we can become more peaceful and honest with both God and others.