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When the Red Warning Light Appears

By Martin Tibbert, on Monday, November 23, 2015

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Have you ever seen a toddler throw a tantrum? What about a teenager losing their temper? What about a grown man losing control. It’s not a pretty sight, and there’s a danger they could do some real harm. As we heard last week from Adam, it’s ok to be angry if it’s a righteous anger at an unjust cause. But it’s not ok to throw insults, tantrums, frying pans or punches.

When it comes to anger, we usually deal with it in one of two ways: We either bottle it up or we spew it out.

The Bottlers

Bottlers often deny that they get deeply upset by hurts, disappointments and frustrations of life and pride themselves on never getting angry. They think that if bad feelings are pushed down low enough – they will eventually go away. But they’re quite wrong. Bill Hybels explains the effects of burying anger like this:

‘Burying anger is rather like the contemporary problem of burying toxic waste. When the canister of poison is buried underground just outside the city, everybody thinks the problem is gone. But later, people on the outskirts of the town, start falling ill. Their strange combination of symptoms are traced back to a contaminated water system and to a buried canister of poison that has been leaking its toxic waste for years’

Bottled-up anger always leeks and when it does, it poisons our bodies, our minds, and our relationships.

The Spewers

 These people have no problem admitting or connecting with their anger – and they have no problem letting it fly. When it comes to anger, they burst like a dam. Spewers aren’t about to let bottled-up anger give them a sleepless night. If they have to slam the door, kick the dog, shout at a friend or even God to let off steam they’ll do it. But then, they don’t often care if they leave a trail of bruised people in their wake.

Proverbs is quite frank about these people in saying ‘Do not make friends with a hot tempered man, do not associate yourself with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.’ (Proverbs 22:24)

Both bottlers and spewers share a common problem: Neither of them get rid of their anger. They move it around a bit, or poke a few holes in it, but when all is said and done, it is still there. So what can we do to help us with anger?

1. Look Out for the Warning Signs

Imagine you’re driving and you become aware of the red warning light appearing on your dashboard informing you that something needs attention. If we just stare at this light, nothing is going to change. But if that light prompts us to take a look at the car, then it has done its job and has served us well. This is the same with anger. It might be that you clench your fists, or for some their tone of voice changes. Whatever the warning sign is, once you realise it, you have a choice:

Do we bottle-it up, spew it out or look for what the real cause is?

2. Looking Under the Bonnet

For this, it isn’t the event that has made you angry, that’s normally quite apparent. But rather, it is about the situation or circumstances, the root cause behind the single situation that we are looking for. When I got angry at my daughters sports day, it wasn’t because I was told that I couldn’t cheer competitively, although that was a bit annoying, but it was connected to my own sense of self-worth and my value in excelling at sports when I was younger.

3. Does this Require DIY or Help from Others?

Sometimes I can deal with the problem myself, even I can fix a new spark plug. But there are times when you can’t do it yourself, and this is hard to admit. In the case of the car, it’s hard to admit because it will probably cost you money. In the case of us, it’s hard to admit because it means admitting you don’t have it all together. But we need others sometimes, and friends and community groups are a great place to go if you do need help with anger.

You might want to give yourself an MOT with the following questions:

Are you a bottler or a spewer?
Has this ever affected the people around you?
What are your warning signs?
Is this something you can fix yourself or do you need help from others to fix it?

You can listen to ‘When the Red Warning Light Appears’ again here: