July 31, 2014

Forgiveness When You Are Angry

It is "one" of those days today. I am sitting here thinking about my day, struggling to comprehend my emotional feelings, and stressing over my looming paper deadline. Yesterday was an intensely trying day for me. It started out so good, but it quickly nose-dived into something horrible. Coupled with the pressure of completing my project, and the strain on my time (for other commitments), I was a powder keg of suppressed emotions just waiting to explode. I did explode, silently of course, into a mass of hysteria and tears. I melted down last night, and I spent the majority of the evening feeling unloved and unwanted.

I did reach out to the Lord. I sought him earnestly. I prayed for understanding, for help, for answers. I cried. I wailed in fact. I so desperately needed His help to move through the emotions and to find peace. The answers were not forthcoming, but I did find some comfort, and I was able to let go of the anger. I forgave the person who angered me, and I turned my hurt over to the Lord for His healing. I finally fell asleep at midnight, and I slept fairly peacefully through to this morning. Shortly after I woke up, I read this very interesting article on Facebook, and amazingly, I found the answer to my prayers from last night.

Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson

A Facebook friend posted this link to an article from Psychology Today. The article title is "Hold Me Tight" and it is written by Dr. Sue Johnson, a clinical Psychologist (published January 2009). In it, Dr. Johnson discusses what she considers the foundational reason why couples (and singles) have communication issues. She ascribes most of her findings to her own clinical practice where she counseled couples and provided therapy to help them reconnect emotionally (para. 2). She states that as humans, "We have a wired-in need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others" (para. 3).  She believes it is this emotional need to attach, based on Attachment Theory, that drives us to connect with one another. Issues arise when our emotional contact with those we love disconnects. Instead of re-attaching through touch, which she explores more fully in the article, we begin to internalize "demon dialogs" that trigger our primal fear response. We react out of fear -- a sense that we are losing love, value, dignity, etc.  Our response to this loss is to act out of that point of pain.  We yell, we hit, we blame, we sulk -- we do whatever it takes to get the other person to see our emotional pain. Unfortunately, often our actions mis-communicate our feelings to our partners or our family. And, depending on how our partner was raised, their response to emotional pain, might be counter to ours. In short, instead of stopping the process at the moment when that trigger is pulled -- we dive into emotional tirades that mask the underlying hurt with a myriad of other superficial concerns.

As I read this article, I couldn't help but identity my own trigger responses. I admit that I have anger issues. I have always had anger issues. I had a difficult childhood that was masked under the guise of a typical middle-class suburban Christian upbringing. I suffered great hurt and trauma. I experienced things that made me angry, and as a child, I didn't have the emotional tools to know how to deal with those emotions. So as a child, when I got angry, I hit other people. I screamed when I didn't get my way or understand why a certain thing was happening. I ran away from home (not far, but just far enough to get away). I also sulked, and I hid my emotional hurt deep down inside of me. I suffered emotionally, and for many years, I believed that I was somehow damaged goods. I was the one with the problem. I was the one who couldn't "get over it." Yes, in truth, I did have a problem. I was the one who couldn't properly deal with emotional hurt. I was the one who didn't know how to let go of the pain and allow healing to take place. I wasn't responsible for the incidents that caused the pain in the first place, but I was certainly responsible for how I reacted to them.

The Bible talks about our emotional response to anger in Ephesians 4:16:

And "don't sin by letting anger control you." Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry

And again in Ecclesiastes 7:9:

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.

And in Psalm 4:4:

Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
The Bible doesn't say we should not be angry, it just tells us to be careful when we do become angry. God knows that anger is a human emotion, an emotion that is part of our human character. We have the power to become angry, and as such, we must learn how to deal with our anger so as not to hurt other people (intentionally and unintentionally).

One of the things I liked about Dr. Johnson's article is that she suggests attachment as the root of most communication problems. I have never really considered this view before, and as a Communications scholar, I am now thinking how plausible this is, how attachment or emotional connection, is so vital to proper communication skill. In her view, when we detach emotionally, we begin to allow our internal dialog to convince us that our perception is reality. What we think is happening to us is true -- even when it is not. Our perception of what we think is true when it is not serves only to layer miscommunication on top of miscommunication. We mis-communicate our needs, and we allow our fear to determine our responses.

Thus we can look to attachment needs (Attachment Theory) to provide a practical solution to help us overcome anger fueled reactions. For example, the author suggest that when a couple argues, the best way to shorten the argument is to connect physically, to touch one another. Simple human touch can send a signal to the brain that says "I am here for you" or "I am listening to you." This circumvents the distance that often precedes emotional detachment (a backing away from each other). When touch is established, the couple can begin to work through whatever the fear is that is at root of the problem. Once the true root is uncovered, then plans can be made to address the issue. The overlaying anger and other superficial responses will fade because the main problem, the root, is being focused on and treated.

I was very angry yesterday, very angry, and I allowed superficial feelings to cause me to act out. I simmered for a long while, I moped, and I cried because I felt emotionally abandoned. The root of my problem was not the negative response to my request for help, but rather, it was a fear trigger that was activated as a result.  That fear trigger said to me "I don't love you enough to help you right now. I don't value you personally, and I don't care about your problem." In one small answer of "no," I launched into a prolonged period of anger because I felt emotionally wounded and emotionally abandoned.

I see great promise for myself today. I recognize something important, something that can help me as a Communications scholar as well as a Child of God. Understanding human needs, human attachment, can provide important direction for my focused studies on crisis communication, communication in the church, and so forth. Attachment Theory can help me see how important it is to recognize social bonding, to grasp the significance of intergroup response and trust. Yes, I can see much fertile ground in why it is important to connect emotionally, physically with other people. I can also see how detachment, disconnection emotionally and physically, can lead to communication breakdowns and eventual withdrawl (ending in dysfunctional relationships and even divorce).

As a Child of God, however, I see how important it is to teach attachment as part of the bonding process within the church. I see so many churches fracture and break apart. I see so many damaged relationships, how hurt and pain have crippled people to the point where they are stuck in wounded states. I see value in demonstrating proper emotional connection at all levels of relationship building -- friendships, romantic relationships, familial -- can serve to build up the church, to bind up the wounds, and to generate healing. There is so much potential work to be done here, so much possible growth in this one area.

Most of all, I see hope for myself personally. I know that I suffer from attachment issues, from emotional disconnect. I am learning through the Grace of God how to overcome those fears. It hasn't been easy for me, but I have come a long way in a very short amount of time. I need to be reminded that my trigger responses, my fear-based responses are not always accurate indicators of reality. What I am feeling, while valid, is not always the correct interpretation of the situation, the context, or the intended communication of the other person (or groups of people). Yes, I need to be reminded today that God tells us there is great value in being slow to anger:

James 1:19 - Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

Being slow to anger is key. When we take the time to step back, to step away, to stop and think -- then we can collect our thoughts and determine the appropriate response. Perhaps there is justifiable reason for being angry. Biblically-speaking, there may be rationale for our anger. If so, then we must pray before we act. We must ask the Lord for His Grace so that we deal with the anger and the response to the anger in a Biblical, moral, and spiritual manner.

More than likely, however, our anger is the result of the person we are angry at sending us a misdirected signal. A signal that should be read as "I am hurting right now" or "I am in pain and I need your help" rather than as an inducement to rumble (to fight).

My prayer today is that I can learn to let go of my anger as quickly as it rises up. Yes, when the time comes for me to react against some Biblical or spiritual injustice, then I pray I will allow the Lord to guide me in handling my response. However, in the dailiness of my life, in the trenches, so to speak, may I recognize the fear-based response, and deal with it appropriately. I need to cut myself some slack, and I need to know that I will always react from that place. I just don't have to let it control me, consume me, and cause me to hurt other people.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for helping to expose this deep issue in my life. Thank you for taking the time, amidst all the other stresses, to show me that this is something I need to address. I need to recognize that I am emotionally wounded because I was abandoned in my marriage. I was emotional distanced by someone I loved, not for a short period of time, but for the length of my married years. This emotional detachment caused severe pain for me, and now whenever I experience any trigger that resembles that detachment, I immediately go to that place of sorrow, that place of hurt. Heal this place, Lord, and give me freedom so that I don't automatically retreat there. I know it exists, but I also know that you and I have worked really hard to help me see the "reality" of the situation. My reality is not always as I perceive it to be. I ask now that you will guide me emotionally as I enter into new relationships, work with the Church to develop crisis communication strategies, and to live my life as a fully functioning, and wholly alive Child of God. Thank you, Lord, for your great Mercy and your great Grace. I pray this all in the Name of Jesus, Amen.


Anonymous said...

I've been studying attachment theory in regard to marital and family relationships for the past couple of years. I read the book "How We Love" when I first began to study it. It blew me away for many of the same reasons you just wrote about. I've read much more 'scholarly' information since that time, but I think this book is great because the authors are a Christian husband-wife, pastor-counselor team. Just thought I would share. :-)

Here's the link to their website. It has a quiz to help you discover your attachment style! Woo-hoo! ;-)


Anonymous said...

I've been studying attachment theory in regard to marital and family relationships for the past couple of years. I read the book "How We Love" when I first began to study it. It blew me away for many of the same reasons you just wrote about. I've read much more 'scholarly' information since that time, but I think this book is great because the authors are a Christian husband-wife, pastor-counselor team. Just thought I would share. :-)

Here's the link to their website. It has a quiz to help you discover your attachment style! Woo-hoo! ;-)


Carol Hepburn said...

Thanks so much! I appreciate the link.