Why We Get Angry, Show Anger, And Heal Anger

Dr. Michael Rivest, Ph.D., D.S.T.

Theravive Counseling

Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor

Why We Get Angry, Show Anger, and Heal Anger
Michael Rivest, Ph.D.

If you ever really want to embarrass yourself tape record or video tape an argument with your spouse (be in agreement on this first). After watching the recording the question will loom. Why do we get angry?

The whole process of getting and staying angry can be very complex. However, simply put, we get afraid then we get angry. Bet you never thought about it that way. We get afraid first then angry.

The bottom line is that we get afraid that we are not being accepted.

Perhaps someone is disagreeing with us or we think things should go differently. Within a fraction of a second we translate that into "I am not being accepted," "I am not being liked."

So…by getting angry I hope to act with some kind of power, shown through my anger, that will force you to do something. I want you to accept me. That sounds stupid doesn’t it? I get mad and you are supposed to like me more because I act like a fool. The point is…getting angry does not work.

My second point is that other people don’t make me angry I make myself angry.

Think about it. The whole thing is about being acceptable. Then it is my interpretation whether I am being accepted, “liked” or not. It is my judgment of what other people are saying or doing that makes me feel emotions.

For example, if my wife comes home from work and is a bit grouchy, I could interpret that in two ways. (1) She had a bad day. (2) She doesn't like me. Depending on my choice I can choose to respond differently.

If she had a bad day I could pour her a nice glass of fresh box wine and we could sit and talk for a while. If she doesn’t like me I could pour her a nice glass of expensive corked bottled wine and I could go out to the dog house. Get the point? My judgments make me feel not what other people say or do.

I am a realist and I do know that it is hard work to slow down my judgments so I can carefully judge and carefully monitor my feelings. It does take practice but if I can do it so can you.

Of course you can always ask right out. Did you have a bad day? Did I do something wrong? That could be difficult but it would be a very grown up thing to do. Perhaps that is why grownups generally don’t fight as much as children.

I remember when my children fought. They would always complain about what the other said or did. The same story really, “things are not going my way so I must not be liked.”

My response was usually, “go work it out.” They often did and were happily playing moments later.

So what would I say to an adult? I would say “when you are angry shut up.” Sane people won’t listen to an angry person. Angry people are not likeable.

You want to be liked so shut up and work it out with yourself. THEN speak about it, quietly and thoughtfully like a person who is likeable. You will be surprised with the positive results.


Have you noticed that people get angry differently? Some people seem never to get angry while others blow up over every little thing.

If we use the five temperaments in “Temperament Theory” we can discover a clear picture of how different people get angry.

Can you find your anger style?

I. Melancholy Temperament

A. Tend to internalize anger

1. Thinks about getting even

2. Can be angry for years

3. Can misunderstand and become angry

4. Tends to remember all negative events

B. Internalized anger affects physically, emotionally, spiritually

1. Physically: loss of appetite, migraines, ulcers, back pains, etc.

2. Emotionally: withdraw, become moody, relive events in their mind

3. Spiritually: little time for God; may be angry with Him, too; loss of ability to forgive

II. Choleric Temperament

A. Tend to internalize and externalize anger

1. Internalized:

a. thinks of ways to get even

b. especially angry if not getting the recognition they think they deserve

2. Externalized:

a. abusive language

b. physical lashing out

B. Anger will affect them physically, emotionally, spiritually

1. Physically: go nonstop to the point of burnout to get revenge; become cold and calculating in appearance

2. Emotionally: play ‘head games,” cruel, abrupt language; no tolerance for anyone or anything; may appear “nice” on the outside but inside they retain anger

3. Spiritually: little room for God; may continue to attend church, but their heart will not be there; no room for love or forgiveness

III. Supine Temperament

A. Tend to internalize and externalize anger

1. Internalized:

a. let people walk over them without saying a word

b. will be personable and charming while keeping a record of what others have done

c. do not want to make waves

d. need to be included so they hold their anger in

e. mask their anger by saying that their feelings are hurt

2. Externalized

a. after a long time they will be unable to keep their anger bottled up

b. they will explode

c. can express anger physically and verbally

B. Anger affects them physically, emotionally, spiritually

1. Physically:

a. migraines

b. stomach aches

c. ulcers

d. headaches

e. unable to tell that these symptoms come from anger

2. Emotionally:

a. become withdrawn because they dwell on their “hurt”

b. lose their gentle spirit, become withdrawn, others avoid them

c. cry a lot

d. ignore others

3. Spiritually:

a. little room for the Lord

b. little room for good thoughts

c. feel rejected by people and by God

d. focus is on their “hurt feelings” and “rejection”

IV. Sanguine Temperament

A. Tend to externalize their anger

1. hot tempered and explosive

2. swing from happy to sad

3. if someone tries to motivate them to be happy, they can become angry and explode

4. forgets the reason for the anger soon after they ventilate it

B. Anger affects them physically, emotionally, spiritually

1. Physically:

a. tend to overeat

b. neglect their body

c. may hurt themselves

d. may punch or hit walls and other objects

2. Emotionally:

a. mood swings to becoming down and depressed

b. cannot be motivated by others to feel better

c. others will not want to be around them

3. Spiritually:

a. little room for thoughts of God

b. deep into self and upset

c. think they need someone with “flesh” to talk to

d. need to learn to communicate with God

e. need to listen to Christian tapes, radio and/or television and interact with other Christians

f. no room for love or forgiveness while angry

V. Phlegmatic Temperament

A. Tend to not become angry, but will internalize it when they do

B. Become angry when someone is trying to motivate them to do something they don’t want to do

C. Cannot be motivated to change once they become angry

D. This anger (which is minimal) will affect them physically, emotionally

1. Physically:

a. they will try to motivate someone else to handle the situation

b. may try to negotiate a peaceful solution to avoid expending energy

c. will not expend much physical energy themselves

2. Emotionally:

a. Show very little emotion

b. “feathers are not easily ruffled”

c. tolerate difficult people more easily than most

3. Spiritually: anger is not intense enough to affect them in this area

Fix that Anger with One Word

Fix that anger with one word. Yup! One word will do it. Don’t need trillions of dollars, not even a stimulus package. Don’t even need love. I bet you were thinking I was going to say love. Nope! We are not mature enough for that just yet. In a thousand years maybe we can love each other enough but for now we can use this one little baby word, “thanks.”

Mamma use to call “thanks” the magic word. It was often introduced by, “what do you say now?” or “Did you forget to say something?” That’s my point. We have forgotten to say “thanks.”

Let’s make today a test day. Do a bunch of really nice things for as many people as possible and keep score of the “thanks.”

Tomorrow say “thanks” to as many people as possible and keep score on their responses.

On the third day ask yourself what day was the happiest for you? I bet it was your thank you day.

Finally bury the grudges you are holding for yesterday’s ungrateful little brats.

My point…gratitude changes us. We get happier, more empowered, more creative, more emotionally secure, more of the good things.

A friend of ours visited the other day. We mostly love her. We love her mostly when she is not griping, victimizing herself, and thinking that life should be easy. Scott Peck says that people who complain believe that life should be easy. I agree. We asked her why she believes that she should not suffer. She dodged that one with one of her famous “yes, buts...” Well but this, we all suffer.

Her point is… that she deserves to have all good things given to her.

My point is…if she reversed her energy from give me, to let me give thanks she would be a lot happier. If she focused on her thank yous the magic of life would come her way

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