Pop Goes the Weasel… Managing Conflict, Anger, & Resentment

by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project

“We will sacrifice anything on the altar of our anger, the rage that is slowly building from a lifetime of thwarted desire—our marriages, our child’s self-esteem, someone’s very life. —John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire

Anger, and one’s reaction to it, is treacherous terrain that can sneak up on us gradually or come on all of a sudden. Anger is like blowing up a balloon. The balloon is the constitution within me that holds and releases anger through how I choose to express my anger. The hot air in the balloon is the internal collection of experiences that throughout the course of my life have accumulated into a deep pool of angry emotion flooding my soul. The pin that pokes at my anger balloon are the external experiences of everyday. As the balloon becomes more and more full of hot air it will take less and less applied pressure from the pin pricks to break through the skin of this balloon and cause it to explode.

We all get angry. When we get angry our blood pressure goes up. Our heart rate increases. The rise of blood pressure and heart rate can be substantial. There is a significant surge of adrenaline. There are things happening throughout the body and chemistry of the brain that, if unresolved, can result in unhealthy consequences. Anger increases our level of stress. It is important and necessary that we do something with our anger. The question is, how do we manage our anger in a way that is good for us, as well as for those we interact with while we’re angry?

Have you ever heard of a hormone in your brain called cortisol?

According to Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, Guinness world record holder (153.76-miles in 24 hours running on a treadmill), and three-time champion of the Triple Ironman competition,

“The stress hormone, cortisol, is public health enemy number one. Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease… The list goes on and on.

“Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. two separate studies were published linking elevated cortisol levels as a potential trigger for mental illness and decreased resilience—especially in adolescence. Cortisol is released in response to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism.

“Both eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress) release cortisol as part of the general adaption syndrome. Once the alarm to release cortisol has sounded, your body becomes mobilized and ready for action—but there has to be a physical release of fight or flight. Otherwise, cortisol levels build up in the blood which wreaks havoc on your mind and body.

“Eustress creates a “seize-the-day” heightened state of arousal, which is invigorating and often linked with a tangible goal. Cortisol returns to normal upon completion of the task. Distress, or free floating anxiety, doesn’t provide an outlet for the cortisol and causes the fight-or-flight mechanism to backfire. Ironically, our own biology—which was designed to insure our survival as hunters and gatherers—is sabotaging our bodies and minds in a sedentary digital age.” (Published in Psychology Today, 2013)

Anger and, in particular rage, tend to “require” an aggressive response in order to relieve the stress caused by anger. According to Science, there is actually a hormone called cortisol that is released when we respond to anger and rage. It seems as though the more aggressive the response, the more cortisol is released, and the more quickly and easily we seem to come down from the chemical spikes in the brain. Whenever, what scientists call, homeostasis (biochemical and overall physiological balance) is disturbed significantly by stress, we can experience substantial difficulty to our health. Coronary functions can be damaged and weakened. That is how stress and anxiety lead to heart disease. Anger and rage produce stress, and when prolonged, take us down a road of physical and emotional health problems.

Add to this the problem of our selfish sin nature that has severely infected the GO and STOP systems of our brain. Anger and rage fuel the GO system and produce an aggressive response of the STOP system when faced with a threat. This can be a lethal combination when the GO system and STOP system are producing an aggressive response to external and internal stimuli at the same time. The external stimulus can be anything from something threatening you physically to someone saying something to you verbally that affects you emotionally, causing your brain to protect you from the perceived threat. The internal stimuli can range from wanting to be loved and appreciated and everything under your control going your way, to the desire and perceived “need” to conquer, win and be right. The selfish sin nature controls that part of our brain that wants so badly to win and feel good.

So, we can conclude that it is imperative that we have outlets for anger or we’ll burst. The problem is that our brain is set up to automatically react to anger and rage according to our selfish sin nature. We tend to use aggressive vocal inflections, or in other words, raise our voice and yell at someone as an expression of anger. We tend to use verbally aggressive language to express our anger. We might hit something or someone as an expression of anger. Parents may spank and hit their children, or send them to a “time out”, not because it is a reinforcing tool for discipline, but as an expression of anger. Siblings will hit each other. Athletic combatants will utilize aggressive physical contact to express anger, deemed necessary for a competitive edge to resolve adrenaline spikes. It isn’t just vocal volume and physical acts of aggression that attempt to experience relief from anger, but also the content of what is said. We’ll use just the right words to exact our revenge. Of course, there can be far severe expressions of anger and rage that result in more severe consequences. Not only consequences that can land a person in prison or result in someone beaten or killed, but result in terminated relationships—personal and professional.

2-51-2Resentment

When we get stuck in anger, unable to adequately express it or fully resolve it, we tend to develop feelings of resentment. Resentment is prolonged unresolved anger. It is the holding on to full blown balloons. It is usually directed toward other people. It can just as well be directed toward yourself, which is especially dangerous since at some point someone else is going to pay for it in some way when the balloon explodes all over him or her.

Resentment is a powerful emotion trapped in the biochemical cycles of the brain that can have a serious impact whenever and wherever it is triggered. It is not the point of this lesson to provide a blueprint laying out all of the ways resentment is pervasive in the hearts and minds of even the godliest people. The point is to take you on an exploration of discovery on how unresolved anger is affecting you and the relationships that are important to you. Resentment tends to build and fester in the hidden secret places of your mind and memory.

“There is a reason Jesus chose lust and murder as examples of what happens when desire goes mad with in us. He knew what our deepest hearts naturally when our desire come into conflict. He knew to what lengths we would go to seek satisfaction of our soul’s hunger. For the battle of desire rages not only between us, but within us.” —John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire

Here is the thing about the balloon analogy. When the balloon continues to expand as the anger escalates until it can hardly contain another breath of air, it will not take much for the balloon to explode. When explosion occurs, everything contained in the balloon explodes all over everyone in the area of the balloon, which can lead to costly, if not tragic, terrifying outcomes… consequences that can cause long-lasting, perhaps even permanent damage. However, when air is released from the balloon through the use of recovery tools and coping skills to effectively manage anger and conflict, the balloon doesn’t get so full. If there isn’t so much internal pressure, it will take far greater external pressure to cause the balloon to explode. And even should the pin (external pressure) break through the skin of the balloon, when it does pop, there isn’t as much inside to evoke a whole lot of damage.

The following are a series of questions that will help you to explore those places in the mind and soul that represent the air (internal pressure) in your balloon. When answering the following questions it is  beneficial to site examples with your responses:

-How effectively would you say you manage your anger? Explain what typically happens when you become angry.

-How effectively would you say you manage disappointment? Explain how you manage disappointment.

-What are situations from the past when you felt most angry?

  • Event
  • People involved

-Do you find that you feel resentment toward those who hurt you in the past? Explain what you’re feeling.

-What in your current circumstances and relationships do you feel anger towards? List them.

  • What?
  • Who?

-How are you able to express your anger in your relationships?

-How are you not able to express your anger in your relationships?

-Are you feeling a bit angry now? Explain.

-Are you wrestling with resentment now? Explain.

-To whom in your present relationships do you feel resentment towards? List them.

-On a scale of 1-100, how intense is the resentment toward each person on the list?

-Do you feel resentment toward those who have caused you feelings of shame in your life? Explain.

-Do you feel resentment toward those who left you feeling wounded? Explain.

-Honestly, what would you say is your penchant for revenge?

-What would you say are your tools for vengeance that you are inclined to use when the situation calls for it?

-Do you ever find yourself writing the script in your mind for how arguments, confrontations, and acts of vengeful behavior will be played out? Explain and perhaps provide an example..

-Do you imagine worst-case scenarios? Explain.

The lesson this week is a little different as you are being asked a number of questions that speak to this issue of anger and resentment. Often times we go to God in anger toward others praying from the motivation generated by anger and resentment. We will often pray the way that David the Psalmist did when he pleaded for God to vanquish his enemies. He prayed that way because guys like King Saul of the Old Testament sought to kill David and everybody knew it but did not have the authority to stop him.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:1-3 (NLT)

It behooves us as weak, vulnerable, self-protective, and able and willing to strike back people, to develop an ACTION PLAN to manage anger and resentment.

Develop an Action Plan

1-Identify a current problem or conflict resulting in anger

  • Describe a problem that is present in your life that results in your being angry
  • How has the problem led to feelings of anger?
  • What does the anger feel like?

2-Recall events and circumstances in play when the problem/conflict started

  • When did the problem begin?
  • What relationships are involved with this problem?
  • What were the events and circumstances leading up to the problem?
  • What are the current circumstances as the result of the problem?

3-Examine how you are affected by the problem/conflict

  • How are you affected physically and psychologically by the problem?
  • How are the circumstances of your life affected by the problem?

4-Examine who else is affected by the problem/conflict

  • What relationships are most affected by the problem?
  • How would you say those relationships are affected physically and psychologically by the problem as far as you can tell? (Be specific)
  • What other relationships are affected by the problem?
  • How are those relationships affected by the problem?

5-Examine the first thing you did to try and solve the problem/conflict

  • What were you thinking you needed to do to solve the problem?
  • What did you think you needed to do to feel better while in the problem?
  • What did you attempt to do to solve the problem?
  • What did you do to feel better while in the problem?
  • Did you solve the problem?
  • Did the circumstances around and because of the problem get better, become worse, or stay the same? Explain.

6-Examine other things you did to try and solve the problem/conflict

  • What else were you thinking you needed to do to solve the problem?
  • What else did you think you needed to do to feel better while in the problem?
  • What else did you attempt to do to solve the problem?
  • What else did you do to feel better while in the problem?
  • Did you solve the problem?
  • Did the circumstances around and because of the problem get better, become worse, or stay the same? Explain.

7-Look back to other times when you had a similar problem/conflict

  • When in your life did you experience a similar problem?
  • How was the problem similar?
  • What relationships were involved while experiencing the similar problem?
  • What were the events and circumstances regarding the problem at that time?

8-Examine what you recall doing to attempt to solve the problem/conflict

  • What did you do to attempt to solve the similar problem?
  • How was what you did to attempt to solve that problem similar to what you have done so far to attempt to solve this current problem?
  • How was what you did to attempt that problem different from what you have done so far to attempt to solve this current problem?

9-Examine how you and others were affected by that previous similar problem

  • How were you affected physically and psychologically by that similar problem?
  • How were you affected by what you did to attempt to solve that problem?
  • How would you say those relationships were affected physically and psychologically by the problem as far as you can tell? (Again, be specific)

10-Consider how confident are you that you can solve your current problem/conflict without a working action plan

  • On a scale of 0-100 (100 being most), what is your confidence level that you can solve your current problem on your own your way without an effectively working action plan?

11-Develop an action plan with a minimum of three very specific steps

  • Using as many steps as it will take, begin outlining action steps that you believe are necessary to solve your current problem resulting in you being angry. Be thinking about how you will work the Admit, Believe, Commit strategy into your action steps.
  • Be specific! “I will to pray more”, or “I will communicate more effectively with my spouse”, or “I will drink less/quit drinking”, or “I will quit smoking”, or “I will show more respect to my spouse”, or “I will stop this or that” are not sufficient on their own.
  • Be specific of what you will do, how you will do it, and when you will do it for each step.

12-Prognosis for resolution of the problem/conflict without your action plan

  • What is the best case scenario for continuing the course you were on solving your problem in your way without the steps in your action plan?
  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • Of the two potential outcomes, which is the most likely scenario?

13-Prognosis for successful resolution of the problem/conflict with your action plan

  • What is the best case scenario for continuing the course you were on solving your problem in your way without the steps in your action plan?
  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • Of the two potential outcomes, which is the most likely scenario?

14-Consider what it all looks like when your problem/conflict is solved having implemented your plan God’s way

  • How will working your action steps impact your physical and psychological health?
  • How will working your action steps improve your spiritual health?
  • How will the affected relationships in your life be better?
  • How will your circumstances be better?
  • How can you apply the fundamental elements of your action plan to other problems and circumstances?
  • How can you apply the ABC strategy from your action plan into an overall approach to daily recovery?
  • How would you describe the opportunity for a better future living out your action plan for recovery God’s way?

15-Examine your confidence level that you will solve your problem/conflict working through your action plan

  • On a scale of 0-100 (100 being most), what is your confidence level that you can solve your current problem on God’s way through your action plan empowered by the One able, willing, and wanting to help you?
  • Since fear and doubt are your human nature, take the time now to pray for an increase in faith so that you can grow in confidence.
  • Regardless of your confidence level, begin to implement your action plan immediately.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (NLT)

If you engage and invest with full participation in your action plan, it is entirely possible for you to manage anger and resentment effectively. Take the time right now to pray and ask God for the grace and confidence to carry out your Action Plan to fully achieve your objectives.

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