Dimension of Recovery - Part Four
The Role of Anger in Recovery
emotionally tumultuous days of the first few weeks of sobriety, people
in addiction recovery then move into a second phase of early recovery.
As their mind and body begin to function on a more normal basis, a new
crop of emotions begin to surface. Once of the first, and most
important of these is anger.
- Emotions are
It is a mistake to classify some feeling as "good" and others as
"bad". There is nothing moral about them. Emotions are God-given;
the Bible even says that He has them - including anger. There moral
dynamic with emotions is involved in how we express them - how we act
upon them - than whether we have them or not. James says, "Be angry
but do not sin." (James 1:19-20) Feelings are simply signals,
usually with a physiological response, that can actually tell us more
about how we perceive a given situation than pure unassisted logic.
For people in recovery from an addiction, emotional understanding and
freedom is essential if they are to grow, to feel good about their
lives, and to really experience happiness. If I don't fully
understand the emotional signals I am experiencing in my life, I'll
never truly know what's inside of me and what makes me "tick."
Conversely, the inability to manage feelings in a healthy manner is a
major reason that many fall back into using alcohol and drugs. When
sobriety becomes too painful and confusing, using mind-altering
substances can seem like the only option.
- The formation
of emotional responses
Although our emotions are important indicators of how an individual
actually perceives a given situation, they are often coming from an
incorrect perception. One of the objectives of spiritual and emotional
growth is getting one's feelings get more in line with reality. When
you get right down to it, all of our feelings have evolved from many
past experiences, usually in our childhood. This is especially
applicable to anger. In most dysfunctional families, children are
told that heavy emotions, like anger, are "bad" and they learn to feel
ashamed about their anger. In homes that are filled with rage and
violence, they learn to fear anger, which to them always seems
destructive. Some learn to use anger and threats of violence to
control others. To complicate things further, to survive on the
streets homeless addict cannot entrust their true selves to others, so
they have a must harder time trusting, which they must have in order
to attain emotional recovery.
- The purpose of
If the emotion of anger is from God, then there must be a divine
purpose for it. I believe there are three. The first is that anger
reactions are basically a kind of emotional trip-wire, a survival
mechanism that is God-given. We react in anger to perceived threats,
real or imagined. Anger protects us from harm and loss. Secondly,
anger is designed to help us maintain healthy boundaries. Anger alerts
us to threats to privacy needs, physical space needs, protection
needs, and comfort needs. And finally, anger is given by God to spur
us on to action. The physiological responses that accompany anger
include increased blood pressure, muscle clenching, and a flood of
adrenaline, positioning our bodies in an "attack mode."
boundaries: the key to understanding anger
When it comes to anger, there are basically two types of people:
"stuffers" and "blowers." In most cases, neither of these anger
management styles is better then others. But the extremes we see
among homeless addicts is destructive. The "stuffers" have learned to
handle their feelings, especially the difficult (or heavy) ones like
anger, by pushing them deep inside and forgetting about them --
denying them completely. One the other hand, the extreme "blowers"
have unusually strong anger reactions - everyone knows that they are
mad. They may even assault others, either verbally or physically.
For both, healthy anger management comes down to understanding,
developing and maintaining healthy boundaries.
In dysfunctional family systems, the personal borders between the
various members are blurred. People cannot sort out "whose stuff is
whose." This condition is at the very heart of the disorder we call
"codependency." Instead of "Dad drinks because he is an alcoholic",
he drinks because mom does not keep the house clean or because the
kids are not well behaved. Abused children, whose boundary have been
violated violently then to live with messages like, "I'm not allowed
to tell you to get out of my stuff." "I don't have a right to be angry
when you hurt me." They become extreme "stuffers" whose biggest need
is to understand that anger is OK. They need to come to believe that
personal boundaries are not only all right; there are essential. In
other words, they need to adjust their boundaries outward. Extreme
"blowers" with destructive anger must learn to adjust their boundaries
inward. They become less hostile and defensive as they understand the
deep-seated fears and attitudes that are at the root of their rage.
Often, some instruction in anger/stress management techniques is
Two helpful books on this topic are Boundaries by
Henry Cloud & John Townsend (Zondervan) and Boundary Power by
Mike O'neil (Sonlight Publications) Both are available from: http://RecoveryBooks.com
- How staff
members can help residents understand and manage anger
Self-revelation is probably the essential tool in the addict's efforts
toward emotional health. All residents in recovery programs, whether
they say it or not, are hoping that somehow they will be loved and
that someone will truly care about them. No matter how weird and
crazy they behave, most could actually wear a button that says, and "I
need to know that you love me. Am I OK?" Most have their entire lives
with the internal message that say that they're not OK. Few of us
know what it's like to walk around with years of accumulated toxic
emotional junk inside. Addicts live their lives with a suppressed
accumulation of regret, remorse, anger, pain and guilt deep inside.
Staff members need to help residents gain a sense that that it is all
right to reveal what is within them, no matter how ugly. Within
groups settings and in one-on-one counseling sessions, there must be a
consistent message that saying "No feeling is rejected in this
place." We will deal with them, confront you on your incorrect
perceptions, teach new ways to deal with anger - but we will never
reject you for being real, honest, and vulnerable.
Related to Anger and Resentment
1:19-20 Proverbs 19:11
20:22 Leviticus 19:18
37:8-11 Proverbs 15:1
5:21-26 1 Peter 3:8-18
~ * ~
Copyright 1996-2012 by Michael Liimatta. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Liimatta is the past President of Christians in RecoveryŽ
and currently serves on its Advisory Counsel. He is a Social Entrepreneur, Consultant
to Nonprofit Organizations with OneAccord, Chief Academic Officer at
City Vision College and has been involved with
drug and alcohol counseling and recovery education for 30 years.
Visit his web site
This series originally
appeared in RESCUE Magazine, published by the Association of Gospel
Rescue Missions, September 2000, November 2000, January 2001, and March
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