3 Steps to Understanding and Overcoming Anger and Anxiety

3 Steps to Understanding and Overcoming Anger and Anxiety

In the Gospel of Mark chapter 3:1-6, we encounter a powerful example of how our pride, anger and anxiety tend to willfully ignore truth and reason. In this story, Jesus is early in his ministry. He enters into the synagogue (somewhere in Galilee) to teach and preach as was his custom. There on the cool lime stone floor sat a man with a crippled hand.

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He probably did not have high expectations or hope of healing that day. He was probably just coming to participate in the run of the mill synagogue service as he had been raised to do. 

But Jesus took notice . . .

But Jesus took notice of him. Because of the power of his leadership, he had already earned the ire of the religious echelon. Jesus was already under the microscope. Mark says, “And they watched him to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath so that  they might accuse him.” Perhaps they purposely planted him as a setup.

                                Anxious people are looking to find fault.

The bottom line is, Angry or jealous people are looking to find fault. It is true of all but the most self-aware people. In anxious times the red herring principle takes over. When folks get anxious, mistakes become crimes, and faux pas become unpardonable sins. 

Anger and jealously caused the religious leaders to interpret Jesus as a threat. But he would not have hurt them. He might have deconstructed them and their self-protective power structures through he Gospel. But it would have been for the healing of their souls.

As the story goes, Jesus healed the man. A miracle is performed before their eyes. Signs and miracles, believe it or not were meant to speak to the human reason.

Thinking and Miracles

As much as the miraculous is treated as fable today, the idea behind a miracle is to speak to the rational part of man. In other words, if an event that defies the laws of nature, it creates a rational basis for the supernatural and divine laws. Miracles are rational invitation to think about the transcendent.

However in this story, anger and jealousy (anxiety) create an “irrational override” to rational thinking. The religious leaders have seen a notable miracle, but are unwilling to calmly think through its implications.

They seem so emotionally regressed that they may be unable to think things through. This does not mean they did not have the capacity. It means that jealousy and anger have been embraced. Jealousy and anger are like a high voltage wire—Once embraced, it is hard to let go. This creates what the Bible calls a “hardness of heart” or a “stiff neck.” 

Pride is an unwillingness to let go of personal commitment to being ‘right’ in spite of the facts. The position of having to be right (pride) makes the mind unable to consider that it has embraced folly. And so the anxious person becomes regressive. They are unable to be reasoned with. 

So here are some key observations about how high emotion gets in the way of clear thinking:

1. High emotion stops thinking: High emotion already gripped the hearts of these religious leaders. They had given over their minds to jealousy and anger. This led them down a near predetermined path of revenge. Thinking and truth had already been set aside for rightness.

Psychiatrist Roberta M. Gilbert observes, “Unfortunately the brain does not function well in the presence of emotional intensity.” There is an “either/or” relationship between emotion and thinking. This does not make emotion bad. It just means it is something that needs discipline like our other passions for food, sex, and so on.

2. High emotion stops learning: In heightened emotion a posture of learning had been abandoned. People cannot be easily reasoned with when angry. Jesus said this about the religious leaders on more than one occasion. They became unteachable and resistant to new insights.

3. Anger and Anxiety (when embraced) override objective truth: An amazing miracle is being preformed. The man in question had a crippled hand. Supernatural power flows from Jesus and heals it. The normal response to such an event would be to stand in awe. If I saw a cripple healed and the lame walk, I would know I was sitting in the presence of greatness. Yet it seems all logic has been abandoned.  

Could not the same power that heals also destroy? This is why Paul says in Rom. 3:18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This process is precisely what we do with each other when we are anxious or angry.

Right thinking and right behavior are lost to the anxiety of the moment. That is precisely when we do wrong to each other. Anger hardens us to the truth of each other and God. This is why we are warned so many times in the Bible about hardening our hearts (Hebrews 3-4).

Practice Thinking Clearly

While we have no control over other people’s functioning, we can make significant progress on our own just through awareness and intentional practice. This can go a long way for calming others down too, though not a silver bullet. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Pay attention to your own spikes in emotion — Learning to be more self aware is the key. All animals have awareness, that is the ability to interact and respond. But only humans have awareness of their awareness. This means only humans can self-reflect so as to analyze why we might feel this way or that. Get a journal and start taking notes for a few months to see what you learn every time you are angry, scared, or irritated.

2. Decide some best practices for responding — Some options include: When experiencing  minor spikes in your emotions, learn to stop and take a deep breath or stop talking and try listening and self-soothing. In the case of higher emotion, learn to politely excuse self and go for a prayer walk until you are in a better frame of mind. 

3. Don’t make immediate decisions when you do not have to — Too many of us make decisions when we are most emotional, rather than waiting till we are calmed down to think it through. Reactions tend to set off chain reactions.

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Thank you.

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