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001 Counseling in Cases of Anger {Transcript}

Craig Marshall:
It seems like another component in all this is getting people to admit the word anger. There are a lot of other words that we throw around frustrated, how have you seen people who are actually struggling with anger but may not realize it because they’re calling it other things?

Jim Newheiser:
Yeah. When they describe their words and acts of judgment against people who have wronged them, that is essentially what anger is and I think they just have to be gently told that you’re trying to justify what Jesus says is very serious sin with other names. I wasn’t angry, I was frustrated. Describe your frustration. Tell me more about it. What did you think, what did you say and it’s the same as the anger.

Craig Marshall:
You can hear words that people may be using and in our minds the synonyms for anger and then you can draw that out to see if that matches up with what the bible saying is biblical anger.

Jim Newheiser:
Even when James talks about when we get angry, we verbally or in our hearts murder people because we want something we don’t get it and typically these are the reactions people have is I didn’t get what I wanted and then how did you express your frustration? Well, I yelled or I went in the room and wouldn’t talk to anybody. It’s the same. It quacks, it wobbles, it has webbed feet, it is what it is. Another label doesn’t change the sinfulness of it and the hurt it’s causing to others.

About This Transcript

Executive Director Jim Newheiser speaks about the prevalence of and issues related to dealing with anger in counseling.

Key Links

Craig Marshall:
Hello and welcome to the IBCD Care & Discipleship Podcast. I’m Craig Marshall, the director of operations at IBCD and joining me today is our executive director Dr. Jim Newheiser. Today, we’re going to be talking about the topic of anger and in particular how to deal with anger in counseling. Jim, I know that you have written a booklet dealing with anger “Help! My Anger Is out of Control.” and then at IBCD we have summarized the five principles of that booklet on to what we call the anger card. We often give that out in counseling but I can imagine that people would be wondering, is anger really that much of a factor in biblical counseling?

Jim Newheiser:
I believe Jay Adams said that anger is a factor in 90% of counseling cases and my only response that would be I don’t know what the 10% are in which there’s not an issue of anger. People in the midst of conflict, people in relationship, sometimes even people they’re depressed because they’re angry that things have been going on their way. They’re anxious because they’re fearful they’re not going to their way. Anger is a reaction of judgment when I don’t get what I want. It’s very rare I would have a situation where someone’s come for counsel where anger is not involved in some manner.

Craig Marshall:
You know that as a pastor and as a counselor that anger is often involved, it seems there are some people who really understand that they struggle with anger. They have an anger issue, they’ll say. It also seems there are a lot of people who are unaware that anger is playing a large role in their lives. Why do you think they’re unaware of that?

Jim Newheiser:
I think a major reason people are unaware is because all anger is justified in the heart of the person who is angry. Anger itself I think is a reflection of or being in the image of God with that being broken and that anger is our sense of justice. We become angry when we think we had a right to something and we do not get what we wanted, what we think we should have had and the anger is the sense of I want to achieve justice. I want something should be done to punish the person who nearly hit me through his reckless driving, person who let me down, the person who cheated me in business.

There’s a sense in which yeah it was really wrong for the careless driver to nearly kill your family. It was really wrong for the spouse who betrayed you and you have this natural reaction of judgment. It is universal but people are blind to it because it’s just, it’s right. All anger seems righteous to the person who’s doing it and yet the biblical idea of what is really righteous anger, that’s something that actually occurs much more rarely.

Craig Marshall:
There are different responses to that anger. I want to get to the biblical qualifications of righteous anger but sometimes it’s because people are self-justified in what they’re thinking that it feels right to them. I think sometimes too people aren’t hitting other people or flying off the handle. They may not be think that they have an anger problem. What are some other anger responses that people should be aware of?

Jim Newheiser:
Yeah, I really appreciate what you said about people thinking that because they’re not actually violent, that they’re not sinfully angry and actually I had a case of a guy who was often yelling at his wife, yelling at his kids, yet he was very proud of the facts. He’s never laid a hand on anybody in anger and often I’ll take people in Matthew 5 beginning in verse 21 where Jesus said if you’ve been angry, you are guilty of murder.

I think people take words very lightly but Jesus takes angry, harsh, condemning words and even anger in the heart as a violation of the commandment not to murder and worthy of condemnation. It is not even the angry words. In my case, when I’m tempted to anger, I don’t yell. I often won’t say anything but my wife can see, I’m making eye contact, I’m sullen, a little grumpy, little short and she can smell the anger.

That’s still sinful anger because in my heart I’m judging her. I’m full of self-righteousness and in a sense I’m punishing the people I’m upset with by withholding affection or just … It’s in my heart. It comes out and that’s hurting the people around me that my wife by my again, lack of eye contact and not very talkative with her. That wounds her like yelling would wound somebody else. It’s still sinful anger.

Craig Marshall:
Sometimes we can be aware that we’re doing this hurtful things. Sometimes in marriages, do you see couples were they’re unaware how hurtful what they’re doing really is?

Jim Newheiser:
I think that 1 Peter 3:7 can speak to that especially for husbands who where our wives are weaker vessels, meaning they’re more delicate. Not that they’re inferior. She’s a follower of the grace of life but she’s more sensitive. I think some men who feel like with the other men I can talk this way and they can handle it. Don’t understand that for your wife she’s like a piece of crystal and you bang on her a little bit and she’s going to shatter in your disappointment. This can be true of a child especially a daughter as well.

We’re just knowing them knowing that you’re not pleased with them and knowing that you’re not in good relation with them can be devastating. I think many need to become more sensitive to the fact that what they’ve justified and I’ve seen men say, “I was very self-controlled. I didn’t even yell.” But just walking around with an unhappy demeanor and not being connected and close to his family members just stunk up the whole house with his anger and he had to be shown the effect of what he was doing, the ungodliness of what he was doing into a much deeper level.

It’s like what Jesus says in Matthew 5, the Pharisees thought they were good because they didn’t kill anybody, they didn’t commit adultery. Jesus says if you’ve lusted, you’re an adulterer, if you’re angry, you’re a murderer and so we have to take them where Jesus took them and to see the depth of their sin.

Craig Marshall:
It seems like another component in all this is getting people to admit the word anger. There are a lot of other words that we throw around frustrated, how have you seen people who are actually struggling with anger but may not realize it because they’re calling it other things?

Jim Newheiser:
Yeah. When they describe their words and acts of judgment against people who have wronged them, that is essentially what anger is and I think they just have to be gently told that you’re trying to justify what Jesus says is very serious sin with other names. I wasn’t angry, I was frustrated. Describe your frustration. Tell me more about it. What did you think, what did you say and it’s the same as the anger.

It’s the same. It quacks, it wobbles, it has webbed feet, it is what it is. Another label doesn’t change the sinfulness of it and the hurt it’s causing to others.

Craig Marshall:
You can hear words that people may be using and in our minds the synonyms for anger and then you can draw that out to see if that matches up with what the bible saying is biblical anger.

Jim Newheiser:
Even when James talks about when we get angry, we verbally or in our hearts murder people because we want something we don’t get it and typically these are the reactions people have is I didn’t get what I wanted and then how did you express your frustration? Well, I yelled or I went in the room and wouldn’t talk to anybody. It’s the same. It quacks, it wobbles, it has webbed feet, it is what it is. Another label doesn’t change the sinfulness of it and the hurt it’s causing to others.

Craig Marshall:
We know that the bible does say be angry and do not sin. There must be this category for godly anger, biblical anger, righteous anger, how do we come to understand that?

Jim Newheiser:
Robert Jones and his book on anger did a great job of defining three characteristics of righteous anger. First, a real sin must have taken place, something that’s truly wrong must have happened. Now, that could be your spouse was unfaithful. That’s a real sin but the second qualification of righteous anger is that your concern should be for God’s interests, not merely your own or righteous anger is passionate for Christ and his kingdom.

Again, like abortion. There can be a righteous anger against the government that promotes the killing of unborn children because we’re made in God’s image and that’s dishonoring him. A lot of our anger were really much more concerned about our own personal interests and I didn’t get what I wanted that’s why I’m angry. That’s not really a righteous anger. That’s back to James 4 of you didn’t get what you want so you’re killing other people verbally and mentally.

That the third characteristic of righteous anger is that the anger is righteously expressed. I may hate abortion. It’s really a sin against God but that doesn’t give me license to murder abortionists, blow up clinics or scream obscenities at them. That would be an unrighteous expression of anger. I wanted to say one more thing about the verse from Ephesians 4 when he says be angry, do not sin. The way I take that verse, I think it probably means is that when people do wrong you and things happen, you’re going to have a reaction of the injustice of what’s happened. It’s like in the area of lust.

If someone sees something tempting, there’s going to be because we’re falling an initial reaction or an attraction to what’s forbidden. With anger, there’s an initial flush. There is a bodily reaction when people wrong you and things tempt you to sinful anger but then it’s a matter, do you give in to that? And express it sinfully or do you fight that anger with grace? Think about what’s happened in a biblical way so you don’t react as an angry judge condemning and punishing the other person.

It’s the Luther expression, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can prevent them from building a nest on your hair.” The birds are going to be flying around all the time. People are going to tempt you to anger. You live in a fallen world. You can’t go from here to the store and back without somebody provoking you. You can’t live in community being provoked. You’re going to feel the reaction of judgment that’s almost inevitable within … what are you going to do with it?

Realizing even if a real wrong is taken place, your concern should be for the kingdom of God and make sure that you respond graciously and appropriately which could be a Godly correction but not venting and punishing.

Craig Marshall:
Do you have many people pushback in the counseling about their anger or try and justify it and say that it’s righteous or try and say they don’t really have it when they are angry?

Jim Newheiser:
Yes, because all anger is justified in the person who is expressing it. There is usually a pushback. For real believers I think sometimes they’re just blind. I was really thankful recently a case of a guy who … because he never raised his voice and never hit anybody felt very justified but as I showed him from the scriptures and this is where data gathering comes in. He’s describing his thoughts. He’s describing his actions. I’m hearing it from the perspective of his wife and showing him from his words and what the bible says his sinfulness and in it and the lord worked in his heart and gave him repentance.

Sometimes when you’re counseling, it’s a little bit like you’re a DA where you’re taking evidence again not for the purpose of condemn. Maybe I should be an internist instead of a DA but you’re gathering data for the purpose of really showing the person where the disease is or where the sin is for the purpose of restoration and that’s where the dialogue is helpful but a as they’re talking, their very words almost inevitably bring to my mind the scripture and application of scripture.

This can show them the reality and the ugliness of their sin but I do that for the purpose that the scripture brings change and healing and repentance which is what a real believer is going to want.

Craig Marshall:
Part of that process then is using the scripture and the law of the scripture to show them how that they’re doing is failing to live up to God’s standard, to God’s law, to bring about repentance and brokenness. There’s also a grace in gospel component that we go for from there as well. How does that then come into the picture in dealing with anger?

Jim Newheiser:
The gospel is the only way anger can be righteously eliminated. Psychologists will often say, “Do you need to find a way to vent your anger? Do you need some way of getting it out that’s not going to hurt other people?” The gospel doesn’t just redirect the flames of anger. The gospel puts out the flames of anger. There’s so many verses to deal with this, the classic passage is the parable Jesus tells of the servant who had been forgiven 10,000 talents but then wouldn’t forgive the other guy hundred denarii.

If I’m walking closely with Christ and I’m aware of the gospel in my own life in God’s grace to me then when I’m wronged then sometimes seriously wronged and the parable hundred denarii. Denarii is a day’s wage. That was if you make $60,000 a year, that’s $20,000 that the forgiven servant was owed by his fellow servant but the one who forgave the billions and billions of dollar debt asks us to be gracious to those who may always substantially on one level. If I’m sinfully angry, I have taken my eyes off of Christ in his grace to me. If my heart is dwelling upon how gracious God has been to me, I cannot remain sinfully angry.

Craig Marshall:
We’ve put together in your booklet it mentions five things to tell yourself when you’re angry. We have those on a little card that’s available on our website. I guess for the purpose of the audio what are those five things and then also what I’m wondering is which are those five do you find mostly helpful to you as you deal with anger in your own heart?

Jim Newheiser:
First of all I just would say how the card and the booklet came about and really in 20 years or more of counseling angry people, I found myself continually going to the same things to help them. Part of it is that when you’re angry, even there’s a physical reaction, the bible describes if you’re innards getting grumbly and getting hot and if you go on autopilot in your … that’s what the bible says be slow anger, slow to speak, slow to anger.

You’re going to think in wrong ways, you’re going to do wrong things. When the moments when you’re tempted by people wronging you by things not going your way, there are things you need to remember that don’t automatically pop up into mind and I used to even say, “We’ll, here are some things that you needed to tell yourself Biblical things that you need to tell yourself when you’re attempted to be angry.”

I haven’t write it on an index card and finally one of us figured out we can provide the cards and this is what developed over many years. First is I’m angry because I want something too much. James 4 says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” It’s the desires that wage war in your members and you kill. When we’re angry we desire something and we’re not getting it and what’s really can be tricky to people is sometimes the thing you desire is a wrong.

A wife desires her husband to remember their anniversary. That’s not a wicked desire but if you he forgets and she’s tempted to judge him and vent anger on him that becomes a sinful reaction. People [talk about … an idol something you want so badly you’re willing to sin if you can’t get it. We get angry sometimes over legitimate things, legitimate desires but they can’t become controlling desires. What is it that I wanted that made me angry? Second, I am not God. God has not made me the judge that when you’re angry you’re tempted to take vengeance.

Romans 12 says vengeance belongs to God, not to you. In Genesis 50 when Joseph’s brothers are bowing before him in fear and they’re afraid he’s going to make him slaves or throw them in the prison. He says, “Am I in God’s place?” And the answer is no but when you’re angry and you want to vent on somebody and punish them even verbally or just by silent treatment or whatever, you’re trying to play God and punish them, the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God James says.

It’s not your place to write the balance. The third is the most important of all and answered your question. That is that God has been gracious to me going back to the parable the Unmerciful servant going back Ephesians 4:31 and 32 that all bitterness and wrath and glamour and anger be put away from you along with all malice.

Be kind to one another tender heart and forgiving each other as God and Christ just forgiven you to remember God’s grace to you. Remember your own sin. Remember God’s patience to you. He who forgave you asks should it be graciously and the lord’s prayer, forgive us our debts as we forgive or debtors. God has been gracious to me and to reflect that to others.

Fourth is God is in control. Anger is a desire I want things my way. Things aren’t my way. Well, ultimately god’s in charge and he’s allowed this to happen. Joseph said to his brothers. You made it for evil. God made it for good. All the wrong things they did to him. God really is sovereign over all things. He’s not going to allow me to tempted beyond what I’m able, when people provoke me. He’s working it for good. I trust that God is in control and I humbly repent of my desire, excessive desire for control.

Finally, as we remember who I am in Christ. Sometimes when you’re angry you feel helpless. I just can’t control myself but Paul in Roman’s consider yourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ in Roman 6. He describes how you used to be slaves to sin but you’ve been set free because I am in Christ, because I’m a new creation in Christ. I don’t have to react like the old man.

Yes, there’s a battle between the spirit and the flesh because the spirit of God dwells in me and because my old self has been crucified with Christ, I have been raised into new self with Christ, I can be a person of grace, instead of a person of judgment.

Craig Marshall:
You find the third one of seeing how you’ve been shown much grace, you find that to be one of the most effective places to go in your own thinking?

Jim Newheiser:
Absolutely, there’s nothing more important than that. If I’ve only got one point, that’s the one is I need to be continually dwelling upon God’s grace to me and if I’m angry, I’ve somehow managed to be disconnected from the gospel by my own reception of God’s grace is disconnected from how I’m thinking and how I’m treating others. I would emphasize though that I need to talk to myself, I need to tell myself these things and that’s what the card has been for is when I’m angry, the gospel doesn’t necessarily automatically pop into my mind and one way we tried to help counsel’s is say, “Okay, now you’re tempted. Do you feel the temptation of the anger? You feel your body reacting. You feel yourself getting upset.”

You need to tell yourself these truths from the word of God. Dwell on these things that are life-saving in the situation so that you can battle the anger because to let the sun go down and your anger is to give the devil an opportunity to [inaudible 00:20:11] in your own life and the life for the people you care about. Instead, you tell yourself these wonderful truths from the word of God focused on the gospel which can enable you to emerge from that temptation victorious by God’s grace.

Craig Marshall:
One other direction I just want to talk with you about while we’re speaking about anger is how you handle anger in the counseling office. One of the things that was most surprising to me in counseling was having people get angry right there in front of me. Sometimes at each other and sometimes at me. What do you do when anger starts to really manifest itself?

Jim Newheiser:
In the counseling room, I have responsibility for what goes on there to a large extent which in the same way that I would not let a man beat up his wife in front of me. I’m not going to let her verbally go on sitting against him. I have to stop it somehow as far as I’m able in terms of interrupting, admonishing. Some of that is going to happen almost inevitably. I’ll often interrupt and take them to Matthew 7 and say, “Here’s the ground rule now is that for the rest of the session, you only can talk about the logs that are in your eye and not the splinters that are in your brother or sister’s eye because that’s how Jesus tells us to do with that.”

You’re dealing with the sin and in a worldly way. You have to be firm in some of these situations. Some people respond very well to that and some people you have to rise in intensity to match their intensity. Not with anger but with firmness and if they won’t listen ultimately, you may have to end the session or end the counseling if they’re not going to cooperate.

Craig Marshall:
If it’s a couple and they’re getting increasingly angry, what options do you have for dealing with that?

Jim Newheiser:
One option would be to meet with them individually to coach them on their own sinful responses to each other but it’s true that sometimes the couple will do much better one by one … They can take the admonishment from you better if the other one isn’t there. They’re further going to get hit over the head when they get home. What would Jim say about you? Sometimes there’s benefit to separating them, coaching them in their own sin and how they should respond together and then bring them back together to put into practice what you’ve been trying to work with them on individually.

Craig Marshall:
As you see people have angry responses in the counseling office, what does that tell you from a data gathering perspective? What does that? How is that shaping your agenda for what you’re going to do with them?

Jim Newheiser:
You see the anger in different ways too, you talk about … I’ve had people yelling with each other so loudly that people in the other rooms could hardly hear each other but sometimes it’s just body language where someone is turned away shaking their ahead or just visibly upset Halo data, it’s Jay Adams would call it. You have to address those things unless they’re extremely subtle but we’re not just trying to change the behavior. The issue is what is in your heart that gets back to why am I angry?

What is it that you want so much you’re willing to sin because you’re not getting it and then giving those desires to God, repenting of your judgmental reaction, remembering God’s grace to you. You’re driving them back not just to the behavior or the words but what’s in the heart and what’s the disconnect between the heart and the gospel that’s going to bring reconciliation.

Craig Marshall:
What’s the angriest do you’ve seen someone become in the counseling room? Or what’s the most disruptive?

Jim Newheiser:
I think it was the case I mentioned earlier where these people were a couple yelling at each other so loudly that we had counseling going on in adjacent offices and they were interrupted because they could not hear each other. I’ve heard of others who have had a counselee come at them over the desk in anger. I’ve had times when I’m happy to have observers there in case I need some protection but so far it hasn’t become physical.

Craig Marshall:
You’ve also had people storm out of the office sometimes too right instead of just attacking you, they completely withdraw?

Jim Newheiser:
Right. I’ve had people. I’ve sometimes tried to chase them out to the parking lot to see if I could speak grace to them and help them to bring them back in. When people come here especially coming to a counseling center where they didn’t even know you before that they’re often pretty desperate. Their problems are very serious. We’ve had some very strong reactions. Sometimes I will go and there’s something I’ve said where you’ve think I’ve sinned against you and I need to seek your forgiveness.

I wanted to understand from your perspective I may have stumbled or failed you in some way, tried to show some humility there and some grace, realizing I do make mistakes, I do offend and sometimes I lack sensitivity. Sometimes people are hardened and they’re sinned. You can’t as a counselor change every angry person with our anger card or on anger booklet, you present the truth but the spirit has to apply that truth in changing hearts from the human perspective. They have to receive that truth. I want to plead with people to try to help them but I can’t guarantee results in every case.

Craig Marshall:
Another question is how do you keep from becoming angry when a counselee is responding angrily to you or you see the sin in their heart. I know one of the things that comes back and feedback from our observation videos is especially Dan and Debbie. Dan gets pretty intense with you and people are surprised by how gently you seem to respond to him. What’s taught you to do that? What do you keep in mind to keep from sinning against them?

Jim Newheiser:
The Lord has been very kind to me. They helped me to be patient to those situations. The most important thing I think that it’s in my mind is back to Galatians 6:1 that if they’re caught on a trespass that their sin is against God and not me and to look into what’s happening and even if I’m not perfect as a counselor, there’s no excuse for a guy yelling at me and calling me names. I’m here serving him voluntarily instead of watching Monday night football or whatever else I could be doing.

What he’s doing is clearly sinful and my job is to restore him and it’s not about me. He’s reacting probably, I hope if I’ve been doing my job right to the word of God and if he’s angry with what God’s word says and how I’m applying it to him then he needs restoration and if he refuses to accept that, he’s answerable to God.

Usually, it’s pretty good. I will admit there are times just a handful of times I can remember over many, many years where somebody would get under my skin a little a bit and I had to really work at it. Usually, for me by God’s grace it comes pretty naturally but there have been times when I have to tell myself the very things on that card when someone is really coming after me and saying hurtful things, critical things. So far, God has given me grace, I think to weather under that pretty well.

Craig Marshall:
It seems like it’s something that really tests our hearts of why we’re doing what we’re doing, if we’re really caring about the other person, we’re far less likely to get angry but if we’re doing it to hear our own counsel or to think we’re great or all these prideful reasons then we’re all more tempted to respond in anger.

Jim Newheiser:
I think what you just said pride is important too. There’s need to be a humility of saying I’m not a perfect counselor. It may be that I really did approach this poorly. I really did miss something important and there has to be humility in your heart to begin with but then also not coming across as well as I’m the counselor and I’ve got to be gathering, you don’t but even as a counselor I’ve messed up.

I’ve gone in the wrong direction. I’ve given advice I wish I could take back. I’m open to the possibility that even if their reaction has a been a simple one that I may have failed them in some way, I may have … I may need to be corrected. I think to be humble that we as counselors are simply trying to faithfully present the word of God to people and only the spirit can change them but we’re going to do something perfectly. We’re dependent upon God’s grace and ourselves and in them and we will fall short. That’s why I’m glad ultimately. This is up to the Lord and not to us.

Craig Marshall:
Thank you so much for joining us today. A list of all the resources that we’ve mentioned can be found on our website at www.ibcd.org/podcast.

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