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Controlling Anger So It Doesn't Control You (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 03/10/2016

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In a discussion based on his book Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion, Gary Chapman offers practical advice for dealing with anger in a healthy manner and embracing the power of forgiveness. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript



Man #1: Sometimes when I get angry and I'm cut off in traffic, I'll pound on the roof of my car and I've actually created little dents in the top of my car.

Woman #1: I grit my teeth. I do; I grit my teeth.

Man #2: I slammed the door so hard, it broke the window.

Man #3: On the golf course, I'll smack a golf club on the grass, whack!

Woman #2: Sometimes I've been known to throw the remote control (Laughing) at my husband.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: How do you respond when you get angry? And is that response effective? Well, this is "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, today we're gonna talk about anger. It's probably one of the most confusing things for Christians to figure out, I think, 'cause you see the fruit of the Spirit. Boy, it's self-evident, you know. It's love, joy, peace, but God got angry, too and you're goin', okay, where does anger fit into God's character? And what is it in us that is either healthy or unhealthy when it comes to anger? And we want to talk about that today. I think it's one of the most important things we can talk about, given our surroundings, our marriages, our childrearing and our culture. How do we exhibit the right type of frustration and anger in our lives?

John: And Gary Chapman is here today to help us figure this out a little bit better. He's an author, a speaker, a counselor. He has a passion for people to understand God and to live up to their God-given potential. And today we'll be talking about one of his books called Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion.


Jim: Gary, it is so good to have you back.

Dr. Gary Chapman: Well, thank you, Jim and John. Good to be with you guys again.

Jim: It makes me smile. I just love the wisdom that you bring, your life experience, just the way you do it is, you know, very, very easy going down. So (Laughing)—

Gary: Good.

Jim: --I love it. Let's talk about anger. What is anger? And is it rooted in Scripture? Is it rooted in God's character?

Gary: You know, Jim, I really believe that anger is rooted in the nature of God. You know, the Bible says of God, God is love; God is holy. It never says, "God is anger." That would not be true. But it does say God is angry every day with the wicked. And I think the reason God is angry with the wicked is because God loves us and therefore, He gave us principles to live by in the Scriptures and when we violate those principles, God is angry because it hurts us. It hurts everybody around us. And so, God experiences anger when we violate His principles.

Jim: Well, and when you say in that context, the wicked are all of us sinners, right?

Gary: Yes, yes.

Jim: It's not "them" and "us." (Laughter) It's all of us.

Gary: Yes and I think we get angry because we are made in the image of God and thus, we have a concern for right and when our sense of right is violated, we feel angry. And that's true whether you're a Christian or whether you're not a Christian. Everyone experiences anger, because deep inside all of us, there is this sense of right and wrong.

Now granted, the standard of right is often colored by the culture in which a person grows up. But we all have this sense of right and wrong and when our sense of right is violated, someone does something we think is wrong, whether it's to us or toward someone else, we experience anger.

Jim: Let me ask the, perhaps the million-dollar question. How have you experienced anger?

Gary: Well, Jim,I never really remember getting very angry until I got married. (Laughter)

Jim: Okay, all the guys (Laughter), like us, started laughin'. Now women are laughin', too, 'cause that applies to them.

Gary: And I never remember getting super, super angry until I had a teenage son.

Jim: Oh, really.

Gary: And he and I—

Jim: That pushed your buttons.

Gary: --he and I got into it, yeah and that's--

Jim: Okay.

Gary: --really, that's really what forced me to dig into this issue of anger, because I realized I did not handle my anger very well.

Jim: Well, and there's so many things. Let's kinda unpack all of that, because at one level, is it healthy to not be angry? Is it a good thing? I mean, people, when we talk about having a disagreement in marriage or being upset with each other, some people will write or send an e-mail here to Focus saying, "If you're a believer, you shouldn't have anger in your marriage." I don't know that that's really healthy. I mean, anger does serve a purpose about resolving conflict, resolving unmet needs, those kinds of things. But talk about the two ends of that continuum in the Christian context. The one end, maybe you get angry too much and you don't have control of it. The other end, you never get angry and there may be somethin' wrong with that.

Gary: Well, I think many Christians deny their anger, because they've been taught that anger is a sin. They'll be sitting in my office and I will say, "It seems to me like you're angry about this." And they will say, "Oh, no, I'm not angry. No, I'm just disappointed. I'm just hurt."

Jim: So, he used a different word.

Gary: But yeah, they don't want to say "anger," because they think anger is sin. The reality is, if you don't experience anger, you're not human. Every human experiences anger. Now some people have learned not to express it. They've learned to hold it inside and that's not healthy and obviously, some people explode and that's not healthy.

But I do think for a Christian and in a marriage it, for example, as you were talkin' about, I think we all have anger toward our spouse when we're irritated with them or when they do something we think is wrong. But later on, we'll talk about it, I'm sure the two kinds of anger, you know, that people experience. And a lot of our anger in the family especially is because we're simply irritated. They didn't do wrong; they just didn't do it our way.

So, I think first of all as Christians, we have to acknowledge that anger is not sinful. The emotion of anger is not sinful. It's how we handle anger and that's why the Bible says in Ephesians 4, "Being angry, sin not." That's when you're angry, don't sin.

Jim: Where's that line? When does a person sin in their anger?

Gary: I think when we violate God's principle, which says, "Be ye kind one to another."

Jim: So, can you be kind and angry at someone?

Gary: I think you can.

Jim: How does that play out?

Gary: I think that's the goal. I think it's to learn how to be kind and angry. You know, Jim, I mentioned my teenage son. I remember the time he and I got into it. And I was giving it to him and he was giving it to me, I mean, really loudly, you know and saying harsh things.

And in the middle of our discussion, he walked out of the room, out of the house, slammed the door and walked outside. And when he did, I woke up and I started crying and I said, "O God, I thought I was further along than this."

I sat down on the couch and I was crying. I was weeping; that's a better word and my wife came in and tried to console me. She said, "Gary, that wasn't your fault. He started that. He should not be talkin' to you that way. He oughta learn to respect you." But she finally left, because it's hard to console a sinner and I knew I'd sinned.

Jim: How had you sinned?

Gary: Because I was yelling and screaming at my son.

Jim: So, you were responding in kind.

Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was unkind to him and harsh to him. And so, I got on my knees and I just said, "O God, forgive me. I thought I was further along than this" and I just poured my heart out to God and I accepted God's forgiveness.

And I just sat there and I don't know whether it was an hour or 30 minutes, but my son came back in the house eventually and I said, "Derek, could you come and sit down here a minute, son?" He came in. I said, "Derek, I want you to know that what I did was wrong. I yelled at you. I screamed at you. I said nasty things to you. I did not mean those things I said to you. I love you very much." And I just poured my heart out to him. And I said, "I want to ask you to forgive me."

And he said, "Dad, that was not your fault. I started that. And as I was walkin' up the road, I asked God to forgive me and I want to ask you to forgive me." And we hugged each other and we cried. That was a key night in our lives and after that experience, I said to him, "Derek, you know, why don't we try to learn together how to handle anger?" I said, "The next time you're angry at me, just come and say, "Dad, I'm angry; can we talk?" And I'll sit down and we'll try to talk instead of yell. And I'll do the same thing with you. When I'm angry, I'll just say, "Derek, I'm angry. Can we talk?" And that was the beginning of our learning how to be kind and talk our way through anger—

Jim: Right.

Gary: --rather than yelling our way through that.

Jim: No, that's good. Let me ask this. Some professionals, they will suggest that you create a trigger mechanism, something that pulls you back from the brink of disaster. It can be counting or some other thing. What is your opinion of that? Is it a waste of time? Or are those good tools?

Gary: I think it's biblical. The Scripture says that a wise man will restrain his anger and that's what we're talkin' about here. You know, you mentioned counting. My mother taught me when I was growing up. She said, "Son, when you're angry, count to 10 before you do anything." So, I think mom was on the right track.

Jim: Right.

Gary: But I would say, "Count to 100 or 1,000." (Laughter) Ten's not long enough, you know and it's just a way of stopping your immediate response long enough for you to think about, you know, what's happening here.

One lady told me that she watered her flowers. She said, "If I get angry with a family member, I just run and water my flowers." She said, "The first summer I did that, I almost drown my petunias." (Laughter)

Jim: That's about right. (Laughter) Wow.

Gary: But I think a mechanism like that is very, very important. Now I meet people who say to me, "Gary, I can't do that. When I get angry, it just flows out of me. I can't stop it."

Jim: Right.

Gary: And I say, "You can and you sometimes do." And I ask mothers this question, "Have you ever had this experience? You get angry with your children and you're giving it to them. Da, da, da and da, da, da and da, da, da and da, da, da and the telephone rings and what do you do? "Oh, hello, Mary. Oh, yes, Mary, we're fine. How are you, Mary?" You stopped it in the middle of the flow. All it took was a telephone ring.

So, I suggest maybe you oughta get a false telephone ringer and let your family members ring the telephone (Laughing).

Jim: That's brave. (Laughter) It might be the child you're reprimanding--

Jim: Right.

Gary: That's right.

Jim: --that starts ringin' your phone. (Laughter)

John: Just a minute, dad, I gotta make a phone call. (Laughter)

Jim: Backin' up here. (Laughter) Gary, the one thing and I want to make sure that we're clear on this, we can see holding our anger as a virtue and that, you've said, isn't healthy. Talk about that dichotomy, that if you want to be the good Christian, you're suppressing that anger. You're just reflecting something that's not truly inside of you. Is that appropriate at times? Is that okay? Or how do you release that anger that's in you in a healthy way when you've held onto it, maybe for years?

Gary: Yeah, well, I think the same verse that says, "Being angry, sin not," also says, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger," which means that we're supposed to process anger as quickly as we can. It's never to be held inside. Anger was meant to be a visitor, not a resident. And so, we have to process anger. Otherwise, if we hold it inside and many Christians do this and think this is spiritual, you know, I'm gonna hold it inside. I'm not gonna say anything, hold it inside. You hold it inside and you do it again and again and again and it's like an anger tank inside of you that just gets filled with anger and eventually, it's filled with rage. And at some juncture, you're going to explode or you're gonna move into depression. So, holding anger inside is not the answer. Now temporarily, yes, you know; hold it inside for a moment while you calm down and—

Jim: And count to 100.

Gary: --think about it and count to 100 (Laughter) and ask what's the next thing I should do? But don't hold it inside as a way of life. That is not a good response to anger.

Jim: So often and we're talking in the context really of marriage and parenting and I'm sure friendships apply, but the people that are closest to us tend to get the brunt of this. It may simply be because we spend more time with them and we are irritated by some of the things that they do. In that context, thinking of marriage, talk to the couple that they've not really found good mechanisms. Maybe they've never talked about it. What can they do tonight when they sit at dinner and they've got unresolved conflict that's been going on for a long time? They haven't been resolving it by the time the sun has gone down.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: And maybe, let's pick on the men for a while, 'cause we've done it the other way, but a wife has been emotionally hurt and her husband's not been very kind, maybe brutal verbally about what she does or doesn't do. What can she do when she's getting that kind of verbal abuse, to turn a corner tonight?

Gary: Well, you know, Jim, I think the first step for many couples is to acknowledge that we haven't handled anger very well. That's a starting point. Because couples have gone on for years not handling anger well and yelling and screaming at each other and having unresolved conflicts and somebody needs to say, I would hope it would be the husband who would say, "You know, honey, I've been thinkin' a lot about us and about the way we've handled anger and the way we haven't resolved issues. And I know I've hurt you a lot and I know I've said things" and just, you know, apologize, begin apologizing to her for the past.

Rather than trying to build on all that anger that's inside, let's apologize for our failures in the past and say, "Let's try to learn. Can we learn? Can we read a book? Can we go to a conference? Can we see a counselor? Can we do something? Let's begin to learn how to handle anger in a positive way?"

And I think if a husband takes that approach, there's a good chance that wife is gonna be open to that and she may even apologize herself for her part, because none of us are perfect in this. And I think that's the place to start is clearing the rubble from the past.

John: Gary Chapman is our guest today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly and we're talkin' about a very powerful emotion. That's part of the subtitle of his book, Anger and we've got that and a CD or a download of this program and a link to an anger quiz, kind of an (Laughter) inventory of how you handle anger.

Jim: Caution, caution. (Laughter)

John: Yeah. That's all gonna be at—

Jim: No, it's good.

John: or just give us a call and we'll tell you more; 800-A-FAMILY.

Jim: Okay, full disclosure though, John. We both took the quiz (Laughing).

John: Yes, I took the quiz. (Laughter)

Jim: You may have been more honest. (Laughter) Anyway, it's fun to do.

John: Well, I thought (Laughter) I was doin' better. (Laughter)

Jim: But did it give you a kind of a introspection about where you're at?

John: It gave me a lot of hope for this conversation (Laughter) right here and now.

Jim: You're in the right place at the right time.

John: Indeed.

Jim: Gary, let me pick up on somethin' where we left off when we, in our marriages, when that source of anger is there, talk about the power of forgiveness and the importance of forgiveness and maybe why couples get stuck. Why is it so difficult for us to say, "I need to apologize?" That can get stuck in our throat and I'm guilty of that with Jean. You know, there are times when I just don't do it and I should do it. I'm feeling a bit of conviction (Chuckling) and you know, why humanly, why do we not do that? I mean, I guess that could sound cheap after a while, but why don't we quickly say, "Yeah, I'm so sorry I said it that way."

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: But we don't.

Gary: I think because we're all self-centered and we all like to think that we're right; whatever the issue, we're right. You're the one that's wrong. You know, you should shape up on this.

Jim: Do you have to speak so honestly? (Laughter)

Gary: But I do think that there are no healthy marriages without apologies and forgiveness, because none of us are perfect. And if we don't deal with our failures, then they sit there as emotional barriers between the two of us. That's why I really, really encourage couples, you know, if things aren't going well, just take a little time and back up and say, "Let's deal with the past. Let's agree. Let's confess our failures. Let's forgive each other so we can have a fresh start."

John: How do we get there, though, Gary? I mean, I'm just thinkin' about the other night, Dena and I, we had a little bit of a conflict and there was some anger and I think we both felt like we were right. And so, there was this icy chill and it was sorta like, "Well, good night."

Gary: Yeah.

John: And it wasn't the right way to end the night and I don't know that we were both being self-righteous, but when the emotion is so heavy, how do you cut through that and get to a point of peace?

Gary: Well, I think if it's late at night, there is a time to say, "You know, honey, obviously we're not gonna resolve this tonight. So, why don't we just agree to disagree and we'll talk about it again tomorrow."

John: And we've done that.

Gary: Yeah and now we can sleep, you know, because we've at least agreed that we haven't solved it, but we're gonna solve it tomorrow. We're gonna work on it again tomorrow, rather than fighting all night, I mean, everybody gets up in the morning and they're not able to go to work, you know. Better to say, "Let's just agree we disagree; we'll have to work on this some more, but I love you." Always end with "I love you."

John: Yes. (Laughter)

Jim: And see, what you have to say really does go down well. Let me ask you this. Does forgiveness always lead to restoration?

Gary: I don't think so. I think most of the time it goes, but there are occasions when it does not lead to restoration. For example, here's a man who left his wife 20 years ago, went off with another woman, moved out of state. Twenty years later he becomes a Christian. He's now trying to work through his life. He wants to go back and confess to his wife and tell her his failures and he can go back and do that and she can genuinely forgive him, but it doesn't restore the relationship and it doesn't restore the relationship with his children if he had children. He's lost 20 years with those children. He's not gonna necessarily restore that relationship. But I think in a family relationship, most of the time it does restore the relationship.

Jim: And it makes it healthier, which is important.

Gary: Yes.

Jim: So, that's good. Gary, you also talk in your book, Anger, you talk about the six steps for dealing with anger. Touch on those six and then let me drill into a couple of 'em.

Gary: Well, I think the first step, Jim is to acknowledge that we are angry. I mean, if we don't acknowledge that we're angry and this is why I was makin' the point earlier, that Christians need to recognize it's not a sin to feel angry and so, when I'm angry, I need to say, "I'm feeling angry."

Jim: Let me ask you though, are we perhaps, and I don't want to be too general here, stereotypical, but it seems to me and I'm guilty--that's why I'm saying this—in the Christian community, we can be the most stubborn in this regard, can't we?

Gary: Yeah, we can and I think that's why it's important for a couple to talk about anger and the second thing I suggest, for example, is that you say to each other, "Why don't we in the future when we're angry, rather than sulking, you know, and I'm asking what's wrong and you say, 'Nothing,' why don't we just agree that the next time we're angry about something, we will come to each other and say, 'Honey, I'm feeling a little angry. Could we talk?'"

And if it's not a good time to talk, you set a time to talk. You see, if a couple agrees to this approach before you get angry, you know, we've already agreed this is what we want. We want to tell each other when we're angry so we can work through things, this is healthy. And if we've got that agreement, then we're more likely to do it.

Jim: Okay, so acknowledge the reality of anger. What's the second one?

Gary: It's acknowledge to each other that we are angry, is just exactly what I'm talking about—

Jim: And it's okay.

Gary: --right now, that it's okay to acknowledge that we're angry. In fact, Jim, you know, in the back of the book I suggest that people take a 3 x 5 card and write this message on it. It says, "I'm feeling angry right now, but don't worry, I'm not going to attack you, but I do need your help. Is this a good time to talk?" And you put that 3 x 5 card on the refrigerator and when either of you feels angry, you get the card and you stand in front of your mate and you say, "Honey, I'm feeling angry right now, but don't worry, I'm not going to attack you, but I do need your help. Is this a good time to talk?" It brings humor into the situation, imagine that.

Jim: Right.

Gary: And you teach your teenagers to do that. They go get the card and stand in front of you and do that, as well.

Jim: No, I'm just sitting here thinking how many times I could've used that (Laughter) or Jean could've used that. (Laughter) You stun me with that one, but it's a good idea.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: But I'm zeroing in on the attack part. I mean, for me and I don't know that I represent most men, I'm not worried about being attacked. I'll hold my own, but really for wives particularly, I think that's important, because they can feel attacked so easily verbally, right?

Gary: Yeah, yeah and I think that's why the third thing I suggest is, that the two of you acknowledge to each other and agree, the yelling and screaming at each other is not appropriate. This is not going to be [an] appropriate way for us to handle anger. Maybe our parents did it; maybe we grew up doing this, but as adults, we're gonna make a decision. We're gonna agree this is not right.

And when we do lash out, we're going to acknowledge it and we're gonna apologize for it. Again, if a couple works through these things and begins to take these steps when they're not angry, they're more likely to handle it in a positive way when they are.

Jim: Well, it's true and even I think, hearing your examples of how to address it, you're saying it in such a calm demeanor. I'm sittin' here going, okay, when you're in that pitch of anger, it's hard to say, "Honey, I need to talk to you, because …" (Laughter), I mean, it usually doesn't come out that way. It's more like, "What!?" (Laughter) So, you really do have to bite your tongue, 'cause that sets the whole thing aflame.

Gary: But you know, one of the key issues and this is another one of the six steps that I give, one of the key issues is, we've got to focus on listening. You know, it's better to say, "Honey, I'm feeling angry right now. Could we listen to each other--

Jim: Yeah, rather than, "Could we talk?"

Gary: --rather than can we talk to each other.

Jim: I think the listening nerve is wrapped around your eardrum.

Gary: Yeah (Laughter), yeah.

Jim: When you're feeling angry it like tightens that eardrum to where you can't hear your partner—

Gary: Right.

Jim: --talk.

Gary: But you know, here's the key issue. If you listen to your spouse when they're angry at you and you put on elephant ears and you say, "Okay, honey, I'm listening; you have the floor," you let them tell you why they're angry. You ask questions to clarify. You know, "Is this what you're saying? Is this why you're angry?" Let 'em get it out. You try to put yourself in their shoes, look at the world through their eyes and their personality and you can honestly say eventually, you know, "Honey, I think I understand what you're saying."

Jim: Huh.

Gary: "And I can see why you'd be angry."

Jim: And that—

Gary: "And if I were in your shoes, I'd probably feel angry, too."

Jim: --that truly is a godly character right there. That is godly character. That's empathy.

Gary: Yeah, because now you're no longer an enemy. You're a friend now. You've heard them out. You understand why they would be angry and you're admitting that if you were in their place and you would if you had their personality and you interpreted the situation the way they did, you'd feel angry, too.

And when you say, "I would probably be angry, too; how can we solve it?" Now because you've heard them out, if you have a different perspective, then you can say, "Now, honey, can I share my perspective?" And you do the same thing and they become the listener. We're not trained to listen.

Jim: No, we're not.

Gary: You know, most of us, we hear 60 seconds of a talk and then we tell 'em where they're wrong.

Jim: Gary, this is so powerful. We've talked about many things here, but those six steps, if we can, let's post those on the website and we'll also post the anger quiz, which maybe John and I flunked. (Laughter)

John: Or maybe I flunked.

Jim: But it's a good thing to do, because it gives you a bearing on where you're at. But let's keep goin' and pick up with some more practical examples. I wanted to ask a question about couples and intimacy and how that becomes a root issue in so many marriages today and we hear from many of you about that here at Focus on the Family.

Let me also say that we have the Focus on the Family Marriage Instituteand we are helping couples every day who are really on the last knot of that rope of hope. I mean, many of them have already signed divorce papers. This program is for couples who are desperate and I want to make sure that everybody is aware of that opportunity, to come to do an intensive counseling program. It's four days and they have almost an 85 percent, post two-year success rate.

After they receive the counseling, we contact them two years later to see how they're doing and 84.7 percent to be exact, say that they are doing well and are much happier. In the Christian community now more than ever, we need strong marriages and I know you support that, too, Gary. And that's what we're trying to with the Focus on the Family Marriage Institute.

So, if you're in that spot, don't hesitate. Don't feel too embarrassed. Call us today. Don't wait until it's too late. Call us so you can get that help that you need today. And Gary, let's come back next time and talk about how to handle anger in a more positive way, so it doesn't destroy our marriages. Can we do that?

Gary: Good, love to.


John: Well, we're gonna look forward to the conversation and I hope that you've identified ways to get a handle on your anger and that you'll ask for a copy of Gary's book, Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion. The book is filled with relatable scenarios and some very practical steps to release bitterness in a healthy way.

Get a copy of the book and a CD or instant download of this two-part conversation and learn more about the Focus on the Family Marriage Institute at

Now in our mission to come alongside and give you some hope and encouragement for your relationship and for your parenting journey, let me share this note that we received from a military wife. She said, "Even though I was raised in a Christian home, there was much I had to learn as a young wife. We didn't always have our families close by to mentor us through our early years of marriage and childrearing. A friend of mine introduced me to your ministry 20 years ago and your radio broadcast, books and resources for kids and teens have all been instrumental in guiding us through life. Thank you for everything that you've done for our family."

Well, we love that kind of feedback and I hope it helps you see that Focus on the Family is here to help your family, just like we helped this military family.

Additionally, we need your support to continue to impact families and your generous donation of 25 or $50, even $100 today will make a huge difference in how much work we can accomplish together. You can make that donation at or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. And today, when you contribute a gift of any amount, we'll send a copy of Dr. Chapman's book, Anger as our way of saying thanks and putting a great tool in your hands.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we continue to explore how to better handle your anger, especially if you feel some anger towards God.


Dr. Gary Chapman: We share our anger with God. We just tell God how disappointed and how hurt and angry we are. And in that context, you listen to the still small voice of God and chances are, you will hear in whatever language communicates to you, "I hear you. I understand. If I were in your shoes, I'd be angry, too, but you know, there's some things you don't know. You know, My ways are higher than your ways" and you'll receive the peace of God.

End of Excerpt

John: That's more from Dr. Gary Chapman, next time, as we once again, help your family thrive. 
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Gary Chapman

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Dr. Gary Chapman is the senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He's also an international public speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books including The Five Love Languages which has sold more than five million copies and has been translated into nearly 40 languages. Dr. Chapman holds several academic degrees including a Ph.D. in adult education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.