Here is Part 9 in the Black-and-White Thinking Series. Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-8: Part 1 (Introduction), Introduction (Part 2), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), and Part 8 (Christian).
“You’re always doing that!” “You never (fill in the blank)!” “That stupid, #@!*%!” You probably don’t have to look too far in the distant past (perhaps minutes!) to think about the last time you’ve been angry. Anger is a universal emotion that all of us feel at different times, some more often than others. Anger is an emotional reaction or response to situations or circumstances that we find are unfair, unjust, or simply wrong. Being created in God’s image means that we will experience the emotion of anger as He does, though admittedly, our anger is often tainted by our sin and not as righteous as His. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s anger and wrath is poured out on humanity for sins against Him and against others. In the New Testament, we see God’s anger and wrath poured out on His Son for our sins.
There are several themes of anger that are fairly consistent with the black-and-white thinking. These themes include 1) being right vs. wrong (meeting a standard), and the 2) difficulty of reconciliation.
BEING RIGHT vs WRONG (meeting a standard or expectation)
There are two points that are worth mentioning about rightness and wrongness that are reasons black-and-white thinkers can become angry: 1) What is right and 2) The need to be right.
- First, anger typically occurs when something happens that we know is not right. Since we are created in God’s image, we essentially are created to become angry at sin (wrong). If you learn of sexual or physical abuse to children, do you become angry at the perpetrator? Of course you do. It is how we are made. Ultimately, we ought to be angry at sin and evil and at all the things with which God is angry. Yet, since sin entered the world, our anger has not been totally aligned with God’s anger. Instead of being angry at sin, we are more prone to welcome sin into our lives, and our anger shifts from being angry at the breaking of God’s law (sin) to the breaking of our own laws (expectations or standards).
We don’t need to look much further about anger than the story of Jonah, who, after running from God, finally relented and preached to the Ninevites to repent and turn to God. After he delivered this message of repentance, he waited, hoping that God would wipe them off the face of the earth. And when God didn’t give the Ninevites what they deserved, Jonah became so angry, he even wished death upon himself. Jonah was angry at God because God did not meet Jonah’s standard/expectation/law. God SHOULD have wiped them out, because it’s what they deserved, but He didn’t.
Our anger is not much different than Jonah’s. We get angry at ourselves because we did not meet our standards for ourselves. We get angry with others because they did not meet our standards and expectations. We get angry at God because He did not respond the way we think He should have (BTW, the word “should” is a buzzword to let us know that we have a standard or expectation). Just this morning I got angry at a driver at my sons’ school for parking in the dropoff lane. Why? Because that’s the dropoff lane. That’s the rule! And he was breaking it, causing a backup of multiple vehicles waiting for him to follow the rules. He should have known better! He should have been more considerate of others! You get the idea.
So, our anger has shifted from God’s law being broken (sin) to our own laws (standards/expectations) being broken, and when that happens, others deserve our wrath. Or perhaps, these laws are not our own laws, per se, but societal laws (driving laws, etc.) or even unwritten laws (you have to wait in line with all the other cars when merging from 2 lanes to one). In all cases, we feel justified because they did wrong according to the laws, and since we believe we are in the right, they are all “idiots.” And, of course, being in the right can certainly feed self-righteousness.
2. When pride enters the picture (which it does for all of us), the need to be right in our own eyes and in the eyes of others often gains momentum. Black-and-white thinkers think more right and wrong or good & bad, and when pride reigns in the heart, admitting wrong is equivalent to being bad. Some black-and-white thinkers feel the need to be right and find their esteem in being right. When being right becomes more important than anything else, anger is often used to keep others quiet so as to remain under the illusion that they are right. Anger, then, is used more as a control tactic to silence others and remain in the right…often by being wrong.
DIFFICULTY WITH RECONCILIATION
Anger is typically resolved when there is a good process of reconciliation. Reconciliation often occurs when there is an acknowledgement of wrong, a seeking forgiveness (which often comes from brokenness for hurting the other person), and then followed by a change in behavior that comes from the brokenness. Reconciliation also occurs when forgiveness is granted combined with the willingness to move forward and work on trust. Granting forgiveness for past hurts may be difficult for some black-and-white thinkers since forgiveness is not a concrete concept to grasp, and to grant forgiveness would seem to “go against” the works related theme, “you get what you deserve” (as opposed to the grace related theme, ‘you don’t get what you deserve’). Since the other person doesn’t deserve forgiveness and hasn’t earned it, forgiveness will not be granted, and anger can resume. Individuals who hold to this belief do not grasp that forgiveness can never be earned, but is freely given; nor is it for the other person, but is actually for God (and us!). Just as we will never deserve God’s forgiveness, others will not deserve ours. But as we forgive as God has forgiven us, we are released from our anger and freed from resentment. At minimum, the black-and-white thinker’s form of forgiveness may simply be to just not think about it anymore, but this falls short of actual reconciliation as discussed above, which involves the emotions of hurt, brokenness, and love. When these emotions are not worked through, anger can remain the dominant emotion.
Is acknowledging wrong and apologizing enough to reconcile and move forward? For some, yes, because apologizing is a tangible action (words) and corrective actions may be taken to show the other person change. Some may not find a need to apologize, but simply to recognize where they may have been “mistaken,” correct the mistakes, and move forward. This seems more like a “taking responsibility for actions” type of response (though ‘mistaken’ is not admitting wrong), yet it certainly falls short of “taking responsibility for the relationship” type of response. Some black-and-white thinkers don’t recognize that apologies help heal any brokenness that exists in the relationship. And some more severe black-and-white thinkers have an extremely hard time even being broken over their sin as they cannot empathize with those they hurt. This is because these emotions have not been felt themselves for a very long time because they are uncomfortable and painful.
Some additional reasons for anger in the black-and-white thinker include situations perceived as being unfair, anger masking depression, or anger being used as a defense mechanism to protect oneself against hurt. Protecting against being hurt is learned early in life, and some say causes black-and-white thinking. Though I won’t say it is a cause, it can certainly be a heavy influence leading black-and-white thinking to increase, and thinking relationally to decrease.
Anger is a universal emotion that we all experience. Just as has previously been written in anxiety and depression, black-and-white thinking can certainly be present in anger as well. If you see this thinking in your anger, think some more about the situation. When does it happen? What laws/rules are being broken? What expectations do you have? Then look at your own heart and how you have not met God’s expectations either and are deserving of the same anger (times infinity) you have towards others. Yet in His love and grace, His anger was poured out on His Son instead of you. Other people may be wrong, but so have I been wrong…many times. Thank God for His grace and love on undeserving people like us.
The Black-and-White Thinking Christian is my newest resource for helping black-and-white thinkers grow in life, relationships, and in Christ. If you are a black-and-white thinker, or know some in your life, this is a great resource for personal growth and understanding. You can find this resource now on Amazon.com.