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Angry? Don’t Ask “What?” But “Why?”

The default question most people ask when they are angry is, “What?” What triggered my anger? But, that’s too easy and too general.

In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. –Psalm 4:4

Recently, I had lunch with a buddy who admitted that his anger is impacting his marriage. He was searching for a Band-Aid idea that would slow him down and help with his anger (kind of like the good old “count to 10” technique).

My friend is not alone. From time-to-time, we all get angry. Some of us are really good at hiding expressions of anger. Others, aren’t so good at it. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not — anger lurks.

There are no easy answers to being angry, but there is an easy question to ask:

The default question most people ask is, “What?” What triggered my anger? But, that’s not a good question. It’s too easy! It’s too general! It’s not all that helpful.

What triggered my anger? Music, a dirty room, traffic, rudeness, not flushing the toilet, deleted a recorded TV show, etc. Who cares?

Instead of asking “What?” I would encourage you to ask “Why?”

The why question forces you to peel back a layer from the surface and look inside your heart. Instead of asking what triggered my anger (that’s too easy)… ask, why did that make me angry?

When you ask what, you’ll continue to blame the triggers and that won’t help you stop the pain.

When you ask why, chances are you’ll discover one of two primary emotions hiding beneath the surface: you might imagine these two emotions hiding in the corner of your soul…one in the fetal position and one in the attack position.

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All curled up in the fetal position will be fear. Every time I try to learn form my anger, I meet fear. I encounter fearful Doug. Fearful Doug who expressed his anger because he was afraid he wouldn’t be a good dad or husband, afraid of failure or rejection, afraid that he can’t control others to compliance and so on.

The second emotion is hurt. Hurt hides right next to fear, but like a wounded animal, hurt is very dangerous because all it knows how to do is attack others. If I hurt you with my anger, I don’t have to focus on the hurt I feel or reopen the hurtful wounds I’ve never dealt with.

If we don’t learn why we’re angry, it keeps coming back out, over and over. Perhaps this is why in today’s Scripture, we’re told to “search our hearts.”

If you want to slay the dragon of anger, search your heart. Ask the right question. Learn from your emotions. Change your behavior. Improve your relationships. Easy? No. Doable? Yes.

1. When you experience anger, are you more likely to ask “Why?” or “What?”

2. When you are angry, how can you benefit from asking “What?” rather than “Why?”

Ephesians 4:31; James 1:20