Anger Issues / by Sarah Schwartz

"Well, everything looks pretty normal," she said, scrolling through the results of my MMPI exam on her laptop. As a first semester seminary student, I was required to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and meet with a counselor to discuss my results.

"It looks like you're self aware, responsible, highly relational," she said, listing my characteristics like items on a grocery list.

Tell me something I don't know, I thought silently. When I first sat down that morning, the counselor, a young woman in her early thirties, smiled and inquired,

"So, have you ever been to counseling before?"

My snarky inner self responded immediately with, "Please, have you ever been to counseling before?" In real life I smiled politely and told her that I had been in counseling on and off since the age of 14, and was currently attending sessions weekly. I had waltzed into the appointment thinking of it as nothing more than a class requirement, as I obviously knew everything there was to know about my psychological state.

She continued to scroll through my results, casually relaying them to me. "You're articulate, you take criticism very personally, you tend to bury negative emotions..."

"I'm sorry, come again? I tend to do what?"

"You tend to bury negative emotions, like sadness or anger," she replied.

"Yeah," I responded smugly, "I don't think so. I mean, I've had a rough year or so, and maybe I tested that way because I've had a lot to deal with, but, no, that doesn't sound like me." She looked at me intently for a moment, then continued through the list.

But her observation wouldn't leave me alone. Later that day, while driving in the car with my best friend, I described the morning's findings.

"Oh, I could have told you that," she said matter of factly. "You absolutely do that."

Friends, man.

"When was the last time you were angry?" she asked. "Not for other people, or about injustice at large, but when was the last time you were angry for you?"

See, I am good at being angry for other people. I am great at getting worked up over injustice, or on behalf of those I love. But for myself? I almost never feel entitled to be angry on my own behalf. I desperately searched the recesses of my memory for instances where I had been really, truly angry, and in the few examples I could think of, I had either pushed my anger down to the place where feelings go to die, or it had bubbled out of me awkwardly and at the wrong time. Mostly the former.

I know it's almost the end of January, but I'd like make a New Year's resolution. In 2014, I'd like to be better at anger.

You see, I heard a lot growing up about not sinning in anger, but not much in the way of how to handle it in a way that honors God, others, and ourselves. As with so much in evangelical sub-culture, there was a lot of "Don't!" rather than, "Let's examine the root issues at play and learn how to do this well."  So when I say I want to be better at anger, I don't mean I'm looking to become an angry person, but that I'm doing no one any favors by burying this particular God-given emotion and hoping it doesn't start to rot somewhere in my soul. The way I currently do anger is not cultivating my spirit to be in tune with the rhythms of grace and reconciliation, but of fear and insincerity. When we speak of someone having "anger issues", we usually mean those whose anger is out of control, but I'm coming to see that hiding ones anger because you don't feel like your own hurts or needs deserve the time and attention of others, is just as much of an issue, and just as much of a roadblock to having healthy, authentic relationships.

In 2014, I'd like to start believing that my wounds, fears, and hurts matter enough to give myself permission to feel, and even speak up about them. And as I lean into those things, rather than run from them, I can't help but think I'll be propelled even deeper into this bigger Reconciliation narrative we're all a part of, this ancient story of grace and redemption, where broken things get made whole again.