I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" said Amber to her husband,
"Why don't you just shut your mouth? All you ever do is moan
and groan. You make me sick!" was Evan's quick retort.
Evan and Amber had come into my office for some marital
counseling. Like countless other couples, they were expressing the
anger and hostility that lay deep within them. Henry Brandt, one
of the world's most respected biblical counselors, has suggested
that anger is involved in 80-90 percent of all counseling. I would
have to agree.
Marital conflict abounds in our society. Divorce is on the rise
and is a source of anger for many. Countless arguments revolve
around visitation rights of parents. Some parents have become so
angry that they have even kidnapped their own children so their
spouse cannot have any contact. One of the biggest problems in
second marriages is children from the first marriage. Arguments
frequently flare up over discipline and child-rearing techniques.
Alimony also creates anger. I read in the newspaper about a man who
paid his alimony payments in nickels. Another man, a cement truck
driver, was so mad at his former wife that he got even with her in a
unique manner. Rolling down her car window, he filled the car with
cement while it was parked in front of her house.
One study indicated that 80 percent of couples who verbally abuse
each other ended up in physical combat. Every year, two million women
are beaten by their husbands. Approximately 40 percent of all women
murdered were killed by their husbands. As an interesting side note, one
study of "male batterers" indicated that the men were not out of control.
Their heart rates even decreased during the times when they were emotionally
upset. The study seemed to indicate that the men got violent on
purpose in order to produce fear and to control their wives.
A minister asked that I counsel his wife for an unrepentant affair she
was having. Expecting to see a siren walk into my office, I was surprised
to find a gracious, soft-spoken woman of forty-five who told this story
through her tears: Her husband was a dynamic minister, very successful
in his church and admired by everyone. But he had one sin she could not
excuse. He was an angry, hostile man whom she considered "overly strict
and physically abusive of our three children. He cannot control his anger
and has on one occasion beaten our oldest son unconscious." When the
boy turned nineteen, he ran away and joined a gang. Brokenhearted, she
said, "From that day on I lost all feeling for my husband."
An extreme situation like this never occurs suddenly. It had been
building up for years, primarily related to major disagreements over disciplining
the children. She had learned to live with his other angry
explosions, but she could not endure his manhandling of the children.
Too fearful to voice her real feelings, she witnessed her husband's angry
frustrations worked out on the heads, faces, and backsides of their children.
Although she only interrupted on extreme occasions, she acknowledged
"dying a little" each time he abused them. As it turned out, her
affair was not a real love problem but a retaliation intended to spite her
When the minister came in, he was obviously desperate. I was never
sure if he sought help because he really loved his wife, or if he was just
trying to save his ministry. When confronted with his hostilities, he
retorted, "If a man can't let down and be himself at home, where can
he?" I was silent for a long time. As he sat there thinking, he finally admitted,
"That sounds pretty carnal, doesn't it?" Before leaving, he came to
realize that his anger was as bad as or worse than her adultery. Although
this man was able to salvage his marriage, as far as I know he has never
regained his son. In all probability, more sons and daughters have been
alienated from their fathers because of Dad's anger than anything else.
And the tragic part of it is that the son will probably treat his son the
same way. Angry fathers tend to produce angry children.
Therefore it's not surprising that anger and hostility are not limited
to husbands and wives. I have counseled young people who wished their
parents were dead. Part of their anger stems from the abuse they have
received at the hands of their parents. Approximately one million children
a year suffer from some form of child abuse. This abuse can take the
form of emotional abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. More than five
children a day die at the hands of their parents or caregivers.
I remember counseling one young mother of two who tearfully confessed
to feelings of such anger at her infant when he screamed that she
sometimes entertained "thoughts of choking him." She then added, "I'm
so afraid I'll do something harmful to my baby." Upon further questioning,
I discovered that she had been rejected by her father and was clinging
to bitter thoughts about that rejection. Her rancorous attitude was
eating her up, in spite of the fact that her father had been dead for five
In recent years, there has been an increase in elder abuse, often instigated
by children toward their parents or by staff workers in nursing care
homes. Some people have taken to hiding television cameras in their parents'
homes or nursing centers to catch elder abusers in action. These
abusers can be seen slapping, punching, and shoving the helpless elderly
Verbal abuse and fighting take place in many homes and at extended
family gatherings. The two primary times for family arguments to occur
are a half hour before everyone leaves in the morning and a half hour
before dinner in the evening. In the morning the pressure of leaving on
time is a major factor. In the evening, everyone is tired, hungry, and irritable.
A general surliness tends to fill the home.
Many arguments between husbands and wives occur later in the
evening just before going to bed. As a general rule of thumb, discussions
that begin after 9:00 P.M. have a strong tendency to go downhill. Both
parties are tired, and they begin to think of the pressures of the next day.
Past experience has taught them that the issue will most likely not be
resolved before they go to sleep. Because of this, they may start to talk to
each other with a negative attitude, which typically leads the discussion
in a downward spiral.
Outside the home, anger can be seen in the workplace. Employees
hate their bosses, and bosses dislike their employees. One study indicated
that the display of anger in pressure situations is a major factor for business
executives missing promotions, being fired from work, or being
asked to retire early.
Mr. Nice Guy
I remember a Reader's Digest article many years ago explaining "the
tragic deaths of four employees, and the critical wounding of another."
The assassin was a "Mr. Nice Guy" type, the kind of man who would
make a pleasant neighbor. At forty-three years of age he seemingly went
berserk and shot his fellow employees.
Investigation revealed that his bizarre behavior was not spontaneous.
Eighteen months before the tragedy he was bypassed for promotion in favor
of someone else. His wife acknowledged that from that day on "he gradually
became a different man." It is not difficult to imagine the mental chain
reaction he experienced. As he nursed his grudge and indulged his bitterness,
mulling over the injustice of the situation, he became emotionally distraught.
He took his .38-caliber revolver to work and shot five people. One
common thread of identity united the victims: They were all in a position
to have participated in the matter of his promotion by his company.
Today this man is housed behind bars, estranged from the family he
loves. Four people met an untimely death, and one may be crippled for
life, all because of his hostility. It is from this incident that the phrase
"going postal" has come into our vernacular.
There is no question that we live in a stress-filled society. Many are
overwhelmed, overworked, overscheduled, and overspent. Our society
demands bigger, better, and faster. We have instant frozen foods, fastfood
restaurants, and quick-stop markets.
We now have a host of electronic devices that help to speed up our
world. We have phones with caller identification and voice mail. Cell
phones are carried by countless numbers of people. E-mail, the Internet,
computers, portable printers, and fax machines add to the speed of information
transfer. Palm-held computers organize our lives. All of these
things can be extremely helpful on one hand and destructive on the
other. Cell phones and pagers begin to act like tethers that keep us constantly
attached to anyone who wants to contact us. There is no time for
solitude or meditation. It then becomes easy to become hostile as a result
of being obligated to everyone's desire to interrupt our lives.
In our fast-paced world, no one enjoys waiting. Our business has
become addictive. Patience is out, and impatience is in. No one likes to
wait in a doctor's office, in airports, or in traffic. No one likes to wait in
line at the grocery store. Have you ever been in the express lane that has
a sign indicating ten items or less? Have you found yourself counting the
number of items the person in front of you has? Have you discovered
yourself getting upset when they had eleven items?
Adventures at Disneyland
No one likes to see people cutting in line-especially if it's in front of
you. I remember a cutting-in-line incident that occurred when I took our
family to Disneyland. We were waiting in line to go into the Haunted
Mansion. All the people-mover bars were in place for the large crowd.
We had been waiting in line for over an hour with many other families.
We were in the last set of people-mover bars next to the mansion when
the event happened. My family was engaged in conversation. I was lost in
my own little world of looking down over the crowd and thinking about
how much money Disneyland was making. (The mansion is on a slight hill
so you can observe the customers.) There were about 450 people in line.
They were backed up all the way to the train station in the distance.
Then I finally saw them. They were three teenage boys. They kept
moving their way up through the crowd, cutting in front of parents and
their children. They were moving from the bottom of the hill to the top.
I found my eyes fixed on their movements. As they passed family after
family, I found myself getting upset at their rudeness and selfishness.
These families in line were patiently obeying the rules, while the
teenagers were ignoring common decency and manners.
I thought to myself, This is not right. This should not continue. Of course,
my family had no idea of the turmoil going on inside of me. They were
engrossed in their conversation. The closer the teenagers got, the more I
could feel the turmoil. I was just a few feet away from them as they cut
in front of the people in the line just below ours.
Finally they turned past the last people-mover and started down our
aisle. I had no idea what to do. They were now one family away from
ours. I then turned and blocked their way with my back to them. They
were waiting for me to move out of the way so they could scoot by. I was
still struggling with what to do.
At last, after what seemed like a frightfully long time, I turned toward
the crowd below. I raised both of my arms and yelled. "Folks! Folks!
Could I have your attention please?" My family stopped talking and
stared at me with shock written all over their faces.
I continued, "We've been standing in line for over an hour-yet,
these three young men (I turned and pointed to them) feel like they
would like to cut in line in front of you. How do you all feel about this?"
My family was now melting into the ground. The more passive
people in the crowd were silently gawking at me. All of the vocal people
began yelling, "Give it to them!" All the people surrounding me rose to
the occasion. We wouldn't let the boys move forward or backward. As the
line finally moved around to the entrance, we explained what had happened.
The Disneyland people kicked the boys out of line. They are very
good about that. This was one of the few times I actually had some fun
as I stood in a line.
In our fast-paced world we have become "multitasking" people. It is
easy to become irritated when we are not accomplishing as much as we
like. Have you ever found yourself doing a number of things at the same
time? Have you been in the bathroom getting ready for work and finding
yourself blow-drying your hair, eating a piece of toast, and flushing
the toilet with your foot? Have you watched other people driving their
cars while eating, talking on a cell phone, shaving, putting on makeup,
picking up trash from the seat, putting on nail polish, or reading? While
at work have you experienced talking on the phone and typing on the
computer at the same time? Have your teenagers been doing their
homework, eating, talking on the phone, and watching television-all at
the same time? There seems to be a sense of urgency that drives us and
makes us impatient and angry when we are thwarted or slowed down in
In recent years, a new term has appeared: road rage. With the increase
of cars and traffic jams, some people have crossed over the line from
impatience to sheer rage. Some call it "car wars." Freeways and highways
have become the battleground for high-speed duels, bumper tag, and
accidents. Have you ever been irritated by the driving habits of others?
What are your thoughts about older drivers or foreign drivers? What is
your response to slow-moving cars in front of you? Do you find yourself
yelling at their drivers and telling them to get out of the way? Have you
ever finally gotten past the slow driver in front of you, only to slow down
in front of him or her just to get even? What are your thoughts about
someone who tailgates? I know of one individual who, perhaps unwisely,
stopped his car in the middle of a street and went back to advise the tailgater
(with gusto) of safer driving practices.
People filled with road rage can be seen swearing and giving finger
gestures to other drivers. There have been many news stories of drivers
beating up other drivers. Recently, two women became enraged while
on the road. They played bumper tag for several miles. One of the
women became afraid, turned off, and drove home. The other woman
was so angry that she followed her to her house. The first driver got out
of her car and went back to talk to the woman, who pulled out a gun
and killed the other driver, a mother of three children. Now a husband
has lost his wife (and three children their mother) because of road rage.