Fortunately for me, these resentments were not over any really significant issues, but they were things that held me back. I had always noticed that the most attractive and smartest people seemed to be at an advantage to other people, and I had a hard time struggling with the idea that some people start out with a competitive edge, which others do not have. I seemed to resent these people in general, but there were two specific people from high school that I found myself thinking of in anger. I had actually not responded to a friend request from one of them on a social networking site, though, in hindsight, I realized that, while I perceived that person as being snobby, I could not actually recall any incident where she treated me poorly. I began letting go of my anger and bitterness by letting go of my bitterness towards her. It made me realize that much of what I perceive as anger might actually be jealousy or another negative emotion, but one that I am less comfortable confronting than anger.
Another thing that Adams suggest is important for someone to ease the bitterness in their hearts is to seek reconciliation with others. After a rift, a Christian has the burden of approaching the other party, admitting the Christian's wrongdoing in the matter, specifically asking for forgiveness, and then asking the other party if they have forgiven him. That does not mean that someone carries the full burden of reconciliation:
As far as his part is concerned, one is obligated to do everything in he can to bring about reconciliation. However, he cannot predict how the other person will respond to reconciliation overtures. All he can do, all that God requires him to do, is to confess any known sin, ask for forgiveness, and earnestly seek to make restitution wherever necessary and possible- all in order to bring about reconciliation."
Before I could begin dealing with my anger, I felt like I had to do what I could to try to reconcile with people to whom I had been bitter and angry in the past. For me, this involved accepting the friend request from the girl from my high school, even though I was uncomfortable doing so. Moreover, I explained to her why there had been a delay in my acceptance. I sent her an email that said that I had unfairly pegged her as someone snobbish, and that I had apparently based that on the fact that she was very attractive, because I could not recall her ever treating anyone poorly. I went further than explaining my sins, just as Adams suggests is necessary, and I asked for her forgiveness. Just doing that, I felt as if a burden was lifted off of my shoulders. The fact that she accepted my apology and told me that she thought she had acted a little snobby in high school made me feel a little better, but the real relief came when I was honest about my sins and honestly sought forgiveness. I knew I had no control over whether or not she would forgive my actions, but that I was the only person that could control whether or not I apologized for how I had treated her.
One of the difficulties that a person confronts in counseling is that change is difficult.
People would not continue to engage in behavior, especially self-destructive behavior, if there was not some type of reward for engaging in that behavior. Therefore, getting people to change means that the counselor needs to motivate them to give up the short-term rewards provided by their behavior and focus on long-term goals. From a personal perspective, it is easy to see how allowing my anger to control me felt good in the short-term. I was able to release pent-up emotions and vent them upon the people making me unhappy. Moreover, anger often gave me the illusion of being productive, because my anger made people fear displeasing me and more likely to give me what I asked them to give me. Taking steps to control my anger, I initially saw a very big decline in how I perceived my own productivity. This led to a decline in motivation, and prompted me to look to Adams to help me understand how a Christian can remain motivated in the face of change.
The first thing that Adams suggests is to accept the fact that change will be difficult, and to embrace the idea that, as a Christian, I have put myself on a pathway to live a more difficult life. "Because of his high calling in Christ,...
He must live a life consistent with that to which he has been called, and that life is a life that reflects Christ's life."
While a believer cannot attain perfection, the reality is that Christians are constantly urged to strive to be better. The "Scriptures urge the believer to be what God has declared him to be in Christ."
Failing to believe that I had the strength to change, I realized, did not only reflect poorly upon my belief in myself, but also upon my belief in Christ, because Christ makes all things possible. Therefore, I promised myself that I would not give up. I also promised myself that I would remind myself that I am human and that I might make mistakes, but that making a mistake does mean that I can accept failure.
Furthermore, taking a religious approach to anger management means that I needed to look outside of short-term rewards. Reward and punishment are significant motivators in shaping behavior. However, a Christian must take a long-term view of reward and punishment. Just because a behavior yields seemingly positive, short-term, temporal results, does not mean that behavior yields long-term positive results. In fact, many of the things that feel good in the moment are the very things that can provide the most difficulty, when looked at from the vantage point of eternal life. "The Christian must take a Hebrews 11 viewpoint on the present life. Rewards/punishments today, therefore, are conditioned and highly colored by the eternal reward/punishment structure."
As a Christian, I obviously must be concerned about the impact that my actions have on eternity. However, it is almost as important for me to recall that my actions have an impact on the people around me. I am reminded of a parable about a boy with a bad temper whose father had him drive a nail into a fence every time he lost his temper. Eventually the boy learned that it was easier to hold his temper than to drive the nails into the fence. However, once the boy learned to hold his temper, his father had him remove nails from the fence. The boy learned that the damage he had done from driving those nails into the fence could never be undone.
I relied upon this parable to remind myself that there are long-term consequences every time I lose my temper, not only in eternity, but also in this life. It also reminded me to ask myself what right I have to scar the people around me.
Adams also counsels against failing to effectuate changes that stick. Merely accomplishing short-term behavior change is not enough to say that I have changed my behavior patterns. Talking about when a thief is no longer a thief, Adams dismisses that a thief ceases being a thief when he stops stealing.
On the contrary, he points out that no man is a thief all of the time, so the cessation of the behavior does not mark any underlying changes. There could be many external factors preventing a thief from stealing that do not indicate any change in intent or motivation. Instead, for a thief to cease being a thief, he must become something else.
Therefore, for me to cease being a person who responds in anger, I must make myself something else. It is not enough for me to control my anger; I must transform myself into a person whose immediate response is not anger. At this point, I have not succeeded in completely controlling my internal responses, and would still characterize myself as a person with anger management issues, but I am still working on it and believe that I will be able to completely transform myself.
Why is it so important to control the motivation and not just the behavior? Adams suggests that it is critical because, in times of high stress and crises, people revert back to old patterns and behaviors:
Unless he has been "reprogrammed" or rehabituated, when the chips are down, when he is tired, sick, or under great pressure, a counselee's good resolves and temporary cessation of [the behavior one seeks to eradicate] will not last. He will revert to his former manner of life because he is still programmed to do so. The old sinful habit patterns have not been replaced by new ones. Until that occurs, he will remain vulnerable to sinful reversion.
Ganz makes the same point, when…
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