“I’m not angry, I’m just hurt.” I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way, but for a great part of my life this could have been my theme song.
Growing up in a southern culture, it was deemed “unlady like” to angry in almost any situation. When I became a Christian in college, I carried this belief into my spiritual llife. Somehow it seemed more “godly” to never be angry. But what was I to do with those bothersome feelings that came whenever I felt mistreated, unappreciated, or lashed out at? Well, those things did hurt—so I pushed the anger down and ran with the “hurt.”
I don’t mean to make light of the times people genuinely feel hurt because of another’s actions. For me, though, the real hurt was• usually quickly eclipsed by righteous indignation at what the other person had done along with a tendency to wallow in my own self-pity. What had I done to deserve this? Why couldn’t the other person see how much they had “hurt” me? I would find myself having imaginary conversations with the one who had wronged me—conversations, I might add, which were always noble and righteous on my part but never on theirs. This could effectively tie up my thought life for days.
Unfortunately when I married, this habit came with me. My husband “hurt” me often. But for one of the first times in my life, I couldn’t go off and nurse my “pain” in private. He lived there too. And unlike me, he wanted to work through it. Guess what? None of the conversations ever went like the ones I had in my mind. The more reasonable he was as we discussed the issue, the more frustrated I became. No matter how “hurt” I was, it was never a given that he would beg my forgiveness and admit it was truly all his fault. Do you know what finally happened? I got really angry. Even I was aware of my anger the first time I sailed a plate at him—it was tupperware and I didn’t REALLY aim at him. Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny the fact that I was angry. And this was just the beginning. I found myself feeling anger often, in many different situations and at many different people. Fortunately for them, my genteel upbringing and overall introverted nature saved them from being pelted with household objects.
To feel anger really took me by surprise and it was not a feeling I welcomed or enjoyed. But I believe that this was the beginning of one of the biggest lessons I continue to learn.
God created us with a myriad of emotions—fear, joy, anger, excitement. We feel different things at different times for so many different reasons. And though I may not be able to control my emotions with great success, I am responsible for my actions.
What does this mean? To switch from “hurt” to “anger” means there is a major shift in responsibility. When I felt that someone had hurt me, I believed it was their responsibility to make it right. I had not asked to be hurt. They did it, they should make it right. If they didn’t, it wasn’t my fault. And more than that, I deserved others’ empathy and consolation. I sought this by “confessing” what I felt the other person had done to me. I never considered this gossip. After all, I was in pain. But anger. I knew that I was responsible for anger and what I did with it. After all the Bible says, “Be angry and sin not.” So to be angry meant that I was responsible for my own actions or how I chose to work out my anger.
For me, to acknowledge to myself that I was angry was a big hurtle.
Usually it seems that if I desire something strongly and don’t get it, I genuinely feel disappointment and even hurt. The anger comes when I have somehow made something an expectation or goal and another person purposely or inadvertently blocks it.
What exactly does this look like? One example is in the area of relationships. I desire to have warm, honest, loving relationships with other people. This is a good desire but how I go about achieving this is often another matter. I feel I have often tried to “earn” friendship by kind deeds, acts of thoughtfulness, and good listening skills.
It works as long as my deeds are rewarded with appreciation and a general sense of being valued in the relationship. But when someone I befriend doesn’t reciprocate in the “correct” way, I can feel hurt. The real focus becomes my motives (PROVERBS 16:2). When something I desire can be blocked by another person, my “hurt” is usually anger at their keeping me from getting what I really want.
In some of my relationships, I have now realized that in an unspoken way, I have made certain things my goals. I wanted to always be considered a priority—to be more important than other friends and I wanted to be affirmed in actions as to how much I was valued. If these needs weren’t met, my hurt drove me away from the friendship and into a place where bitterness could breed in my heart.
Who were they to treat me this way? I’m hurting and what do they care? My hurt had crossed into anger because my “goal” to have friends on my terms had been blocked.
At this point I feel there are basically two paths to choose from in dealing with my feelings. One involves denying my responsibility and placing the blame on others. The alternative, while more difficult, is far more healing. I acknowledge my own pain, which may include anger at another person, and then I choose how I will act on it.
Prayer is necessary—both to confess my sins and often to forgive the other person as well. And often, I need to go to the other person to talk through the issue.
I recently did this with a good friend. We had been somewhat estranged for many months because of many of the previously mentioned expectations. It was awkward and left me feeling way too vulnerable. But as it turned out, we had both put expectations on the other person and had both chosen to walk away “hurt” rather than take on the responsibility of dealing honestly with our feelings. We cried, we asked each other for forgiveness, and we mutually confessed our pain and anger. Then we moved on to a new, and hopefully deeper place in our friendship.
Living outside my own culture has caused me to have far fewer friendships that I did in the States. And I believe Satan actively attacks the ones I form here. This lesson is even more important to me now because I believe good relationships are key to our wellbeing and survival in a foreign culture.
Are you so hurt or angry with someone right now that you cannot bear to be around them?
Maybe it’s an opportunity for you to make a true offering to God and to restore a relationship. “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:23-24
View the original print magazine where this article was first published.