How to Respond to Angry People with Too Many Needs

How to Respond to Angry People with Too Many Needs

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Anger is a relationship-fracturing phenomenon that happens too often between individuals. The angry heart desires something from someone who does not provide it or is not responding quickly enough. Because their desire is not finding satiation, the craving soul begins to manipulate the other person with anger. I’m speaking of sinful anger, of course. It is as though they are saying, “I will only be content if you meet this need.” In nearly all these cases, the short-tempered person has too many needs.

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Primary Needs

Without being the word police, what if we took time to think about needs and desires in the most technical and straight-laced way? It might be an excellent exercise, before you read further, to make a quick list of what you believe are genuine needs. Here is my list, and you will find only a few things that reach the high bar of actual needs. I have placed them in two categories, physical and spiritual.

  • Physical Needs: Food – Water – Air – Shelter (Possibly Clothing)
  • Spiritual Needs: Regeneration

Of course, there are secondary needs, like love, which are essential—in a secondary sense, but there are only six primary needs in the most technical sense. If you were on a deserted island, love would not be of utmost importance; you could live a long life without it—and even more effectively if you are a Christian because of the benefits of knowing and experiencing the love of God. That said, the problem for too many angry needy people is that they add their secondary needs list to their primary needs, which is why the temptation of anger assaults these enlarged, ravenous souls.

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Secondary Lovers

Desiring a good thing versus needing a good thing resides on different planes. It’s not that you ignore the lower plane desires; image bearers should always reciprocate secondary desires to each other. Love is the second great command (Matthew 22:39), though the lack of getting it from someone is not all-controlling. The danger of elevating lower matters to primary matters is that you may become demanding or even manipulative if you do not receive it as though you were fighting for air or water.

When secondary needs, desires, cravings, or lusts become primary in our lives, we will always live in relational disharmony where individuals are no longer equal. There will be the greater versus the lesser where the needy lesser makes demands of the greater—their functional idol who is withholding the cherished desire. These managed souls have expanded need categories that place undue anxiety on relationships as they exert power over those they can manipulate until they get what they demand.

Most of the time, the needy, angry person has a low-grade fever that rides under the surface of their lives. It is more subtle than the culture’s rage, but it is powerful enough to rob them of the joy that Christ offers with the victory He won through the gospel. You will recognize them by their fruit. For example, here are a few illustrations of how expanded need categories place excessive demands on others while draining both souls.

  • “Why didn’t you pass the salad dressing when I asked for it?”
  • “Why were you standing there so long talking? You knew I wanted to go!”
  • “Mom, his bowl of ice cream is bigger than mine.”
  • “The reason I don’t like you is that you are a critical person.”
  • “You never tell me that you love me.”

Love the Needy

The question becomes, how do you help such a person? Well, you don’t want to do what they do by reciprocating in kind. But choosing not to be angry at the angry manipulator does not mean the only option left is passivity. In Luke 6:27-49, Jesus decided not to get angry or become a doormat. You can be like Christ too. Jesus was an aggressive, proactive man when responding to unlovable people, though His aggression differed from the angry image-bearer who manipulates others to ascertain ungodly, self-centered desires.

But I say to you who hear, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Sometimes His love looked like he was overlooking what was happening. Other times His love was corrective or confrontational, though never punitive. He did not become sinfully angry (aggressive) or retreat out of fear (passive) when He did not get His way. Sinful aggressive, or passive behavior is not the way of Christ.

The fundamental concept to keep in mind is that if your worldview is others-centered, which Christ’s was, you’re in the proper position to respond well when dealing with angry people. Others-centered disappointment focuses on how to redeem the opportunity for God’s fame. Self-centered disappointment bends God’s fame into self-glorying contrivances that keep the angry heart preeminent, and everyone else manipulated subjects.

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Redeem the Needy

Step number one is to choose that you’re going to love this person like Jesus. The “love is a choice” cliche is clever, but it is a challenging maxim for living well in God’s world, especially if you’re the manipulated subject. Perhaps thinking about how God responded to you when you were difficult would calibrate and prepare your soul for the next challenging encounter. For example, His transformative love was so powerful that you chose to follow Him for the rest of your life. You could say that He loved you into humble submission.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

The result of His affection for you changed your life forever—assuming you are regenerated. Alternately, Satan’s anger coming out of you complicates an already strained relationship by polarizing the fracture while pushing the other person farther from you and God. Contrariwise, Christ’s love pouring out of you inspires others to draw closer to you and God. The active, targeted, and specified kindness of God working through you leads people to a transformed life (Romans 2:4).

Mature Christians are like Jesus; they ask for little while their hearts are big with love as they enjoy the freedom found in the blessedness of nothingness. Immature, insecure, and demanding people have a long list of primary needs, especially when people disappoint them. The only way they know how to get those desires met is through manipulative anger. Don’t be like them. They are not big but small people with foolish hearts. It takes a boatload of maturity to respond to this kind of adversity with the love of God.

Expanded Love

Frequently, when a person thinks about love being the proper response to an angry soul, their impulse is to fire back with “Jesus turned over the tables,” which is their way of communicating to you their truncated and myopic view of love. They are wrong on at least two points.

One – Love has a broad spectrum that includes corrective action, walking away, confronting the sinner, and rebuking a fool, in addition to overlooking sin, encouraging the angry person, and examining the log in your eye. If you have a narrow view of love, you will miss many redemptive moments when fierce courage is the best answer for the hyper-needy, angry soul.

Two – Yes, Jesus did turn over those tables, but I talked about the three aspects of His expression of anger in the righteous anger chapter. Be as angry as you need to be as long as it’s coming from (1) a heart of humility, (2) has redemptive elements to it, and (3) those in earshot of your anger have a compelling desire to draw near to you.

Call to Action

  1. What did you put on your need list? Is it larger than mine?
  2. If you have an expanded need list, will you make a case as to why you have them on the primary level?
  3. How do you typically respond when others don’t meet your secondary need list?
  4. Keeping in the context of this chapter, what desires manage you? If they do, why do they?
  5. In what specific way do you need to change to help an angry friend change?
  6. After reading this chapter, what specific, detailed, and practical way can you change?

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