Earlier today Steven took our toddler, Declan, out to our minivan so he could pretend to drive while Steven loaded some recycling. Declan loves to sit in the front seat, move the steering wheel, and honk the horn.
He hates when it’s time to be done.
When Steven brought Declan back inside the house he screamed and cried and thrashed. Tantrums are normal for toddlers. They can’t adequately communicate what they want. They are not in control of very much of their little lives. Adults choose where they go, when, and when they leave. It’s understandably infuriating. Plus toddlers can’t regulate their own emotions or reason with themselves. They have almost no coping skills for intense emotions, but all of this usually changes over time as they grow into adults and develop the ability to communicate and regulate for themselves.
The closer we get to adulthood the more we are expected to be able to handle our emotions and express them in culturally acceptable ways. Unfortunately, the culturally acceptable ways of handling anger aren’t always the healthiest ways.
Anger is born out of pain or the threat of pain to ourselves or someone we care about. Anger provides energy and motivation to act and make changes that will end or prevent harm.
Take Declan for example: he was physically removed from an activity he enjoyed, he did not understand why, and he (presumably) didn’t believe Steven understood that he wanted to keep playing. Would you be hurt if someone close to you failed to understand how bad you wanted something and then forcefully removed you from where you wanted to stay? Yes. Would you be angry? Yes. Would you express that anger? Yes!
The purpose of expressing your anger would be, like Declan, to gain freedom from the physical relocation and to try and create an understanding between the two of you about how much you wanted to stay and how much the offender’s actions have hurt you. In other words, to stop the hurt.
How you express anger is a product of what words and actions you believe will be effective at ending the specific pain.
But none of us are perfect, and often what we believe will help actually causes us more pain and, therefore, more anger. That’s what happens when we let anger lead and choose our actions for us.
Think about the last time you said/did something you regretted because you were angry…
Yeah, let’s not do that again.
“A wise man controls his temper. He knows that anger causes mistakes.”Proverbs 14:29 TLB
Here’s how to lead your anger instead of the other way around:
1. Recognize and believe you are in control of your actions even when you are angry.
Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin…” (ESV). Anger isn’t a sin, it’s what you choose to do, say, think, and believe when you are angry that can cross the line. It is possible to be angry, express, and resolve it without sin.
2. When you notice you are angry, ask yourself, “What hurts/threatens to hurt?”
3. Once you’ve identified the source or threat of hurt, ask yourself, “What do I want to happen instead?” Followed by, “What actions, thoughts, beliefs will produce that outcome?”
Ask God to give you wisdom to see the truth about the consequences, good and bad, of your choices. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5 NIV).
4. Do, say, and think the things that will produce the outcome you want and which won’t cause you, or others, more pain.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. That’s part of his job!
“But Sara, when I’m angry I’m too angry to think through all this! There isn’t that much time!”
I feel you. Anger is intense and it wants you to act NOW.
Do you see the underlying beliefs in that objection though? “I’m too angry to think through this”…”This won’t work for me”…”I’ll never have that level of control over my anger”…
Go back to step one: 1. Recognize and believe you are in control of your actions even when you are angry.
You can choose to think and believe differently about your anger. I know it’s hard and it will take time, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
I mean, which is really worse:
Working to learn something new that will result in less pain for you and the ones you love, or
Giving up control of yourself to your anger and getting more pain and broken relationships in return?
“Fools give full vent to their rage,Proverbs 29:11 NIV
But the wise bring calm in the end.”
You’ve probably also noticed that my suggestions on how to lead your anger don’t involve “letting it go” or trying to ignore it. Anger won’t just be “let go”. It has a job to do and it will get louder and bigger and more aggressive until the hurt is resolved. Listening to your anger and letting it show you what hurts/threatens hurt and provide you with energy and motivation to make necessary changes in the beginning will prevent it from getting to the point that you feel “out of control”. If you’ve been believing that you “can’t” control your temper, it’s probably because you’ve been trying to ignore it until it gets too hot to handle!
Here is a verse I often have to say to myself when I notice I’m getting very angry with my boys:
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”James 1:19-20 NLT
Letting my anger lead me won’t make my children behave. When I’m angry because they aren’t listening well it’s because I’m hurt by their disrespect and devaluing of me. Yelling, screaming, saying mean things, and last-straw punishments won’t teach them to respect or value me or others.
Calmly telling them that I’m angry and hurt by their disrespect then enforcing consequences designed to teach them to make better choices expresses my feelings, resolves my anger, and teaches them that their actions have consequences for themselves and others that they want to take into consideration. It also teaches them how to communicate and regulate their own anger!
Well, this post is long enough. There is always more that can be said, but that doesn’t mean you want to read it, lol. I want to know what you would like to read. What emotion should we learn to lead next? Let me know in the comments and subscribe so you don’t miss it!