Anger is an emotion that’s always been hard for me to control, especially in the heat of the moment. Jaw clenched, fists tightened, heart racing, head pounding–all it would take is one wrong word to send me into a tailspin for the rest of the day because even when I calmed down I was out of energy and emotionally drained.
Not all anger is wrong or unhealthy, but unchecked, uncontrolled anger can be extremely damaging to ourselves and our relationships with others. I’d love to say that I’ve completely learned how to control my anger and prevent unhealthy anger from creeping in–and I certainly do better than I used to–but anger takes a lot of time, discipline, and self-work to prevent and control. But it’s certainly not impossible.
So where do we even start? How do we move from uncontrolled anger to healthy responses and conflict resolution? There are a few things that I try to keep in mind as I’m continuing to learn how to cool my temper and tell my uncontrolled, unhealthy anger “not today.”
1.Take time to learn how you naturally respond to conflict and find healthy coping strategies to prevent and deal with anger.
For me, this is where things like Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram really helped. As I learned more about myself and how I respond to things, I learned that the ways I naturally try to cope with conflict weren’t wrong, they were just different than those I was usually in conflict with. Now I know that when I start feeling angry in the middle of a conversation or after someone has done something to me, I need to mentally and emotionally step away from the situation for a while–not long, but just long enough to reset my emotions and start thinking rationally again. Sometimes this means taking a 15 minute nap; sometimes it means playing a silly game on my phone or scrolling through travel pictures on Instagram. It definitely involves at least a few minutes of prayer–prayer for a calm spirit and clear mind. While it’s not always possible to take this time-out, I do it any time I have the chance so that I can react to conflict with love and understanding instead of rage and anger.
2. Realize that most unhealthy anger stems from selfishness and pride.
For me, the times that it’s easiest for my anger to get out of control is when someone has hurt me or my character, when someone doesn’t believe what I say, or when I feel like someone doesn’t think I’m good enough. It’s always about me. And when I’m not thinking about how my response could hurt others or thinking about whether the situation is really worth my emotions, I let my anger get out of control. But looking back, a majority of those situations, while they felt like the other person was against me, really had a lot less to do with me and a lot more to do with the other person’s own struggles and insecurities. James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” This is why learning coping strategies is so important–when we are slow to anger, we can choose to have a calm conversation rather than yelling angry, nasty words. We can humble ourselves and interact with the person causing that anger in a way that shows them love. We can choose to not let someone else’s emotions and struggles become our own.
3. Learn to discern between healthy and unhealthy anger; then, find appropriate responses for healthy anger.
As I mentioned before, not all anger is wrong or unhealthy. In the Bible, we see plenty of instances of Jesus getting angry, but the situations that bring Him anger and His responses are huge indicators for how we should handle our anger. In all the times we see Jesus angry in the New Testament, it’s primarily at three things: some type of injustice, distractions and barriers to true worship, and malalignment of God’s character and reputation. And His response to those situations always points people back to God and His love. So if we ask ourselves, is my anger selfish or selfless and then proceed to respond in a way that shows who Christ really is, we can begin to take control of our anger. We aren’t expected to never be angry again, but how we act in anger is extremely important as Christians. Ephesians 4 reminds us that as new creations in Christ we should not sin in our anger, stay angry for long, or let Satan get a hold in our lives because of anger.
It can be so easy and quick for anger to get out of control, but if we learn how to prevent ourselves from getting there, how to deal with conflict in healthy ways, how to love the other person, and how to discern which situations deserve our anger and which don’t, we can begin to take control of those emotions, humble our pride, and react in ways that point others to God, rather than ourselves.