Anger is quite a useful emotion.
When I’m angry, I can stop feeling sad, anxious, apprehensive, melancholy, stressed, guilty, inadequate, or uncomfortable – the anger drives all other emotions out before it like a scouring wind.
If my husband is tired and stressed about school and the kids, it can be hard for me to simply be present with him as he’s feeling that dissatisfaction and frustration; his emotions make me uncomfortable, on the one hand, and on the other, I’m jealous of the time he has with the kids. Simply being angry at him – for having the emotions that I dislike, and for not appreciating what he has right now that I wish I could have – is far easier than being with him and supporting him. It’s less complex and more comfortable.
The same principle applies with my kids, my coworkers, the situations and instruments I deal with at work, and even myself. The intricate web of emotion created by daily life is confusing and uncomfortable for me, and getting angry gives me an emotion I can understand while pushing away all the other emotions that are so hard to handle.
Unfortunately, of course, this kind of irrational and unjust anger is incredibly damaging to my relationships with people. It’s not great for a marriage when a wife gets angry every time her husband has an emotion that’s not positive! And it doesn’t result in a secure and happy childhood when a mother flips out at her children, inconsistently and impulsively, for normal childish behaviors. I know this, so I try to control my anger. It might be the easiest emotion, my default emotional response, but it isn’t the emotion that I want to characterize my relationships at home or at work.
My primary strategies these days are two-fold: a preventative strand, that works on creating margin in my life so that I can better handle uncomfortable emotions; and a crisis management strand, that gives me ways to pause the anger response pathway and hopefully step out of it. Prevention involves things like regular prayer, consistent time in the Word, and sufficient sleep and time outside. Crisis management looks like counting to ten when I feel my anger rising, or offering up quick and instant prayers for peace or grace (written/memorized prayers are really helpful here, but sometimes just a wordless prayer – a silent plea to heaven, eyes raised, soul yearning – is all I can lift up in the moment).
What are some of your tactics for keeping anger from running (and ruining) your life?