Battling Anger and the Fight for Control – Who Wins?

English: Angry cat

That's. Mine

Anger and I have been friends for years. We’re comfortable with each other, you might say. We move in the same circles. I’ve tried to “get a grip” several ways – it seems like a million of them -, and few seem to really work.

Battling anger with kids in the house is a fight especially full of danger. It’s so easy to explode. You wake up in the morning, full of optimizism and you think, “Today, it’s going to be different. Today, I’m not going to get angry. I’m going to take a deep breath, no matter what, and stay calm.”

Yet, doesn’t it seem that life beats down on you at those times? All the potential chaos becomes realized. The kids take a vacation on respect and obedience, deciding that now is the time to yell, bounce of the walls and destroy the furniture. The computer you use to work decides that today, of all days, it’s going to go as. slow. as. possible.

The plumbing breaks. The refrigerator turns into a heater. The microwave catches on fire. The money you thought was gauranteed to be in the bank has been put on hold for another two days.

In other words, every possible thing that could test your resolve… happens at once.

Anger is Acceptable, Or So Society Says

Our society says anger is good; it’s healthy, if expressed in a healthy way. If you don’t believe me, think about the last few times you told someone you were angry about something. What’d they say? I can almost gaurantee (almost) that at least one person said something like, “I’d be angry, too.” In other words, your anger is acceptable; I relate, understand, and condone.

Another statement often made is, “You have a right to be angry.” Anger is a right. It’s okay for you to be angry, if for no other reason than you have a right to that anger. “Don’t hold it in,” is another common response.

We’re taught, through society, that anger is an acceptable method of emotional expression. While psychiatrists will add, “if expressed in a healthy way”, this addition is often left out by other people. We’re taught we have rights – the right of choice, the right of free speech, the right to control our own destinies. We’re taught that we can have it our way, if we only express ourselves. We’re taught that we are deserving of the finer things in life.

Is it any wonder then, when the reality hits, that we explode?

Anger Is Alive

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this lately, although not near as much time as I’d like, while trying to apply biblical principles to my life. Proverbs 15:1 says, ” A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Ecclesiasties 7:9 says, “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8 both say that we’re supposed to put off anger.

I was surprised to find that the Bible talks about the spirit of anger like it’s alive. Yet, after reading that and paying attention, it really is alive.

You walk into the house after a hard day at work. You’re frustrated and angry about something that happened. Your wife or husband asks how your day was; you respond by snapping at them. They snap back. The kids do what they normally do and, instead of the calm response they might normally give, your spouse snaps at the kids.

The kids, in turn, are hurt, get angry and start to fight with each other. The cat gets in the way and somebody nudges it a little too hard. It turns around and spits at the dog, spiking it on the nose. The poor dog is stuck with nothing to do but bite its own tail.

Anger passes from person to person as our ideas of self respect, what we deserve, indignation and personal offense rise to the front.

Anger is About Control

After much thought, I’ve come to my own personal conclusion. For me, at least, much of anger is about control and almost entirely motivated by self. Not all – God doesn’t say “don’t be angry”, He says, “be angry and sin not”. So I do think there is a “righteous anger”. I just think that most of our anger… well, isn’t.

When your spouse snaps at you, it’s often hard not to snap back. Why? Because their anger made you feel bad. You don’t like the fact that they made you feel bad, so you snap back with your own anger.

With your kids, how many times have you thought, “They know I don’t like it when they…” If they know, then they must be doing it (whatever it is that’s making you angry) on purpose. This lack of respect and obedience hurts, and you respond by lashing back.

We get angry because our feelings are hurt – because the person didn’t do what we would have done, or respond as we would have responded, in any given situation. We internalize, and make it about us. In other words, the other person’s thoughtlessness (because, if they had thought, they’d have done the same thing we would do) hurt.

We get frustrated because things aren’t going our way. If the situation continues to not go our way, we get angry.

Ultimately, we get angry because of control. We’re told we deserve x; we’re told we have rights; we’re told we have control. It’s a lie, and every time things don’t go our way, that lie is shoved in our faces. We react in anger in order to reassert our supposed control over things. Because we deserve it.

With most instances, after you’ve blown up and had a minute to calm down, do you feel better? I’m betting many, if honest, would have to say, “Yes.” If you’re saying yes, it’s because the anger made you feel better. In an infantile way, you’re yelling, “You hurt me, and I’m gonna make you pay!”

In short, for the most part, anger comes from the loss of control over our lives.

How’s That Going For You?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I have control over my life. I’ve controlled it right into the middle of a stormy ocean and punched a huge hole in the bottom. I’d say, “That’s why I’m so angry,” but the truth is, I’m angry because I choose to be – because it makes me feel better. It makes me feel like I’m in the all important control.

My, don’t we love the driver’s seat.

The sad thing is that I know if I can just pass the reigns over and relinquish that control, life would be a whole bunch better. If I could just “let go and let God”… well, it’s not near as easy as it sounds. You have to be willing to let go of the “right” to run, or ruin, your life.

I haven’t figured out how to do that. I told my kids, “You kids are going to end up telling people, ‘If Mom breaks out into singing hymns, she’s really angry.'” I’ve taken enough deep breaths to die of hyperventaliation ten times.

Somewhere, there is an answer. I just haven’t figured out what it is yet – which is why life is a work in progress, and this blog always falls under “To Be Continued.”

4 thoughts on “Battling Anger and the Fight for Control – Who Wins?

  1. Excellent post, thank you! This is an insightful exploration into the connection between anger and control. I think with anger we so often fall into one of two extremes: either we ignore it, or we nurture it, but neither of these extremes is good for our souls or for the people around us. The Bible seems to suggest in a number of ways that anger has some valid role to play in our relationships. In the Old Testament, God is patient but often moved by anger; in the Psalms, David is often portrayed as being angry at God, and he was described as a “man after God’s own heart;” in the Gospels, Jesus is both behaviorally angry in the Temple, as well as verbally angry with the Pharisees (e.g., “You hypocrites!”); and for instance, in the first chapter of James, we are encouraged to be “slow to anger.” I find that many of us have difficulty knowing, then, exactly what anger should look like in a relationship. Thank you again for pointing out that, when anger is used to control, it isn’t good for anyone.

  2. Thanks, Dr. Flanagan – Thanks for your post, as well. I was extremely interested in this part:

    “It’s an awesome thing to sit in a room with a parent and a teen, to watch the parent say, “Wow, you’re really angry, and I’m angry, too. I want to hear more about why you’re angry.” If I was a gambling man, I’d bet every time that the kid’s eyes don’t stay dry for long. ”

    It was pointed out to me in a Facebook comment that the overall tone of my article made it sound like I was against any expression of anger at all. I’m not; I believe exactly what you stated in your comment – we fall into an unhealthy extreme, one side or another, and never quite manage to meet in the middle.

    I ran out of space in the article, but I also think the distinction between “you MADE me angry because” and “I GOT angry because” is extremely important. Good thing this is a blog, and “To be continued” really can be continued. 🙂

    Thanks again for your feedback and for the advice in your article!

  3. Pingback: Submissive? That’s Not Me…

  4. Pingback: Submissive? That’s Not Me… | Life - It's a Work In Progress

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