How to control your anger

before it hurts you and everyone you love

How to control your anger

Someone has hijacked your project at work. Your friend has betrayed your trust. Family members are infuriating you with their actions and attitudes. You find yourself getting irritable, then resentful.

Then what?

You lose it. You feel a rush of anger, a brief sense of vindication and power, and then release. You let a well-timed zinger fly. You strategize, giving them a taste of their own medicine. You yell, criticize, or condemn.

You might not admit it, but secretly you know that part of the problem is you. Regardless of what other people do, you know that you are an angry person, and you’re not sure what to do about it. Your anger has taken on a personality of its own.  Uncontrolled anger is hell-bent on killing something or someone. In the end, it will probably hurt you most.

Anger is fickle. Designed as a warning mechanism for injustice, anger is the catalyst that can move you into constructive action, but it can also launch you into verbal, physical, or emotional explosions that cause irreparable damage. Most people can sense their anger building and calm down, but many feel helpless to prevent their anger from unleashing on family, neighbors, co-workers, or unsuspecting salespeople.

If you’re prone to angry outbursts, you’ve also probably tried some handy techniques that people have suggested, like counting to 10 or biting your tongue. Chances are, bottling up anger just creates a bigger explosion down the road. Or anger may be manifesting itself in your physical health: high blood pressure, anxiety, and headaches.

The Bible gives other warnings about the dangers of anger:

  • Foolish behavior (Prov. 14:17)
  • Dissention and arguments (Prov. 15:1)
  • Unrighteous living (Jms. 1 19)
  • Retaliation, violence, murder (Gen. 4:4-8)
  • Grudges, bitterness, jealousy (Gen. 27:41)
  • Rebellion (2 Sam. 13:21-29)

So how can you get your anger under control?

The first step is identifying the source of your anger. You might need a therapist or counselor to help you with this.

  1. Injustice or intentional harm—this is a good source of anger—it serves as a warning mechanism to propel you toward positive change. This kind of anger protects your family and demands justice. However, when an angry response stems from pride or embarrassment, the result is retaliation or revenge, not justice. Nobody wins in a revenge war.
  2. Fear—When we are afraid of losing something or being exploited, we will respond in a fight-or-flight pattern. Flight hides, but fight lashes out, looking for someone to blame. And when you blame others, you exacerbate your anger problem.
  3. Abuse–If you have abuse in your background, you will have to address the impact that this trauma has had on your emotional health. Victims of abuse often suffer from anger, which comes from deep fear and helplessness. Anger is an excellent indicator of abuse (past or present) and the need for safety and professional care to address the trauma itself. Working through abuse is a deeper and more important process than working through anger. Unaddressed abuse will not go away because a person learns to hide fear and subdue the anger over it, especially if years have passed since an abuse happened.
  4. Fatigue—Most people in Western culture are just plain exhausted most of the time. Tiredness exacerbates a skewed perspective. When you’re tired, everything becomes a crisis. You have no patience for difficult relationships, demanding schedules, or grace-filled conversations. You are prone to arguments, over-exaggerations, and over-reactions. Tiredness is a breeding ground for anger and hostility.
  5. Grief–Anger is a normal and necessary step in the grieving process, and it can come and go at will. This is just an emotional signal that you are adjusting to a new norm, and one that you didn’t want. Accepting reality and looking for new ways to embrace and adjust will help keep the anger from becoming debilitating.
  6. Perfectionism—Yes, believe it or not—doing everything right can make you angry person. Why? Perfectionism is a myth. (See Brene Brown’s Oprah talk on Perfectionism)! Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and frustration—or endless fatigue—by demanding perfection of yourself and others. Give yourself grace and just do what you can in the timeframe that you can. Then enjoy your life.

No problem, you say. I never lose my cool. I never fight with anyone.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have an anger problem. You might demonstrate passive-aggressive tendencies, like making snide or cruel comments, being sarcastic, stonewalling the people who irritate you, or bottling up your anger up until you blow. Or perhaps you control everything so that you’re rarely disappointed or inconvenienced.

If that’s you, you also have an anger problem, and it’s probably coming from one of those 6 reasons. But you’re not alone.

Whatever the source of you anger, your anger can be fixed. You can learn new behavior. The second step to handling your anger is preparing yourself for it and responding to it appropriately. Here are 7 simple suggestions for controlling your anger—no counting to ten required:

  1. Get enough sleep (you can fold the laundry tomorrow). Shut down electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime and cut out the sugar and caffeine (especially in the evening) so you can fall to sleep more easily and rest more deeply.
  2. Give yourself permission to skip something you feel that you should do. If you don’t get to the bottom of your to-do list, so what? Become the master of your priority list rather than letting lists master you. If you didn’t yell at someone, the day was a huge success.
  3. Speak positive words. Instead of “You never . . . ,” thank others for what they do well. Instead of grumbling about your stress or that annoying co-worker (because grumbling leads to anger), be thankful for the blessings you enjoy. Find the happy in every situation.
  4. Think before you speak. Consider if what you’re about to say is encouraging, helpful, or kind. It may be better not to say anything. Then let it go. Seething about it only directs you toward a future blow-up.
  5. Assume the best in people. Instead of responding with anger or annoyance when someone offends you, take time to assume that his/her words were not spoken with malice. When you feel an angry retort to some offense surging inside of you, ask for clarification. And listen.
  6. Take a long look. At the end of your life, which situations will have been worth your passionate attention (or obsession)? Remember that people are in a constant state of maturation. We are all growing and learning; we’re not done yet. Focus your energy into growing yourself into a better person. Why waste your energy fretting over other people’s immaturity?
  7. Set up a system to keep yourself accountable and focused on change. Here are some ideas:
  • Keep a journal and record how many times you get angry each day and how you respond to your anger
  • Do a Bible study on anger
  • Memorize Scripture verses about self-control and anger
  • Post reminders around your house, car, or work to keep your cool
  • Ask a friend or spouse to check on your progress
  • Seek professional help, and check in regularly

Angry outbursts are a waste of your time and energy. Instead of exploding, be a person of action and purpose; when you feel anger churning inside your body, take a minute to determine its source, and then decide on a healthy course of action. Your passion can do irreparable damage, or it can accomplish something truly remarkable.