Have you ever wondered how to get angry the right way? Wait! IS there a right way to get angry? Yes and no. If you want to achieve mental wholeness, you’ll need to learn how to get angry without losing your cool.
People who know me know would describe me as a mild-tempered, polite person. One who would never think of telling someone to shut up. In 30 years of teaching, I’ve never once used that command with my students. But I haven’t always been like that.
Family legend paints me as an unhappy, surly child. According to my mom, one of my first full sentences consisted of two angry little words, “Shut up!”
Church-folk would look at me, dancing green eyes, burnished red curls bouncing around the neckline of my double-knit polyester church dress, and pay me a compliment. “My, don’t you look pretty today!”
“Shut up!” I would growl, shooting daggers from my eyes.
Taken aback, they would turn away, muttering under their breath about the ill-behaved toddler. One day, my father had enough. He promised to take his belt to me if I should ever respond to another person with my favorite sentence.
Instead of telling the next hapless victim to, “Shut up!” I cagily shortened my phrase and replied with a squinty-eyed, angry sounding, “Shut!”
Of course, rumors quickly spread that the second Strawn girl needed her mouth washed out with soap for using potty-words.
As soon as I learned to open doors, I learned the cathartic power statement of slamming them. After not getting my way or squabbling with my sister, the family could track my location by the chain of slamming doors shaking the walls of our home.
Once again, my bewildered parents threatened punishment if I slammed another door. I compromised by shoving the door with all my might and catching it by the knob at the last minute. Sometimes my fingers got in the way.
My Grandma Bonlie often shook her head in despair, wondering if I would always linger under a black cloud of anger.
What to do with All Those Emotions?
As I watch my daughter and son-in-law raise our first grandchild, I can’t help but compare my outbursts with his. He had a meltdown or two this summer that looked, well, like a slice of cheese gently conforming to a burger on the frying pan.
His emotions (usually frustration because we couldn’t understand him) caused him to melt into a heap on the floor. Sometimes he sobbed quietly. The countdown to the meltdowns often involved head shaking, a torrent of ‘No, no, no, no!’ and maybe a
After he wilts, his parents will gently give him the words to explain his feelings. “You feel frustrated right now that we won’t buy you a water gun.” Or, “You feel disappointed that you can’t have another cookie.”
Empathetic parenting has come a long way in the last half a century. My parents and their contemporaries were more apt to say, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
(A quick disclaimer here—I have wonderful parents. They parented to the best of their abilities and the available knowledge at the time. I harbor no hard feelings for their parenting choices. Likewise, our daughters have forgiven us for our parenting errors).
I grew up thinking that emotions fell into one of two categories: good, or bad. The fruits of the Spirit qualified as the good ones, and everything else sat firmly in the bad category. Emotions seemed pretty black and white to me. Until this summer.
What does the Bible Really Say About Anger?
One morning I opened my Bible to Ephesians 4:26 in The Message version and read this: “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—”
My Bible dropped from my hands. What?! We have cosmic permission to feel anger. The footnote referred to Psalm 4:4, so I looked that one up, too.
Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.The New Living Translation
Maybe I had misunderstood God’s views about anger. I distinctly remembered reading the Bible from cover to cover in family worship one year. And it seemed like God got angry at the Israelites an awful lot. His anger blazed, consumed, and burned.
I came away from family worship with a deep belief that since I wasn’t God, I had to rein my anger in. Better yet, I need to overcome it, ignore it, and relegate it the back burner of my life.
But we all know what happens when we leave the flame going under a pot on the back burner. Eventually, it boils over.
The key, it appears, lies in what we do with the emotion. Paul continues his advice on anger by saying,
—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.The Message
The Bible doesn’t say that anger is evil. It says that what we do with that emotion can cause problems in our lives. In other words, we need to learn how to get angry.
David suggests that we think about what angers us and address it the next day. Paul counsels that we acknowledge our angry emotions and make sure they don’t turn into fuel for revenge. For Paul, that means taking care of the problem as soon as possible.
A Deeper Look at Anger
If we want to experience mental wholeness, we need to learn how to incorporate mental self-care into our lives. Learning how to get angry without losing our cool will help us feel better emotionally.
Anger often presents itself as a secondary emotion. When we feel rejected or anxious, we might react in anger. Think of it this way. When you trap a wolverine, the animal feels fear, but it projects ferocious anger. Wolverines caught in live traps constructed of sturdy logs have actually eaten partially through their traps. Not an easy feat for a 30-pound mammal.
Anger snarls and lashes out to cover a deeper, sometimes more shameful-feeling emotion. We often fall into the trap of stuffing our real emotions and displaying one that seems more socially acceptable—anger. After all, saying, “I lost my temper,” feels less vulnerable than saying, “I feel unloved.”
Stuffing our emotions has serious drawbacks, though. According to Dr. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility
When emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger.” This amplification of unacknowledged emotions can lead to depression.Dr. Susan David
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability globally. A whole lot of people are failing to practice mental self-care, and it’s crippling the world.
Here’s How to Get Angry the Right Way
1. Go ahead, admit it! God created us in his image—and that means that unlike Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, we all have emotions.
2. Emotions are. They are neither good nor bad. What we do with the
3. Radically accept our emotions. According to Dr. Susan David, “We have to embrace radical acceptance of all of our emotions—including the messy ones. We have to learn to accurately label our emotions in order to know how to react.”
4. Don’t confuse
5. Learn to read the data. “Emotions are data, they are not directive,” says Dr. David. When we feel a ball of anger rising up in our chest, we need to quickly read the data and figure out what core emotion we feel in the moment. Fear? Sadness? Isolation? Tell yourself, “I notice that I am feeling ________.” Once we have the data, we can decide what to do with it.
Self-Care for Our Emotions
Taking care of ourselves means that we tune in to our emotions and learn to acknowledge them. We can use kind phrases such as “I notice that I am feeling angry,” or “The me feels angry right now” to help us remember that we are not the sum of our feelings.
A healthy curiosity about what makes us tick will lead us to self-acceptance—one of the most important forms of self-care we can give ourselves.
I lost my short temper and surly demeanor as a pre-teen, when I finally realized that God loved me, temper and all. God knew me and he wasn’t finished with me yet (he still hasn’t finished with me). Even though he knows all my sins and my secrets, he loves me anyway.Learn to get a handle on your anger (and other emotions). Five steps you can take today. #selfcare #anger Click To Tweet
I used to try to avoid emotions, but now I’m learning to embrace them—all of them. After all, as Dr. David says,
“Only dead people never get unwanted [emotions] or inconvenienced by their feelings; only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure.”Dr. Susan David
So, go ahead, get angry! Just don’t lose your cool. That’s what David and Paul were trying to tell us so many centuries ago.