Anger, like all human emotions, is natural and has a purpose and place in life. An outburst of anger is the quickest way of communicating to your loved ones that you have been hurt. There is an old joke that says the best way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once – her anger will effectively communicate that she has been hurt by your thoughtlessness.
In today’s society though, many people have developed a very unhealthy lifestyle of anger – sometimes using it as a primary means of communicating. The reason for this is that we do not feel the sting of emotional pain as long as we are holding onto our anger.
Anger is the morphine of emotions.
In our society, we have not been raised to handle anger in a healthy way and we often do not fully understand the source of our anger.
Anger is an outgrowth of frustration and, besides numbing our pain, serves as a means to gain control of a situation – often by attempting to bully those around us. Anger’s sister emotion is depression which is what we experience when we no longer have any hope of regaining control of our circumstances.
Allowing ourselves to unleash our anger is destructive to our relationships. Usually the targets of our anger are the few people in the world that actually know us well and love us the most: our husbands and wives, our children, our parents. These are the victims of our anger.
Allowing ourselves to suppress the anger is not healthy either. Suppressed anger can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, and in the end, is rarely effective in improving our relationships and circumstances.
The first step in letting go of anger is to fully understand the root cause of the frustration.
We get frustrated when people or circumstances are not in line with our expectations. Therefore, it is imperative for us to understand what our expectations in life are and why we have them. Once we have done this, we need to educate ourselves to determine if these expectations are reasonable or if they are founded on an artificial and idealistic view of how we think the world should be.
For example, if your four-year-old child has spilled fruit juice on your white carpet after you told them to be careful you might get angry. But was it reasonable to expect a four year old to obey your admonition? Of course not! That little bit of frontal lobe in their brain that controls their executive system is not really formed enough to be depended upon, their motor skills are undeveloped, a let’s face it, a four year old has the attention span of a gnat. A reasonable parent should expect the child to forget the warning the moment the child spots a toy in the room and a reasonable parent should expect to have to buy a new carpet once their children are grown.
Often, the person that we seem to have the most difficulty with in terms of false expectations is our spouse. Most of us have the ridiculous notion that our own experiences growing up can serve as a model and yardstick for our spouse. We fail to understand that the environment that they were forged in was very different then that in which we were forged.
You may have grown up in a home with a strong working mom who ran the whole show. Your spouse may have grown up in a traditional home where the father served as the family leader. Without educating yourselves, then in this situation it is likely that the husband will be continually frustrated with his wife’s lack of trust and support, and the wife will be continually frustrated by her husband’s lack of respect.
It is sad when two people like this that are good people who actually love each other can be doomed to a life of continued anger, depression, or both – all because of erroneous expectations of life.
There are a couple of keys to re-aligning your expectations with reality. These are:
Spent time with well-grounded people in similar family circumstances.
This can be a men’s or women’s small group in church or a group of ladies who get together at play dates with their kids. As you listen to the diversity of points of view, you can begin to learn that your own way of looking at the world isn’t as universal as you may have thought. It is vitally important to choose your small group of friends properly – if they do not seem to have a loving and caring spirit, then choose a different group.
Read books on parenting, marriage, or whatever topic frustrates you the most.
Parenting books can help you understand child development and what to expect from your child at different ages. Marriage books help you understand the different types of personalities, and in particular, how the brain of the opposite sex works. One of the big motivations for my book Essence of Wisdom for Parents was to help set more healthy expectations for parents and couples and through this, to bring a little more joy and peace into some households.
A caution here: there is a whole media industry designed to satisfy the relational and emotional needs of people, particularly women: this includes daytime talk shows, and people-oriented magazines. This media source is not designed to set healthy expectations of life and, but rather is designed to serve as a surrogate for healthy real-life relationships. Its fine for a little light entertainment, but it will not be a positive contribution to your development.
Find time to sit and talk peaceably with those that get you angry.
Talk about your frustrations and expectations. If your expectations do not match, then it is a fair bet that the other person in the relationship is harboring feelings of anger or depression as well. This means that they need help also. Note that I am using the word talk here loosely. If tensions have been building for any length of time, then it may be best to intersperse your initial conversations with some leading questions and then carefully listen to what they are saying. Give yourself a day or two to think about what they have said before responding.
The goal of each of these three keys is to help you grow personally. A big component of what we term personal growth, is our self-education on the complex realities of the world and the people that live in it so that we develop more realistic expectations. The human brain was designed to be a continuous learning machine. If we aren’t doing that then we aren’t using our brain’s properly. For some reason, we forget to keep learning. We think that our school years were the one time in life when we were supposed to learn. The truth is, our school years were the time in life when we were supposed to learn how to learn.
The second step in letting go of anger is to realize that the people or circumstances around us are not supposed to be perfect.
As you talk with friends, read, and study, you will come to find that God did not promise an easy life for anyone and that everyone has flaws, insecurities, and selfish impulses. Your anger means that you want either God or other people to care more for you in your life. However, as you grow, you will realize that these other people need help with their issues as well. This is an opportunity for you.
Taking your eyes off yourself and putting them on other’s needs is the healthy way to alleviate pain.
Helping others to grow in the same manner in which you are growing will help them to get over the pain of their frustrations, and, over time, will help to heal your relationship as it begins to grow again on a more realistic soil bed.
Helping others does not mean that you are their doormat. You do not need to enable their anger by serving as a human punching bag. What it does mean, though, is that you need to look behind their angry frustrated exterior to find and encourage the good things that are hiding within. Transforming yourself from an angry warrior to a patient, educated, loving, encourager will go a long way towards developing that sense of idealistic happiness that we all desire.