Question: I’ve been struggling with anger lately. I feel like a smoldering volcano ready to explode at any moment. When I erupt, I say the cruelest things, and then I feel so guilty afterward. I don’t know what’s causing me to be so grouchy, but this seething anger is hurting the people I care about. What can I do to handle my temper better?
Answer: Many people who are anger-prone accept it as a part of who they are and don’t even try to change. It says a lot about you that you want to address this problem before it tears apart your relationships.
First, it may be helpful to reflect on the reasons for your anger. Think about the last few times you became angry. Can you detect a pattern? Do you tend to be angry with the same person every time? What was bothering you? What in your life is not going the way that you would like it to? Has someone hurt or frustrated you? Is your anger directed at your parents or spouse? Do certain patterns in your relationships make you angry?
This may seem like a game of twenty questions, but we’re including all of these in order to help you pinpoint what triggers your emotional response. Once you have found a pattern or feel that you know the source of your anger, see what you can do to break the pattern or resolve the issue. If your anger is focused on one person, see if you can communicate more clearly with him or her to express your hurt or concerns in a positive way that will build up your relationship. If you find a problem or stressor in your life, such as difficulties at work or tension in your family, research options for resolving that issue.
Second, learn to express your thoughts and feelings in a more constructive way. There are two key components to every episode of anger: the event and the underlying issue. The event is what happened. For instance, suppose your spouse writes a check without realizing there isn’t enough money in the bank to cover it. You may feel angry just thinking about this event! Pause and consider the thoughts that are stoking your anger. Perhaps you hear yourself complaining, “My spouse doesn’t appreciate me. I work hard to provide for the family, and the money is wasted!” Or you may hear yourself worrying, “If this keeps happening, we are heading for bankruptcy!” You can control your anger by talking about these thoughts and feelings with your spouse. Tell your spouse, “When you don’t watch what you’re spending, I don’t feel appreciated.” Or “I’m afraid that we’re getting into financial trouble.” That’s a much healthier way to express your feelings than through angry statements of blame and criticism.
Third, take a look at your goals and the motives in your heart. If your motives are right and your goals are good, anger may be justified. Jesus’s life goal was to bring glory to the Father, and when He saw the moneychangers in the temple trampling His Father’s house, He became angry for a good reason. If your goal is to protect your family out of love for them, then your anger at whatever is threatening your children is good. Now you must learn to channel that emotion into actions that demonstrate your love.
But let’s say that your goal is your own pleasure. Perhaps you want to arrive home at a certain time to catch the beginning of a favorite program. A slow driver turns in front of you and won’t speed up. You may start steaming inside, even cursing the driver and pounding the steering wheel because he’s keeping you from your goal. That anger comes from sinful, selfish motives.
Or maybe your goal is to gain affection from your spouse, but your spouse won’t do what you want, so you become angry—perhaps in a passive way, such as not talking, or in an aggressive way, such as being sharply critical.
Perhaps your goal is to relax in the evening, but your children keep making noise and demanding attention. In anger, you explode at them. Or maybe your anger language is sarcasm and labeling—you may not yell, but you jab your children with your words and cut them down with sarcastic humor.
Before allowing your temper to gain control of you, pause a moment and ask yourself, “What’s my goal? What do I want that I can’t have?” Ask the Lord to reveal the motives behind your goal. Are you trying simply to please yourself? If so, you really need to change your perspective. The next point will give you some ideas on how to do that.
Fourth, change your perspective from “getting” to “giving.” If your focus is on your rights, your feelings, your needs, or your satisfaction, you’re much more likely to become angry at the people standing in your way. But if you focus on ministering to others—even to your enemies—your heart will soften toward them and your spirit will be more at peace.
As you work on changing your perspective, you’ll find that Scripture can really help. Try to memorize the verses below. Write them on index cards and keep them with you, or tape them to the mirror so you’ll see them everyday.
Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)
Here God reminds you to listen before you talk, and before you get angry. This can be so hard, but if you can slow yourself down and listen to what is being said, you can often avoid angry situations. If you get angry quickly, you know that you are not dealing with anger the way God wants you to!
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
If you want to avoid angry situations, then you need to respond calmly to things that are said. If you respond with gentleness, you prevent anger.
Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
Don’t allow yourself to become angry quickly. God says that fools are characterized by their quick anger.
A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger;
And it is his glory to overlook a transgression. (Proverbs 19:11)
This verse reminds you to ignore small offenses. Sometimes certain things aren’t even worth getting angry about.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . . If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doin you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:17-20)
These verses contain some of the noblest Christian values, modeled by our Lord Himself when He was attacked by evil men. Instead of taking your own vengeance, let the Lord handle the job of setting wrongs right. He can take care of problem people much better than you can. Your anger doesn’t accomplish much anyway, except to make you more miserable. Ask the Lord to help you love hurtful people instead of hurting them back.
When you start to feel angry, pull out the cards with these verses, read through them, and pray about your anger. Then ask yourself a few questions to help you figure out how to respond to your anger:
- Why am I angry? Has someone hurt my feelings or my pride? Has someone harmed me in some way? What’s the real issue?
- Is this worth getting mad about? Is this a small offense that can be overlooked? Is this a big issue that needs to be addressed?
- What can I do about the reason I’m angry? Can I focus my anger in a positive direction? Rather than being angry that someone has stepped on my rights, can I turn the situation around and minister to them instead of hurting them back? Can I choose to just let this go?
If you learn these verses and walk through these questions each time you get angry, you should find your anger level decreasing.