Wednesday, February 7, 2018

How to Stop Feeling Angry

I learned growing up I had to be careful around my dad. 

We all had to. My sister and brother and I had to take the temperature of his mood before asking him questions, or he would snap at us. We had to take the brunt of his wrath if we stepped in front of the television during a football game. We’d get yelled at for sure if we accidentally woke him up from a catnap. And we would never even think of leaving unfinished food on our plate, spilling, or breaking something. When that stuff happened—so did lots of shouting.

So, it took me by surprise when my kids were little and they broke things, or spilled drinks without a care in the world about whether their dad, or anyone, would be upset. My husband and I weren’t usually that upset. We told them to be more careful, or quiet. We raised our voices sometimes when they darted out into a street or wrote with a marker on a bookshelf. But we managed our anger as best we could, dealt with its causes, said sorry, forgave, loved each other, and went on.

These days I live with an angry person again. It's my youngest daughter. We took her from foster care a few years ago. She’s sort of permanently mad at me since she has something called Reactive Attachment Disorder. She’s also a teenager now, and those creatures are often upset. So, sometimes I find myself being careful again, just like I was around my dad.

Sadly, my dad died without ever resolving his anger. He wasn’t just an angry person. He had other facets, like incredible generosity, ambition, and drive. But, at the end of his life, when he was suffering terribly in hospital beds, he became even angrier. I don’t think the nurses understood that they should assess his mood before talking to him. I know they didn’t care if they interrupted his TV watching or napping. And pain makes everyone grumpy anyway. So my dad would yell and cuss people out. He would throw things, and threaten people.

Now, that’s how my youngest is acting—cussing, throwing, threatening. That anger is really all she has, for me anyway. And I know she’s in pain, too. But this is not helping. And the hardest part is that instead of controlling her anger with the healthy strategies she has learned, she maintains a glowing ember of rage.

So I don’t check her mood before speaking with her; I just don’t speak to her. I don’t interrupt her activities; I just don’t interact with her. If we steer clear of each other we have an okay day—except that the anger continues and this is no way to live with anyone.

I try to remember that I’ve felt that kind of anger, at times, too—a deep, burning rage that asks to be fed. This kind of anger changed who I was. It changed how I thought and what I thought about. It needed to be stoked and kept burning, and if I obliged it, it kept me warm, like the fever of an infected wound.

One week during my own angry season, my husband told me that I had become part of the problem. 

My anger had eclipsed the anger of our child.

My sweet husband said that to me so gently, but hearing it was difficult. Still, I could see that he was right. My child being angry had taken a toll on me, but me being angry was not helping. I decided I needed to repent in some way. All the anger felt like sin.

That was the beginning of a cleansing from anger. That was the beginning of not giving into the temptation to be angry. That was the beginning of fewer battles.

Now when I feel angry, I do lots of deep breathing, lots of cleaning. 

I talk things out with people who listen. I write about it. I pray.

I hope that my angry child will want to be rid of her angry monster soon as well. I’m praying that she will decide to stop feeding it. Jesus has answered this kind of prayer before—worked to change her mind about things that were going horribly wrong and changed her life.

Ephesians 4 talks about this new life, and about how it doesn’t include anger. 

“All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

This scripture says that we should turn our anger into kindness. That seems like a lot to ask. But it’s an encouragement to me. Kindness, and forgiving, are things I can put in the giant black hole inside where the anger burned. And it’s helpful to fill that up with something good.

I have to think hard about that every day. But it makes me feel good, rather than angry. 

Thank you, Jesus.

Rebecca Barnes is married to an amazing man, who encourages her faith and listens to her typing a lot. She has three daughters and a son-in-law. She loves to cook for anyone who likes good food, and she feels competitive about weeding her flower garden. She lives in Old Town Lafayette because it’s a little eclectic, like her.

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