Momma was right, “Anger never fixes anything; it only makes things worse.”
1. Use your head before your mouth James 1:19
While the context of this exhortation is listening to God before speaking and getting angry, the principle certainly applies to human relationships. One must think to shut up so that one can hear and process the challenge at hand and thereby restrain anger. All too often the initial words I hear tap into my reservoir of assumptions which in turn trigger my anger.
2. Stay calm Romans 6
Angry people tend to jump to—and act on—conclusions that may be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you’re in a heated discussion is to stay calm and as in number one, think through your responses by asking qualifying or clarifying questions. In Romans six Paul is very passionate, yet he asks clarifying questions like, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” His passionate answer is aimed at the thought, not his listeners whom he is through his relationship, teach.
He remains calm, though passionate, thinking clearly, and communicates assertively without being confrontational. He leads them through a discussion of their needs and the pathway to addressing those concerns engagingly. In the book of Corinthians, he expresses his hurt/disappointment and how he feels, without demeaning his listeners.
In this day of emails and text messaging, Paul’s example is especially helpful. Recently I had a harsh email from a coworker. I read it. I felt the pain. Rather than making assumptions and reacting, I set the email aside for twenty-four hours. Then I answered it graciously, but forthright.
3. Exercise—while it profits little compared to spiritual exercise, it is profitable. I Timothy 4:8
Here is what Paul says, “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (KJV). Engaging in some physical exercise has been medically shown to reduce stress levels, which increase with anger. Hence, next time you sense anger escalating, go for a run, go cycling, or do a hundred pushups.
4. Utilize a Timeout Signal Matthew 7:12
Here I am working from this principle found in this verse and often called the golden rule. This simple technique enables a husband or wife to do towards the other what they would like extended to them. It applies to all relationships as well.
A simple technique to employ to stay calm when anger threatens is to choose to disengage with affirmation. Here is how one can verbalize the desire to take a time out. “I don’t want to get angry. Let me pull back, pray, and think before we continue this discussion, please.” It may be good to precede this request by giving a hand signal like the umpire on the baseball field.
5. Identify what is behind your anger. Remember again, James 1:19, “slow to speak.”
You already may know what it is. Your wife or your child makes decisions that cost you money without consulting you, for example. If you are not aware, keep an anger journal. Here is a form to do so.
In Exodus 21:10, Moses would have served God, others, and himself if he had given himself a timeout signal. Instead, he vented his anger on the rock, disobeyed God, and earned a very disappointing discipline. He would not go into the Promised Land. His word often rings in my head—“Hear now ye rebels” as he strikes that rock.
6. Focus on the log in your eye, not the speck in your wife or child’s eye or another person’s eye. Matthew 7:5
This means using the first person and not the second person when speaking about the issue. Second person pronouns blameshift. If you need an explanation from the other to continue the discussion, ask, “Help me understand why what I said was upsetting to you.”
If this does not facilitate the discussion in a profitable direction, use that timeout signal. When you withdraw from the person for the agreed-upon time, sit down with paper and pencil, even better, stand before a mirror, pray for God to help you be honest with yourself and to help you see the log(s) in your own eye. Now, repent before God, and write out a confession/apology to read to your spouse (or child or friend) and ask for forgiveness. Then you may ask, “May I have permission to express what you said (or did) that I found provoking?”
7. Practice forgiveness and not grudge storage Eph 4:29-32
Deciding to practice Ephesians 4:29, putting away bitterness and all those things that Paul points out flow from bitterness, and then choosing to forgive those who wronged you facilitates your relationship with God and the other. It will promote understanding of each other, which in turn, will make your relationship bond stronger and enhance your enjoyment of one another.
Note the standard or measurement of forgiveness. You and I are to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us. Now you think about that!
8. Utilize humor that pokes fun at yourself or the situation, not your spouse or child I Samuel 24:1-13
Avoid sarcasm, however, as it will give occasion to feed the hurt that the other is feeling. It may well provoke a reaction in kind that will intensify your anger response.
Some years ago, my wife and I had a strong disagreement. I was aware that neither of us was headed in the right direction. I step back and said, “I am going to my office….” I made it down the first step when I heard her laugh. I looked up and said, “And what are you laughing at?” She replied, “Us. We are being ridiculous.” I laughed and walked back to her. We kissed. We each went on with our respective duties.
9. Purposefully or intentionally practice relaxing Matthew 14:30
The old recommendation of doing deep-breathing exercises has several advantages.
a) It gives you time to think
b) It oxygenates the brain so think more clearly (spewing anger drains oxygen from the brain
c) It provides a moment to practice Peter’s example when the roaring stormy sea was about to overwhelm him, “Lord help!” and thereby refocuses you on Jesus the author and FINISHER of your faith—and at this moment, you need a FINISHER
The Bible speaks of resting in Jesus. To do so, one must have confidence in the sovereignty of God as well as an embracing knowledge of the major attributes of God. We can trust God in our relationships; we can trust God with our lives. This trust gives us the confidence to put away selfish anger which we are prone to use to protect and defend ourselves in our relationships. Memorize and visit daily Proverbs 3:5-6.
10. Seek Help at the Right Time
It takes practice and commitment to overcome established habit patterns of anger. Therefore, it takes accountability
It takes counsel to help ferret out the “why” driving the anger habit; perhaps there is a past root that must be torn out that is the progenitor of the anger.
It takes walking with Jesus and thereby accessing the power of the Holy Spirit to not only expel the habit, but to establish new habits of grace, patience, and mercy.