As the summer vacation stretches on, I find my patience wearing thin with my children. Several times in the last week I raised my voice, pleading and prodding and finally screaming at them with a harsh tone.
I thought I had changed.
In the months leading up to summer break, I was feeling more under control. I was less likely to fly off the handle over the little annoyances of parenting. And so when I “lost it” repeatedly last week, my heart broke. I wondered if this penchant for anger would be something I would ever get over. I berated myself for burning my children with the fierceness of my temper rather than warming them with the light of Christ. And as the power of that shame overtook me, I found myself preoccupied and worried—the perfect amount of turmoil to trip me into an outburst of anger again!
This is the vicious cycle of anger. The emotion of anger triggers a physiological response in our bodies. The responses in your body are the same as the sensation we term an “adrenaline rush.” This heightened physical intensity hones your senses to focus, raises your heart rate and releases sugar into your muscles for energy. All of this is an instinctual response in the case of real trouble, when you may need the extra oomph to fight or to flee.
This heightened physical response then needs a vent. So if you are find yourself kicked over into this physical state, you may, like me, lash out. Or perhaps you aren’t a screamer, so you take the force of that response and shove it back inward. You swallow down that rage—but it isn’t gone. It disguises itself and reappears as resentment. Perhaps you’ve experienced this kind of anger—the kind that expresses itself through sarcasm, grudges, or passive-aggressive behavior. Perhaps you’ve even experienced the deepest transformation of that anger—depression. Some psychologists even define depression as “anger turned inward.”
Regardless of whether you lash out, stuff it or completely ignore it, we all have to deal with anger. My temper can wound my loved ones with the strength and violence in my words. Resentment is also a dangerous weapon, because it poisons our relationships. Most of us with a temper understand that we have an issue. But resentment may be an issue for you if:
- You bear a grudge against a person
- You tend to reply situations over and over in your head when you feel that you were wronged
- You cannot pray for the offender with a pure heart
- You use manipulation or sarcasm to get your point across but claim that you are “fine.”
Whether it’s rage or resentment, there are concrete ways we can move forward toward a peaceful and settled spirit. I can choose to be preoccupied and ashamed of my sinful response that was triggered by my anger, or I can choose to see the emotion of anger as a warning of a soul problem—and then take measures to care for the sickness. Here’s some ways that work for me:
Why Am I Angry?
Think about the last time you were angry. In my example, I was angry at my children because I felt ignored and disrespected. I was also preoccupied with some thoughts from work. All of these reasons are self-focused. My agenda. My rules. My work. When we peel back the layers on our temper, we find that our “self” is usually at play. Why does this help me? Because it allows me to recognize that I am in control of my reactions. No one “made me” react by yelling or using a harsh tone. The anger isn’t the sin—my reaction is. And I am in control of my own reactions.
When we recognize this, we recognize our own need for Jesus’ power in our lives. When you realize you are lacking—lacking love, lacking patience, lacking the energy to keep it together—you have the opportunity to embrace your real need for Jesus’ power in your life. My bitterness, my yelling—these are opportunities to realize how much I need to ask God to intervene in my heart before I lash out.
What triggers you to respond in rage or resentment? Do you pay attention to your body’s warning signs? Last week, my soul had not caught up with our new family schedule. I wasn’t sleeping enough. I wasn’t eating healthy–just grabbing whatever snacks were around. And I wasn’t spending time reading scripture or a devotional every morning, a practice I’ve found crucial for my soul health. So as I look back on my response of anger, I realize much of it has to do with not prioritizing my own soul needs.
But I’m Already Triggered!
When you find yourself already triggered to anger, there are some in-the-moment measures that can help:
- Make sure you know exactly why you are mad. It is often not for the obvious reason. Is it because you are preoccupied, tired, or frustrated at this stage of life?
- Take a few deep breaths. Remember that there is a physiological response to your anger that needs a vent. Your body is triggered and you are more likely to lash out in the moments after the adrenaline floods your body.
- Pray. Be honest and vulnerable. Tell God that you need him, you need his power to control your reactions. If you are resentful toward a person, tell him your honest, unedited feelings toward that person. As you pour out your heart, you are creating space for him to speak words of truth in.
I don’t want to live in the shame of my actions anymore. I want to embrace the reality that I am “poor in spirit” when it comes to dealing with this emotion, and recognize how much I need God’s power in my life. I want to embrace the importance of caring for my soul. And I want to experience the miracle of God’s desire to transform me, in the everyday issues of my life.
Today we’re exited to be giving away five (5) of Nicole’s book, She’s Got Issues. To enter, simply leave a comment below. Winners will be announced Monday, July 16, 2012. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents.
Nicole Unice is an author, ministry leader at Hope Church and mom living in Richmond, VA. This article is adapted from her first book, She’s Got Issues, which released with Tyndale in May. Find out more about the book, accompanying DVD curriculum and her speaking schedule at http://www.nicoleunice.com.