Seeing Red: What to Do When Anger Rules You

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I’m sure it has happened to all of us. Maybe you’re not feeling well, or there’s a major deadline approaching, or your preschooler just asked you the same question for the 16th time in as many minutes. Whatever it is, you’ve had just about enough. So, what do you do?

You get angry.

You’re not feeling well, so you type out your reply to that email in a hurry and come across as short. That deadline is tomorrow, and you still have a lot left to do, so you snap at your husband when he calls you at work. It’s been a long night staying up with the baby, and your preschooler has been grating on your nerves all day, so you yell.

Hey, there are a lot of ways to ruin your day. Congratulations, you just helped put it in the pits.

Anger isn’t a bad thing. Anger spurs us to action, lends us passion, and forces us to confront something. It becomes a problem, however, when our actions are sinful. How do we define that line? When is our frustration too much, and when is it encouraging us to move forward?

I recently went to confession about (you guessed it) ANGER. I told my priest that I was feeling angry all the time and that it was affecting how I responded to those closest to me. He told me (basically) that I was in control and I needed to start acting like it. At first, I was (wonder of wonders) ANGRY that he would say such a thing. He didn’t realize the pressure I was under! He didn’t know what had been going on to make me so angry. He didn’t understand how difficult it was for me right now, how hard I’d been trying to do well and how little progress I was seeing. He just didn’t understand! I left confession ready to cry because I felt like this was one more person putting more weight on my shoulders, a burden that I just knew I couldn’t carry anymore. I stuffed down my frustration, hurt, and yes, ANGER, so that I could participate in Mass. I knew I shouldn’t be harboring such feelings at such a holy time, and I was trying to shove them under a rock. But that’s where I was failing. You see, instead of allowing those emotions their time and laying them at Our Savior’s feet, I was too busy trying to shut those feelings away and pretend they didn’t exist. Well, guess what—they DO.

It took me until the following Thursday to fully accept that what my priest told me in confession was true, no matter the circumstances behind my anger. I AM in control, and I DO need to act like it. Now, that is a harsh sentiment to we women, because we want someone to validate our feelings. I was already feeling a bit off my rocker, and for someone (even someone
in persona Christi) to remotely suggest I “just” needed to “control” myself nearly had me ready to fly off the handle all over again. But then I realized that all this anger was ruining my days. Instead of being in control, that emotion was controlling ME, and that’s where sin starts. When something controls us, sin soon follows. So I had to ask myself the following: What was I holding on to? What was making me so angry in the first place? How could I make it better?

Now, my personal situation is not going to be yours. But there are some steps you can take to help ensure you control your anger and not the other way around.

  1. Stop whatever you’re doing and breathe.

Research has actually shown that in people experiencing anger or pain or other stressors, their breathing becomes more shallow, primarily on the exhale. If you will stop and take just a few breaths, focusing on expelling the air, you’d be amazed at how much better you feel. I don’t want to launch too hard into the science behind it (you can read more
here), but increased exhalation actually decreases the levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, causing more oxygen to be offloaded to your tissues Basically, you get more oxygen to your brain, which allows you to think more clearly! Deep, rhythmic breathing also decreases heart rate and can help stabilize blood pressure (see more here). This is important because as heart rate and blood pressure increase, that fight-or-flight response to kick into high gear. So remember to BREATHE!

2. Address only the problem at hand.

Let’s say that your child has specifically done something you didn’t want them to do. After you have taken a few breaths to calm yourself, ask if this is something you have told them recently (how recently will depend on the age of your child) to refrain from doing. If so, and you know they are aware of the wrongness of their actions, issue an appropriate punishment. If NOT, then it’s time for you to explain to them why what they’ve done is wrong. As frustrating as it can be, you can’t be angry with a child for doing something they don’t know is wrong. Whatever you do, don’t let the weight of other factors from that day (or week, or month) factor into how you choose to act in THIS moment. Address only the problem right in front of you, and don’t impose your feelings about other issues onto the current situation. Deal with each moment as a separate entity. If you’ve been seething over something a frenemy said, or the fact that your husband is working late (AGAIN), don’t let those feelings spill over into your treatment of your child. The same goes for any situation. As difficult as it is to compartmentalize your life, you will find it’s much easier to manage bite-sized chunks for each moment, individual, or situation rather than allow your emotions to leak all over everything in your life. And whenever possible, let the little things go. Your temper and your loved ones will thank you.

3. Ask yourself why you’re REALLY angry.

Are you actually angry at the current situation, or is something else going on? You have to find the root of your anger, and sometimes that is very hard to do. If you’re like me, you bury bones until you have more holes than yard sometimes. But it is very important you address the root of your anger issues. Pray, talk to your priest, get counseling. Whatever you need to do in order to get to bottom of your problems, DO IT. The ones who love you and your happiness depend on it.

As simple as these steps seem, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t employing them all at once (or very well). We are each a work in progress. These steps aren’t meant to add more stress to your day, and by all means, if that’s what comes of trying to implement them, they aren’t right for you. However, if you do nothing else on this list, I encourage you to just stop and