Everyone gets angry, even my husband. And if you know my husband, you’re probably thinking, “She’s full of it.” But it happens. Some of us just hide it better than others. Me? I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I’m not proud of it. Not that I think we should all hide our anger and never confront injustices—that would be excessively passive and unproductive.
What I want to address is excessive anger and losing one’s temper, or more importantly, how to control that temper. If you struggle to keep your temper in check, find yourself angry more often than the average person, and truly desire change, read on.
My last post, “My greatest flaws…and what I’m doing about them,” revealed the truth about my temper. I yell, curse, and I’ve been known to slam a cabinet door or throw a flip flop on occasion. It’s embarrassing to admit and a source of shame. Years of praying and counting to ten proved fruitless. I’ve tried all the typical suggestions: deep breathing and counting to ten…then twenty…then one hundred, talking, reading, taking time-outs, praying, journaling, and running. Most of the time, these strategies only postpone the inevitable, leading to frustration, disappointment in myself, and more anger. But I’ve been tasked with guiding a tiny human through life and emotions, and I’m determined to teach him two things:
1. With determination and the right tools, a person can change for the better;
2. There is nothing greater on this planet than a pair of never-before-worn cotton socks after a day on your feet.
Failure has followed me since childhood as I’ve fought to keep my temper at bay. While most people have never witnessed the rage of a 5’ 1” blonde as her smoothie escapes and splatters across the wall, floor, and furniture in the next room, it’s those nearest who suffer her wrath, and those nearest who deserve it the least.
Managing anger, resisting the urge to raise your voice or to assume the worst when a button has just been pushed during a high-stress time is a challenge for some more than others. My testimony is not of one who has taken the reins of her temper, but with practice and optimism, I believe she’s closer than ever.
If you’re tired of the cliché advice that just isn’t working, try these techniques with me, and let me know how they work for you. The next five suggestions fall under one key strategy:
Do something silly.
Not something stupid and careless, and not something childish. Remember—we’re trying to tame the temper, not release it in the middle of the grocery store. If you feel angry and you don’t want to, do something that CANNOT possibly be associated with anger: something comical, something innocent, something that forces you to smile, even though the thought of smiling makes you vomit a little bit.
Even if you don’t smile, it should still make you feel like a child at heart (not to be confused with childish). Before we get to the list, let me preface it by sharing that I would probably never do these in front of other people, at least not for the reasons we’re addressing in this article. That tip about taking a time-out? It’s an important one. What you’re about to read are suggestions for what to do during that break:
1. Sing to Taylor Swift or Elvis or NSYNC or The Spice Girls…you get the point.
And don’t just sing. JAM. Sing at the top of your lungs, throw in the dance moves and the drama, and by all means, sing off-key. When I’m angry and struggling to let things go, a drive around the block, singing like no one’s listening, just enjoying an innocent song, helps improve my mood and cool the blood in my veins. Then I can think more clearly and decide if I was really offended or maybe just a little too sensitive.
I’m not a dancer, and I don’t dance when I’m angry, but right now I’m picturing Napoleon Dynamite on stage for Pedro. You don’t even have to smile, though you probably will let out a chuckle by the time you’re done. Then you’ll be cooled off enough to think about how to address the person you’re angry with (I recommend using I-statements. Check out this short article from The Tony Robbins Blog for more information).
3. Blow bubbles.
Think about it—how can you remain angry when you’re blowing bubbles? If you don’t have any, buy some; they’re super cheap at Walmart. Stash them in your bathroom, away from tiny hands, and the next time your spouse or boss or kid does or says something that makes your blood boil, retreat to said bathroom as soon as possible. Here are two quick tips:
a) Be sure to stay well-stocked. You don’t want to feel pushed over the edge because you ran out of bubbles;
b) Buy the good bubbles, not the stuff from the local dollar store. The frustration of defective bubble juice will only add fuel to the fire.
4. Play with shaving cream.
It’s soft, creamy, easy to clean, and harmless. You can create a masterpiece on the mirror, a table, your child, or even the floor. When the rage is ready to erupt like Mount Vesuvius, spray some shaving cream into your palm and clap your hands as loud as you can. (Don’t do this at work.) When you’re done shaking your head at how ridiculous you look, spray some more on a hard surface nearby and let your creativity go to work.
5. Watch funny videos of animals.
Be careful when searching for these online. I always type the word “funny” or “cute” to be sure I don’t get one of those depressing, guilt-inducing ASPCA commercials. It’s just not the right time for that. I also like to look up some of the funniest interviews on popular talk shows, like The Ellen DeGeneres Show. If you can chuckle, you can get past the anger that plagued you.
The most important skill you can learn when trying to manage your temper is to know when to take that time-out. If you let an argument go too far, you may experience the shame before you make it to your bubbles. By then, they don’t seem so comical. You want to prevent the rage and thus prevent the shame and/or guilt. If you feel like you’re about to lose it, or you’re concerned the conversation is about to escalate, find a way to excuse yourself immediately. When you’re done cooling off, here are some tried and true tips before returning to the person of conflict:
1. Think about the facts of the argument, not the feelings.
Oftentimes, our emotions get the best of us. The truth is that most people who hurt us didn’t mean to (and if they did, it may be time to reconsider that relationship).
2. Ask yourself if you trust the person you’re in conflict with.
If you believe they care deeply for you, and if you can remind yourself that he/she is just as human as you, you can re-approach them more calmly and with a sense of humility.
3. Take as much time as you need and as you can allow yourself to think about the best way to address the situation. Maybe it calls for a heart-to-heart over breakfast or a simple apology; maybe dropping it altogether is for the best. You’ll have to use your best judgment.
As I’m writing this paragraph, I’m thinking about how I lost my temper just today. Keep in mind that change doesn’t happen overnight. And for the record, even though I failed to utilize one of these strategies before my anger got out of hand, I was able to calm myself down quickly afterward by taking a short drive and singing to Normani and Sam Smith’s Dancing with a Stranger (it was the only thing on the radio that I knew the words to).
If you don’t share my faith or aren’t familiar with the Bible, James 1:19 reads, “…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…” Well, friends, obeying these instructions is more challenging for some of us than remembering where we parked the car at the grocery store. If you live with someone with anger issues or a bad temper, be patient, remind yourself that change is difficult, and go ahead and plant a bubble wand and some cheap shaving cream in the bathroom.
On the other hand, if you feel you’re in danger living with this person, it’s okay to seek help for yourself and for them. It’s not okay to live in an abusive relationship.
What other methods have you used to help manage your anger? Share in the comments!