A few weeks ago I shared anger lies that keep us in bondage. If you haven’t read that post, I encourage you to get caught up. I believe that’s where victory with anger begins: meditating on God’s truth about our anger. This week I’m going to share 6 powerful ways to overcome anger. If you’re like most people, you will still experience anger that isn’t perfectly controlled. But you can have a huge improvement in this area like my husband and I have.
6 Powerful Ways to Overcome Anger
As a review, anger is a normal human emotion. It’s only sinful when we allow it to hurt us or others with our thoughts, words, or deeds. Oh, that’s all, right? For some of us, expressing anger appropriately is more of a challenge than for others. We need Holy Spirit power to have victory. Praying for change and meditating on God’s Word are the most powerful tools in overcoming anger. But there are six more ways we can seek victory over anger. I will tell you what they are in a moment, but I have to tell you a funny story about myself first.
I read that Teri Maxwell of Titus2.com felt guilty for becoming angry with her children when they didn’t pick up as they were told. Teri went on to say that she had found freedom from this inappropriate anger with her children. As a psychologist, I thought that her anger was a normal emotion and that she needed to cut herself some slack. Teri graciously offered to send me the audiotape “Freedom from the Spirit of Anger” by Dr. S. M. Davis of SolveFamilyProblems.com if I would listen to it. She sent it to me and I planned to listen to it when I was driving somewhere by myself. When I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it. I was embarrassed and guess what else? Angry. I was angry at myself for misplacing it and angry at my kids whom I automatically blamed, too. I did eventually find it — it was right in front of my face, really — and listened to it in the car. After listening, I was fully convinced that anger was a problem for me. I was determined to overcome anger as soon as I got home.
“The problem with that was absolutely everything made me angry.”
Within a few minutes of returning home I was in tears. I knew I had a serious problem with anger. But that was also the turning point for me. If you feel yourself being irritated, annoyed, impatient, or outright angry a lot, know that I can relate. Here’s what I recommend.
#1 Be committed to self-care.
I was exhausted, hormonal, and doing everything for everyone when my anger was the worst. Lack of sleep, no exercise, and no breaks will make you a ticking time bomb if you’re prone to anger.
Get enough sleep. I used to think that I only needed seven hours of sleep. I have to have eight and during certain parts of my menstrual cycle (sorry, guys) I need more. I don’t need a psychological study to tell me that sleep deprivation makes people irritable, do you? Do everything you can to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. If you don’t get all the sleep you need because a child or something else kept you up, take a nap. That’s an order!
Get exercise. Exercise is critically important for preventing outbursts as well. Exercise releases muscle tension and releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. If you exercise vigorously enough (and you should with your doctor’s clearance), you’ll be too tired to yell. Exercise enhances our self-esteem, too. The better we feel about ourselves, the less likely we are to express our anger inappropriately.
Take a break. Self care also means we take a break. I’m an extrovert. I’m recharged by being with people. But after days of being with demanding, needy little people with no break, I’m at risk of a blow up. I need a friend to watch them, a mother’s helper to play with them, or my husband to take over so I can get away for a while. This isn’t selfish. This is the most loving thing I can do for my whole family. If you never take breaks, you’ll have a hard time refraining from anger.
Self-care includes cleaning up and organizing. Much of the time when I’ve yelled at the kids to clean up, I’m really angry at myself for not being consistent in doing our chores. Pick up, put things away, and declutter because you’ll feel good. The bonus is you’re teaching your children good habits. For more on this, listen to the podcast episodes I did with FLYLady.
#2 Identify your fears.
After self-care, it’s important to identify your fears. Why? Because fear is an anger trigger for many of us. Many of the times I was angry with my kids — when they were fighting in church, had broken something, or weren’t obeying me — the real problem was my fear. I was afraid that other people would think less of me if my kids weren’t behaving. I was afraid anything that was broken would be very expensive or time-consuming to replace. And I was afraid that I wouldnt’ be able to control my kids. Your fears may be different from mine, but if you don’t address them, you are likely to get angry a lot.
Think of Satan, our enemy, like a Navy Seal instructor. What he does is identify our fear and then uses it to try to make us angry or give up. If we want to succeed in our parenting and homeschooling (which is probably harder than being a Navy Seal!), we have to know where the enemy is likely to attack. We have to overcome our fears. It has taken me years to be much less worried about what other people think of me and my kids. God and my husband’s opinion matters most to me. Veteran parents don’t judge us for misbehaving kids because they’ve been there. If they do judge us, that’s their sin and not ours. My fear of having things broken was just silly. My kids matter so much more to me than my things. But my anger was saying otherwise. They have cost us some money and time in repairs and replacements, but it’s been a small investment that’s just the cost of parenting. I eventually realized that my fear of not being able to control my kids was self-fulfilling. The less in control I felt, the more out of control my kids became. Most kids want to please their parents. Believe that with God’s help you can be the parent your children need you to be. Despite my fears, all my kids are potty trained and know how to read. Believe that you will do whatever it takes to raise your children well and your fear will decrease. What fears are triggering your anger?
#3 Sign a kindness contract.
The third powerful way of overcoming anger is to sign a kindness contract. Agree with your family members on what isn’t an appropriate expression of anger. You’ll want to include yelling, name calling, slamming doors and the like. But you’ll also want to include passive aggressive expressions like refusing to speak or sulking. When you violate the contract, your kids and spouse (if you’re married) will have permission to say, “What did you say?” or “What did you do?” as a reminder that you’re in violation of the contract. Of course, you can also do this with other family members. A kindness contract will create accountability in your home and will help you see how often your anger is being expressed inappropriately.
#4 Assess your risk throughout the day.
The fourth powerful way of overcoming anger is to assess your risk throughout the day. If we have a problem with anger, it’s usually something that seems to come out of nowhere. But if we are introspective at all, we will recognize the risk and can prevent it. Here’s what I mean. When you get up in the morning, ask yourself if you have any risk factors for getting angry. Did you sleep poorly? Does one of your kids seem unwell physically or emotionally? That may tap into fears of feeling out of control or having to take time to take them to the doctor. At lunch time, ask yourself if you’ve had a lot of hassles that could contribute to anger. Did Junior lose his shoes again? Were you late getting somewhere which tapped into fears of looking bad to others? At dinner time, ask yourself how your energy is. Have you had some exercise? Have you had a break? Do you have any worries that could trigger anger?
By staying aware of how you’re feeling, you can prevent the enemy from taking advantage of your weakness. Instead you can take appropriate action.
#5 Take action when you’re at risk.
The fifth powerful way of overcoming anger is to take appropriate action when you are at risk or are already feeling angry.
The first action to take is to leave. Obviously, you have to make sure your children are safe. Some safe ways of leaving are to go outside with the kids, put young children in a crib or infant seat or ask an older child or your spouse to supervise while you go to your room or for a walk. Let the kids watch a movie or play a video game so you can have some time. Don’t drive when angry because you’ll be distracted. But do walk away.
The second action to take is to breathe. Once you have gotten away from people, take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. As you do, notice what you’re thinking. Much of the time we are awfulizing. We are telling ourselves that things are terrible, out of control, won’t get any better, driving us insane, and on and on. No wonder you’re feeling angry! Often our thoughts are related to the fears that we have.
After breathing, believe. What is the truth of the matter? Are things really that bad? What would God say about your circumstances? Is what’s upsetting you really too big for Him? What would your friend say? Take a moment to pray that you’ll believe the truth about your situation. If you can, talk to a friend or your spouse about what you’re feeling.
Go back to the situation only after you feel better. If you have to go back to the situation before you’re ready, communicate to others that you’re stressed and need their support. Say something like, “Mommy’s having a hard day. Can you give me a hug to make me feel better?” If possible, engage in an activity that relaxes you. Order pizza for dinner. You can do this!
#6 Respond to setbacks.
As much as I believe in the steps I’ve just shared, the truth is you’re going to mess up. You’ll yell or sulk or slam a door. The last step is to respond to setbacks. This may be the most important step of all. When we lose our cool, we can believe the lie that we are hopeless, that not even God can help us. We’re horrible mothers. We ought to send our kids to school and just give up. But that isn’t the truth. We gain victory by once again apologizing and asking for forgiveness. We gain victory by determining what went wrong and how we can do better next time. We gain victory for forgiving ourselves. That’s been hard for me. I feel like I should be better than what I’ve been in this area. But I’m human. It’s a weakness for me. By God’s grace I have come so far in gaining victory over anger. I know you can do it, too.
Which of these tips do you think will be most helpful to you? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.