Growing up in Florida, it was always easy to tell when a storm was brewing. Typically, the sun would be shining, but far off in the distance the sky would be dark blue. Slowly, it fades to gray as the storm begins to approach. The humidity thickens. The dark navy blue sky, mixed with gray, begins to take over. The clouds are heavy and look at though they’re just ready to unleash what’s within. And you can even smell the storm on its approach. If you’re not from Florida you might think it’s the person next to you because it’s hard to recognize it, but the coming rain has a smell unlike any other.
Occasionally, a thunderstorm might sneak up or seem to pop up out of nowhere. If you’re looking for the signs of the coming storm, however, you quickly notice they are all around. It takes some awareness and a little familiarity but without a doubt, when you combine the ingredients above, take shelter, because a thunderstorm is ready to let loose all of its strength and power upon anything in its path.
Anger forms in quite a similar way.
When you’re aware of the signs, you can feel it well up inside. When it is stoked faces turn red, voices get louder, and a discomfort begins to set in. A snap response, interruptions, and the lack of attention to what the other is saying are common, too. When these are combined, you know the raw emotion is building up its power and has the ability to continue until the pressure is released. When untamed, it has the power to destroy.
When I was young, my anger felt familiar and foreign at the same time. Growing up we certainly saw our parents angry, but rarely saw them fight. I’m sure they did, but we never witnessed it… at least if we did it was not often enough to learn from it. For me anger became an expression, an aggression, and way to get new results. Throughout my childhood and into my teens, this emotion had the power to control me. I kicked doors, broke a window, flipped a coffee table, broke a few skateboards, and dumped a full bowel of ice cream on top of my sisters head among other things. Relationships were broken, too. Although, I avoided being in physical fights, my words were enough to end a friendship or two. I had not learned how to manage my anger and quite simply acting out seemed to work for me reinforcing the destructive actions my anger often led to.
However, around 15 or 16 years old, I took notice that the fact that I never felt better or resolved when acting out on my anger. Much the opposite was true. Expressing my anger often led to something being broken, relationships fractured, and my own feelings of regret, sorrow, hurt, loneliness, and exhaustion. I knew there had to be a better way to handle the storm that seemed to well up inside of me.
Here’s what I’ve learned that has helped to steer clear of the storm ahead.
Anger is good at surprises. Often, when I find myself angry today, it has caught me by surprise. It feels as though anger is lurking in the distance, waiting to pounce. It sneaks up and catches me off-guard. It comes out of the blue and in unexpected ways.
Anger is rarely about what is currently happening. Anger when it stirs is often related not to this moment, although something in this moment has awoken it. Something is this conversation has reminded of past hurts or loss, fears, or my own insecurity. Those feelings or experiences from the past are more often than not, responsible for the anger that I am now feeling.
Others can’t make me angry. This can be the hardest to remember. Recently, I over heard someone say on the phone, “You make me so angry sometimes!” Actually, I find quite the opposite is true. I am responsible to determine my emotions and how I will emotionally respond to future hurts and frustrations. That doesn’t meant that my feelings won’t be hurt, but it does I mean that I am in control of how I feel and how I will respond. My emotions and actions are my responsibility and mine alone.
There is a better way. There is a recipe found in scripture to minimize and avoid anger. “Be quick to listen. Slow to speak. And slow to become angry.” Responding to anger with anger simply creates more. Listening however, provides the opportunity for understanding, to see another perspective, and to hear how the other person feels or has experienced. It’s an “others focused” approach that minimizes anger when it is practiced. It’s helped others for a few thousand years now and works each time for me, too.