Young People Ask . . .
Why Do I Lose My Temper?
“When I’m angry, I’m furious, and you wouldn’t want to get near me. . . . I turn red in the face . . . Sometimes I just yell.”—11-year-old Evan.
YOUR sister ruins your favorite blouse. Your teacher gives you an unfair mark on a test. Just when you need it the most, your hair dryer refuses to work. For many youths, any such intrusions, injustices, and inconveniences can trigger great feelings of anger.
An article in Health magazine by Dr. Georgia Witkin-Lanoil explains: “As the brain reacts to an infuriating event, the autonomic nervous system is aroused. Adrenaline, released from the adrenal glands, begins to pour into the bloodstream, increasing heart rate and respiration, and stimulating the release of stored sugars for energy.”
With what results? “Actions we take under the influence of our own adrenaline,” continues Dr. Witkin-Lanoil, “are often overreactions. We scream, hurl hateful semi-truths, hit, damage, destroy or leave the scene in a huff.” An article in ’Teen magazine similarly observed that anger “can make you say things you didn’t mean, lose your friends—and even physically ache inside.”
Did you ever lose your temper? If so, you are not alone. Like most of us, you no doubt felt quite foolish afterward and wondered, ‘Why did I do that?’ Yes, why is it so difficult for some to control their temper? Is it worth the effort to try to do so?
Why We Get Angry
Part of the reason we are capable of feeling angry from time to time is that we are made “in God’s image.” (Genesis 1:27) God himself can get angry! For example, the apostle Paul said: “For God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who are suppressing the truth in an unrighteous way.”—Romans 1:18.
Note, though, that Jehovah God’s wrath results from a love for righteousness and justice. God’s wrath is not a matter of his simply ‘losing his temper.’ He controls his anger and expresses it in a righteous way. Thus, when he brought destruction on a wicked world by a global flood, he did not lose control of the situation. Rather, he kept “Noah . . . safe with seven others.” (2 Peter 2:5) Jehovah can therefore be described as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.”—Exodus 34:6.
Because God created humans in his image, we have a built-in sense of justice. So when faced with unfair treatment or injustice, we may quite naturally feel anger rise within us. This happened to a number of godly people in Bible times.
For example, Moses, leader of the Israelite nation, became angry when several men led a rebellion against him. (Numbers 16:1, 15) And even Jesus Christ expressed anger! When he observed that men were carrying on commercial business in God’s temple of worship, he indignantly commanded: “Take these things away from here! Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!” (John 2:13-16) Righteous anger is thus quite appropriate for a Christian.
Unfortunately, most of our anger is not righteously motivated. This is because, as the Bible says, we “are all under sin.” Therefore it continues: “There is not a righteous man, not even one.” (Romans 3:9, 10) So, then, our own imperfections—and the failings of others—are potent sources of frustration. “Sometimes people get on your nerves too much,” says young Stephanie.
But we are often angry without just cause! Unlike Jehovah who sees everything, we have a limited view of any matter. (Hebrews 4:12, 13) For example, the wise man Solomon observed that “a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) Sometimes, though, “a word” is spoken in innocence, or is just a poorly timed joke or a playful bit of teasing. Not realizing this, we bristle.
Finally, there is the fact that temperaments vary, and some of us appear to be more prone to anger than others. And as a youth, you are just beginning to learn to control all the new desires and urges that puberty brings. You may feel unsure of yourself, overly sensitive to criticism. Until you gain some mastery over your feelings, you are vulnerable to provocation—especially from within the family circle. “I lose my temper with my sister,” confesses 15-year-old Lorie. “She knows how to provoke me by saying something stupid or by correcting everything I say.” Tensions can similarly flare up between you and your parents.
Really, though, just about anything can make you angry if you let it. The question is, How do you handle those feelings of anger?
Anger Let Loose
The book Reaching Your Teenager observed that “many people don’t know how to express anger sensibly.” Some throw childish tantrums. Some become violent, either verbally or physically. Others are outwardly calm but inwardly seething. As one young woman said: “When I get angry I don’t yell, I become cold and untalkative.” Still others get behind the wheel of their car and take out their anger in the way they drive.
Anger let on the loose, however, is rarely constructive. Professor Gary Schwartz of Yale University claims that rage ‘produces effects on the heart more severe and long lasting than any other feeling, even fear.’ Dr. Redford B. Williams, Jr., of Duke University said: “Several studies now suggest that an awful lot of premature mortality may be associated with hostility.” Surely it cannot be healthy to establish a pattern of ‘blowing your stack’ at every provocation. “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism,” said an ancient proverb.—Proverbs 14:30.
Further, unbridled anger usually makes a bad situation worse. Recall the Bible’s account of two brothers named Simeon and Levi whose sister was sexually violated. Understandably, they were quite angered when they heard about it! But how did they express their anger? The Bible says that they maneuvered events so that they could mercilessly murder the young man responsible for the rape—along with the males of his family and his fellow townsmen!—Genesis, chapter 34.
Years later on his deathbed, their father Jacob would recall this violent incident. Did he commend them for their wrathful vengeance? On the contrary, he cursed their anger because “it is cruel, and their fury, because it acts harshly.” (Genesis 49:7) Yes, what they had done in losing their temper was worse than the provocation that stirred them up in the first place! They had accomplished nothing constructive and had ruined their reputation.
No wonder, then, that the proverb says: “He that is quick to anger will commit foolishness.” (Proverbs 14:17) Rarely can one in a provoked state think or act rationally. Rarely will an infuriated one seek to find a Christian means of righting a wrong. The words of the Bible writer James thus ring true: “Man’s wrath does not work out God’s righteousness.” (James 1:20) Temper tantrums, hurling insults, and sulking are counterproductive.
True, letting loose with a volley of words at someone who has wronged you may feel good at the time. But you usually come to regret the outburst—especially when that someone is an employer, teacher, or parent! (Compare Ecclesiastes 10:4.) Proverbs 29:11 therefore says: “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out [by losing his temper], but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.”
But how can you do that? A future article will discuss this.
[Blurb on page 22]
Our own imperfections—and the failings of others—are potent sources of frustration
[Picture on page 23]
Is it worth losing your temper over?