Keeping Anger Under Control
MORE than 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle used the term “catharsis” to describe the “purging” or release of emotional tension that results from viewing a tragic play or drama. The idea was that after one’s tension is released, a sense of psychological refreshment would emerge.
Early in the last century, the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud promoted a similar view. He claimed that if people bottled up or repressed their negative emotions, they would later resurface as a psychological disorder, such as hysteria. Thus, Freud maintained that you should express anger rather than restrain it.
In more recent years, researchers who tested the catharsis theory throughout the ’70’s and ’80’s found little or no support to back it up. These findings led psychologist Carol Tavris to write: “It is time to put a bullet, once and for all, through [the] heart of the catharsis hypothesis. The belief that observing violence (or ‘ventilating it’) gets rid of hostilities has virtually never been supported by research.”
Another psychologist, Gary Hankins, said: “Research shows that ‘letting out’ all of your anger in a cathartic manner often leaves you feeling more uptight, not less.” Granted, mental-health experts may never reach agreement on the issue of catharsis. However, many people have benefited from another source of wisdom, the Bible.
“Let Anger Alone”
The idea of controlling your anger is beautifully expressed by the Bible psalmist David. He said: “Let anger alone and leave rage; do not show yourself heated up only to do evil.” (Psalm 37:8) The way to avoid saying or doing something that you may later regret is to keep from getting “heated up” in the first place. Of course, that is much easier said than done. But it can be done! Let’s consider three ways that you can get your anger under control.
Reduce Anger’s Intensity
To reduce anger, slow down and relax. Try to avoid saying the first thing that comes to mind. If you feel yourself getting overly excited and feel you are in danger of losing control of your emotions, apply the Bible’s counsel: “The beginning of contention is as one letting out waters; so before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.”—Proverbs 17:14.
That is what helped a man named Jack to gain mastery over his violent temper. Jack’s father was given to bouts of drunkenness and anger. While growing up, Jack developed a violent personality as well. He says: “When I became angry, I would feel as if I was on fire. And I would lash out violently with words and fists.”
However, things started to change when Jack began a study of the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He came to understand that with God’s help, he could change and learn to control his anger. And change he did! Jack relates how he reacted when a fellow workmate swore at him in anger: “I felt the surge of anger blaze through my body. My first inclination was to grab him and throw him down.”
What eventually helped Jack to remain calm? He explains: “I remember praying, ‘Please Jehovah, help me to calm down!’ Then, for the very first time, I felt a peace come over me, and I was able to walk away.” Jack continued his study of the Bible. He spent much time in prayer and meditation on such scriptures as Proverbs 26:20, which states: “Where there is no wood the fire goes out.” Afterward, Jack was finally able to gain mastery over his anger.
Learn to Relax
“A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism.” (Proverbs 14:30) Applying this basic Bible truth can improve one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Start by learning simple relaxation methods, which help to reduce feelings of anger. The following techniques have proved to be effective in combating stress-related anger:
● Breathing deeply, which is one of the best—and fastest—ways to reduce the intensity of your anger.
● While breathing deeply, repeating a word or phrase that is calming to you, such as “relax,” “let it go,” or “take it easy.”
● Immersing yourself in something you enjoy—perhaps reading, listening to music, gardening, or some other type of activity you find relaxing.
● Getting regular exercise and eating a healthful diet.
Adjust Your Expectations
You may not be able completely to avoid the people or the things that act as anger triggers, but you can learn to control your reactions to them. This involves changing the way you think.
People with very high expectations tend to have greater problems with anger. Why? Because when someone or something does not measure up to their high standards, disappointment and anger quickly follow. To combat this perfectionist mentality, it is good to keep in mind that “there is not a righteous man, not even one . . . All men have deflected, all of them.” (Romans 3:10, 12) Therefore, we set ourselves up for a sense of failure if we think that we or anyone else can be perfect.
We are wise not to expect too much of ourselves or others. The Bible says: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2) Yes, “there is no man righteous in the earth that keeps doing good and does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) So if we pretend to be something that we are not—perfect—it will lead to a life filled with frustration and anger.
As imperfect humans, we all get angry from time to time. But how we express our anger is a matter of choice. The apostle Paul cautioned fellow Christians: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) Yes, by controlling our anger, we can express our feelings in a positive way, a way that works for the benefit of everyone involved.
[Box/Pictures on pages 8, 9]
LEARN TO RELAX
Practice deep breathing
Immerse yourself in something you enjoy