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Who’s in Control: Your Anger or You?

How is your anger?  Would others describe you as short-tempered or as having a short-fuse?  Do you feel like you struggle with having enough patience?  You are not alone. 

Dr. Ray Guarendi (known as Dr. Ray on radio and tv) writes about anger in his new book, Living Calm:  Mastering Anger & Frustration (Irondale, AL:  EWTN Publishing.  2022.  This book is described as a revised edition of Fighting Mad, published in 2014.) 

Dr. Ray says the in vogue therapeutic language for those who struggle with anger is ‘“He has a low frustration tolerance.”  “She displays deficits in emotional regulation.” “He struggles with anger management issues”’ (1) You can call it many things.  The bottom line is “are we in control of our anger or is our anger in control of us.”

Dr. Ray writes, “The new language shuns value judgments.  At school little Butch’s aggression isn’t wrong; it’s unacceptable.  His actions aren’t bad; they’re inappropriate choices.  He isn’t being mean; he’s exhibiting relational deficits” (2).   Really?  Why is his behavior unacceptable?  Because it’s wrong.  They’re inappropriate actions because they are bad actions.  We need to find compassion words to describe behavior, including our own behavior, but we need to be honest with ourselves when we have done something wrong.  Even if we have diagnosable psychological issues, we need to admit when we have done something wrong (see Guarendi, 5).

What is the origin of our bad behavior?  Dr. Ray says when he was in school, “the emphasis was on all the ways the environment shaped personality” (12).  The environment we grow up in has a major part in shaping who we are.  So does “nature,” meaning our biological genes.  Dr. Ray is the father of ten children.  They are all adopted.  All raised in the same environment but with different genetic makeups.  They don’t all behave the same (Guarendi, 12-13).  We do not control our genetic makeup and we were not in control of our environment growing up.  What we are in control of is what we do now.  How well do you handle anger now?

Dr. Ray talks about “eruptive anger”, the kind we blow up with.  This can be the most concerning.  However, in the confessional, I think it is what Dr. Ray calls “simmering anger” that can also be concerning.  It’s the kind we keep bottled up inside us until something pushes us too far.  Then, there’s the “silent anger” we may not even realize is making us irritable (Guarendi, 15). 

Sometimes we seem to blow up at little things.  Here, I advise people to reflect on what was really making us anger.  Were we mad at what was going on at that moment?  Perhaps it brought up old memories of something much worse that is the source of our real anger (see Guarendi, 17).  Maybe, based on past behaviors, we were expecting them to act badly.  We cause ourselves “anticipatory anxiety” when we expect bad things to happen (see Guarendi, 41).    Sometimes the thing that makes us blow up is not what is really upsetting us.  Sometimes someone has upset because they unknowingly “stumbled into a sensitive personal place” (Guarendi, 18).

Sometimes we act differently in different settings (Guarendi, 22).  At work we are careful in how we act.  At church we seek to follow expectations but at home we let loose of the rules and regulations.  Who is the real us?  Are people seeing the best or worst of us?  Are we seeing the best or worst of them?

Sometimes we avoid issues trying to be good and establish peace.  We wait too long to deal with a situation and when we finally do, we explode (Guarendi, 25-26 and 27-32). 

Dr. Ray writes on how some think, ‘“Feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are.”  So goes the mantra.  Merely because I experience an emotion, that emotion is legitimate” (34).  This is probably most used in reference to anger.  There are things that will make us angry.  Later, Dr. Ray writes, “Risking oversimplification, righteous anger follows an injustice or harm done to another, while right-filled anger tends to wrap around a wrong done to oneself” (63). 

What do we do with our anger?  Dr. Ray points us to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-32, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.  But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”  We must work to control our anger, no matter how justified we feel (cf. Guarendi, 36-37).

Sometimes we think we have to act angrily to get to others to do what we want them to do.  Our anger may get us what we want in the immediate moment but are we are building a good future by relying on our anger (Guarendi, 46-47)?  Lord, please help us to change.

Whose to blame?  Does it matter who started it?  When you fought with a sibling growing up, did one of your parents ever say, “I don’t care who started it.  I’m going to finish it?”  The reality is we all may contribute to the problem (Guarendi, 50-52).  We can’t make the other person change.  What we can do is admit our portion of the blame and work to change ourselves. 

We need to ask God to help us control what might seem like justified anger.  Sometimes, all it takes is our holding control for a minute to keep from exploding.  Lord, help me to control the emotions within me so that I may respond in accord with your will (Guarendi, 55-59, 91-97).

What else should we consider in evaluating our anger and how to deal with it?  Dr. Ray writes, “My anger over an offense may be one of the most intense feelings I’ve ever had.  That doesn’t mean the feeling is grounded in a right reading of the situation.  My reading may be slanted or incomplete” (65).

We should also consider why something is bothering us.  Dr. Ray describes frustration as “the difference between the way we want things to be and the way they are.  It is the gap between our desires and reality.  The bigger the gap, the more the frustration” (73).  He continues, “To reduce frustration, reduce the distance between what you expect – from other and from life – and what is” (73).  Lord, please help to know if my expectations are reasonable and in line with your will.  If my expectations are not, please help me to change them.

What about venting?  Does it really help?  Pent-up anger is not good but in “venting” are we looking to justify our position or are we open to seeing things differently?  Dr. Ray says venting is not helpful (87-90).  I think we need to ask God to help us find constructive ways to release our anger but in the right way, not in gossip or a fit of rage.

Earlier I spoke about the importance of admitting our part.  When we have done wrong, Dr. Ray writes, ‘“I’m sorry is a giant first step toward damage control.”  Unfortunately, “I’m sorry” doesn’t always seem adequate or genuine.  However, it is a start.  Dr. Ray reminds us, “one can genuinely regret his past behavior yet struggle to reduce like behavior in the future” (103).  Do you always change when you want to?  Really?  Think of the words in the act of contrition “I firmly resolve to sin no more.”  Do you always stop sinning on the first try?  Don’t worry.  God still forgives you.  Offer the same to others.

Anger may seem natural.  Dr. Ray talks about some see it as “automatic” (108).  An angry thought may come in an instant.  That’s why we need to take a minute before responding.  It is based on our perception but our perception may not be right (Guarendi, 110).  Lord, help us to correctly understand the situation and to not take it all personally. 

As I prepare to conclude, three points.  First, when facing anger in the present moment, don’t dredge up the past (Guarendi, 125).  Second, Dr. Ray reminds us, “It’s been said:  clinging to anger toward another is like ingesting a little bit of poison every day and waiting it for it to sicken the other person” (130).  Third, when someone upsets you, always remember to pray for them!

These are my thoughts having read Dr. Ray’s book, Living Calm:  Mastering Anger & Frustration.”  My thoughts are based on my own struggles with anger and frustrations as well as what others have said to me.  However, my thoughts and struggles may not be the same as yours.  For example, Dr. Ray frequently uses examples relating to parenting.  I am not a parent, so those examples don’t always speak to me.  They might speak to you.  What I have written in a few pages is not meant to be a substitute for reading Dr. Ray’s book.  I offer this hoping it inspires you in whatever challenges you face dealing with anger.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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