How to Cure Anger at Any Age
CAN WE REALLY CURE ANGER?
Even for my upset little 6 year old child/grandchild?
Well, sure (but...).
Cure implies disease (or dis-ease), so off the bat you really need to notice that if you misdiagnose the problem then your odds of finding a 'cure' diminish greatly.
What causes ANGER? If we can get that down then we can start thinking about the cure. Of course, I'm talking about the wisdom level on this topic, so especially spiritual issues will need to be discussed separately.
Anger is basically generated by at least one of two things:
1. A Perceived Injustice
2. A Perceived Lack of Control/Power
Justice is simply about right and wrong. When you see anger in yourself or others then first ask, "How has this person (or you) been wronged?" In the old days we called this righteous indignation, but now we'd just call it 'no fair'. It also makes sense that if someone thinks they've been wronged then it is clearly frustrating (frustrated = nice word for ANGRY), doesn't it? It's mistreatment and a violation of what we value in the world. Politics is full of this kind of anger as people take up causes for themselves and others.
Control is about our ability to influence, or we might say 'do something' about a situation or need we care about. Face it, if you could do something you'd do it instead of being angry (unless an injustice is mixed in!). So, when we are in circumstances where we are trapped, then frustration (ANGER) is an only natural outcome. Children in particular who are stripped of all choice tend to develop an angry orientation.
HOW DOES THIS HELP?
Knowing this actually helps us a lot if we can realize that there is a more essential cause of our perception of injustice or loss of control. The essential cause is THE RULES we have in our heads. Anytime we think SHOULD, MUST, or HAVE TO, then we can rest assured we are only a circumstance away from anger.
For example, take a young boy who believes the RULE that "I should get my way." What will happen when he doesn't get his way? It will be both a violation of his sense of right-and-wrong AND a loss of control (no ability to get his way). Anger is an expression of how this RULE contradicts his situation, kind of like when a cold front hits warm/moist air! Sadly, this can result in 'getting his way' so the anger also becomes a habitual strategy for control in most situations.
Or, think about a teenage girl who has a RULE that "Sally Bae should be nice to me." If Sally Bae is nice, no problem. However, if Sally Bae is a 'mean girl' then ANGER is bound to join the party.
Making a RULE that you or others 'shouldn't be angry' only multiplies the problem because you'll get angry about being angry. Even the Bible knows that getting angry isn't evil all by itself (Ephesians 4:26 says, "Be angry, but do not sin.").
The cure is profoundly simple, but it takes a little work sometimes.
If ANGER is caused by RULES, then the ANGER will disappear when the RULE is changed, true?
Yes, ANGER really works that way, but maybe you don't want the rule to change. If murder is an injustice and someone you loved was murdered, then it is going to be a no-go to simply drop the murder-is-wrong RULE.
On the other hand, whenever you can adjust the RULE in your head or someone else's, then the anger will drop off.
Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that God will deal with all the wrongs, so if you have that orientation you can get off the anger train by letting God handle it. If this isn't your view, then you might want to hold on for an anger filled life in this often unjust world. The next best option is to choose to limit the number of causes that will torque your jaw.
When working with kids it's really all about the RULES. Getting them to think through the truth/error of something like "I should always get my way," or "____________ must be be friend," is an important step.
- Why should you always get your way?
- Where is it written that you should always get your way?
- Are there any other children who always get their way?
These kinds of questions don't look like much, but even children can wake up and notice that their thinking doesn't make sense. Furthermore, once they understand that life doesn't match a particular rule (and never will), then they can more easily give it up along with their anger.
- Where is it written that _____________ must be your friend?
- What if someone you don't like that much insisted that you be their friend? How would that work?
- Why would you want to be friends with someone who doesn't like you that much?
These kinds of questions also don't look like much, but they can go a long way in helping deal with anger.
THREE FINAL POINTS:
1. "Wishing something" were true is different than having a RULE about it. Wishing Sally Bae was your friend is different than demanding it (She MUST BE my friend). The result is being disappointed, but it isn't being ANGRY.
2. Most anger issues can only be dealt with one-at-a-time. A habit of anger is a different problem, but dealing with the RULES behind anger because you understand about Justice & Control can make a terrific difference for you and you family/friends.
3. Back off control where you can. Give choices if possible. If you want someone to clean their room, then don't ask them if they are going to or not...but you can give them a choice about timing. Even better, something like, "Do you want to clean your room alone or would you like my help?" can do the trick. Especially as children age, your external control needs to go away if they are going to ever learn to avoid anger and be responsible for their own choices. Giving choice can be quite calming and quite empowering...but you have to mean it! If it isn't a real choice, then don't ever (ever) call it one.
So, go play around with it. I bet you'll see some noticeable improvement; but please, don't make it a RULE that others SHOULDN'T have rules...then a new mess will be spawned in your world!
Off to learn,
Fred Ray Lybrand
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