A man calmly pushes away his anger

The Fallible Caregiver Series: When Anger Knocks, Part 2

Yesterday, I felt pissed off a few times at my dear wife. She was too slow getting ready to get out of the house. She was on her phone too much (thus ignoring me), and some of her comments made little sense to me. Okay, nothing big in any of that, but I still felt pissed.

As I hope to show, this reveals more about me than it does about her. The good news is that I can learn some key insights about myself to help me not be like this in the future, or at least not as much. My frustration and anger act as dashboard lights that something is amiss, and we probably need to look under the hood.

I ended my last article asking: How do we fight these feelings of anger living right below the surface and at times erupting forth?

An inconvenient truth

I’ve titled these two articles “When Anger Knocks,” because that statement has a little-known secret. It’s easy to understand but hard to accept. And our current cultural climate hungry to identify as victims for any slight definitely does not like it.

Here it is. No one causes you to get frustrated, angry, and pissy. You do that. I do that. I choose that; better put, I allow it and often foster it. It’s that whole gross personal responsibility thing. Ugh.

Situations and scenarios confront us every day that tempt us to open the door and let anger in. Sometimes we even open the door and call out to invite anger inside. We do this because it feels good. We feel we are justified in it.

While anger can be constructive and helpful in some situations, it’s usually just harmful to those around us and to ourselves. So what do we do? How do we become less angry and more loving toward the one we are caring for?

Anger is a choice

Well, before I get to the meat of the matter, the first thing is to recognize this basic but hard-to-swallow fact: anger is, in most cases, a choice. We don’t have to get pissy. No one is forcing us to react like rattlesnakes.

Second, I think we need to actively combat our angry feelings rather than being passive and allowing our feelings to lead the way. Passivity is our natural position. Just go with the flow. But if you’ve felt angry lately, and especially if you’ve allowed anger to fester into bitterness (a worse poison than anger), that natural flow will control your day and lead you quickly into the gutter and those around you.

Here is a quick little tip to help you capture your feelings early in the morning—before they capture you! Say to yourself out loud, “Today is going to be an awesome day!” Say it with enthusiasm. And smile. Yes, make yourself smile. It does something. Say it several times in several ways. You may not feel like doing this, but that’s the point. Take the action first and, in most cases, the feelings will follow. Put sticky notes around the house to remind you. Just do it.

To help us take this active stance over our feelings, I developed a simple acronym you will want to memorize. When you feel that anger knocking at the door, I think these four principles will help to keep that door closed. Slap this on the door and quickly rehearse these four points. Here it is: P.I.S.T. When you feel pist, take a minute and remember these points.

Anger management tips

P = Perspective

When we get angry, we probably need a bigger perspective. Zoom out! Remember, anger is a form of temptation we give into and usually when we are tempted by something (say, a cigarette, a drink, a purchase, or anger), we can bet we are way zoomed in on that one thing. It’s all we think about. It’s all we feel.

We need to zoom out and try to pull ourselves back. See the bigger picture. Is this really worth it? Do I really need to lose my temper over this? Will this be a big deal one year from now? If my neighbor popped over for a surprise, would I not control myself and throw on a smile and a warm greeting? If I can choose to control myself and do that, can I not do so here too? P is for Perspective. Zoom out.

I = Isolate

Here is another inconvenient truth about us. In 99% of every cases where we blow it, where we lose our temper, where we give in to temptation, where we sin, it’s because we want something… something we are not getting.

This insight is nothing new. The Bible highlights this some 2000 years ago. Check this out: “What starts wars and fights among you? Is it not because you want many things and are fighting to have them? You want something you do not have, so you kill. You want something but cannot get it, so you fight for it” (James 4:1-2).

Tough truth, huh? Sometimes adulting is such a hassle! But here’s the key. When we feel frustrated, we want to first zoom out and second, isolate that feeling and ask ourselves this: What is it I want right now? Do I want respect or help or attention (i.e. love) or pleasure or rest or… Those types of desires are the positives. Those desires are important to isolate and understand because they can more easily be talked about, which is the “T” in my acronym pist.

But often when we step back and isolate what we want, what emerges is not so virtuous. Too often, our frustration is rooted in our pride, our impatience, our selfishness, our perceived importance, or our misguided expectations. If we discern these types of feelings, well, then we need to have a one-on-one talk with ourselves. If I can just put it bluntly, in those cases, we just need to grow up. Ouch. Adulting… ugh.

We are masters at blame-shifting, but once we realize the tension is usually because of something inside me I want, it at least gives me (and us) a chance toward clarity and resolution. It gives us a light to help us navigate through the tangled weeds of our emotions.

S = Shoes

Next, what I try to do is put myself in her shoes. This is another adult thing we call empathy. I try to feel what she feels, or what I think she feels. This may be the most important step in pist.

It’s fairly easy to zoom out and get the bigger picture, and perspective. It’s also not too difficult to isolate what’s tempting us to let anger reign. We can do both steps and yet still stew with a hard heart toward the one we love. Putting myself in her shoes acts like a slap to my face—a slap I probably need.

We get hell-bent on our wants, our needs, our rights, and all the injustices we suffer. Good grief, please slap me! I need that emotional slap to arrest my heart’s stubborn bull charge at my wife.

When I put myself in her shoes and imagine the one with terminal cancer, my heart melts. What if that world-weight lay on my shoulders? What if I wanted to be my old self, but I was always tired, weak, nauseous, and in pain? What if she nagged me or, worse, got pissed at me for not being the man I once was? What if she desperately wanted sex, but my pickle couldn’t pop anymore? And what if she expressed open anger and disappointment about that?

Let me be honest right now. The way I feel after writing that last paragraph if all that happened, I would want to kill myself. I’d want to just end it and free her. And without the drama here, I probably would.

When we get angry, we are allowing our hearts to get hard; putting ourselves in his or her shoes helps our hearts soften and helps us see more clearly, more accurately.

T = Talk

The last step in PIST is to talk about it. This is the toughest step for me. I think it is for many men. I hold a master’s degree in bottling up sh#t. My sweet wife also holds the same degree! We are both passive-aggressive in our combat styles. Our pasts scared us with the pain of relational conflict and thus we are both allergic to bringing up issues that can lead to a fight or cause pain.

This topic deserves its own article, and maybe when I actually learn how to do it well, I’ll write that one. But for now, I at least know burying stuff rarely goes well. If we bury angry living creatures, they almost always have a way of coming back up—and usually uglier than before.

If we do make it to the talking stage but we haven’t done step three (empathy), we will probably just blast them with both barrels. In the Bible, God says to speak the truth. But that’s not all. He says to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

We are a team

When my heart is hard toward my wife, then it’s me against her. I want to win. But if my goal is love, I will seek our mutual happiness. I’ll remember we are a team. I’ll remember we are together in this thing. I’ll remember my vows. When my heart is softened, it’s me with her.

We can find a solution. We can learn to work through this thing. Guess what? You can too. Easy? Heck no! Worth it? Heck yes!

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