I was once asked, “Has anyone ever made you mad?”
My response was a quick and easy, “Yes! People make me mad all the time.”
My mind raced through various scenarios where people pissed me off. In traffic. Why can’t anyone drive? In conversation. Why can’t others understand things the way I do? In relationships. If she would just do what I want. In society. Why are people so rude and inconsiderate?
I felt connected with that question; that person. Finally, someone understood my struggles — people everywhere make me mad. This guy feels me. I’m ready to talk about all the idiots around me that make me mad. Oh, what stories I could tell.
And then the reply to my answer was, “No they didn’t. They didn’t make you mad. You made yourself mad. You took what was said or done and YOU processed it into anger.”
I was body-slammed.
My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. Guilt and shame overwhelmed my body. Reality punched me in the face.
Damn…he was right.
That moment was life-changing. For the first time in my life, it dawned on me that I’m 100% in control of how I feel. I could choose to be angry and frustrated, or I could choose joy. It was completely up to me, and it was powerful.
What about you? Has anyone ever made you mad?
Are you tired of giving up control of how you feel to others?
Since that earth-shattering wake-up call, I’ve learned to be in control of how I feel, and more importantly, how I respond to people around me. I want to share what I’ve learned and experienced so that you can get your power (and joy) back, too — and save your relationships.
Pride and Selfishness Get in the Way
Why did I believe others made me mad? In short, they didn’t say, do, or believe as I would or as I would expect them to. I believed my ways were right and others’ ways were wrong. That’s pride. That’s selfishness.
“The more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us” — C. S. Lewis
There was an insatiable appetite, a “need” even, for me to be right. As I unpacked in, “The Antidote to Unhealthy Conflict,” when two or more people have this “need,” there will be visible conflict until one person’s will prevails. Along the way, there will be feelings of anger or frustration.
Take a look at any conflict, any disagreement, and somewhere in there is a battle of wills for who is right. That’s why we argue. That’s why we get angry. We are prideful.
The Cost of Anger
According to the Center for Human Potential, “Damage to personal relationships is one of the most common costs of anger, and probably the worst. The relationships that are damaged are often the ones you least want to lose.”
“It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride.” ― John Ruskin
The sad outcome of anger is damaged relationships. That occurs when anger escalates, which often produces regrets and irreversible scars.
“Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.” ― Thomas Jefferson
In my experience, no one ever changes their mind during an argument. Positive outcomes are rare. When I show anger, the other person usually becomes defensive and digs in as well — perhaps also arousing their own anger.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” — Proverbs 15:1
It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy — we are angry because the other person doesn’t say, do, or believe as we want them to. Our expression of anger bleeds into and stirs up the other person. Their pride cannot allow them to agree with us at that point, further infuriating us. It’s an unbreakable cycle in the arms of anger.
For a time, my wife and I would dig in, allowing our pride to hold our ground. This anger turned into resentment, which nearly cost us our marriage. When that situation arises in your life, someone (preferrably you) needs to be the first to give up their pride for the greater good.
Anger Produces Regrets
There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally, the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.
The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.” — Author unknown
“One who is slow to anger has great understanding; But one who is quick-tempered exalts foolishness.” — Proverbs 14: 29
Once it’s said or done, it’s forever. The other person can forgive you, but the scars remain. The memory lingers.
Every moment of anger puts the nail and hammer in your hand. In a single moment of weakness, the nail is struck into the fence — the damage is done.
Anger Steals Your Joy
You cannot be joyous and angry at the same time. Anger has a way of elevating your pulse, churning your stomach, creating distance, and planting seeds of revenge. Anger builds into resentment. Resentment is an eclipse of the heart, blocking out all joy.
“Do not be eager in your spirit to be angry, For anger resides in the heart of fools.” — Ecclesiastes 7:9
There’s nothing wrong with a little self-care here. Joy will always feel better than anger — at least for sane people. Walking in joy, no matter the circumstances, is a feeling unlike any other. You can choose Joy!
Mindset is Everything
The answer is simple, but not easy. Change the way you think, which changes the way you respond.
Years ago, when it dawned on me that I was making myself mad, I had to reflect on why I was gravitating toward anger. Pride and the desire to have it my way was the root problem to solve.
Was it really necessary to correct someone’s misunderstanding of me or a situation? Did I need to be right in everyone’s eyes?
Give Up the Need to Be Right
The same man that revealed to me that I make myself mad taught me another invaluable lesson — I don’t have to be right, even if I am.
Gerald G. Jampolsky once penned, “You can be right or you can be happy.” My mentor’s version was “You can be right or you can be rich” — it was a sales seminar. Either way, the point is our need to be right gets in the way of what really matters.
For example, let’s say I’m giving a testimonial about an experience I had with a product or service. Perhaps I’m recommending it to a friend and they want to argue about the facts or benefits of that product or service. I might say something like, “You may be right. All I know is, this was my experience.”
“Don’t let that nagging urge to be right be wrong for your relationships.” — Charles F Glassman
I have plenty of opinions. Some of those opinions are supported by experience and what I believe to be facts. Is it worth digging in, even if I believe I’m right? In most cases, no. It’s not that important. I learned to let others be right and move on, for my peace of mind; for the sake of my relationships.
Ignorance is Bliss
You and I aren’t ignorant, but when we stop trying so hard to prove we’re not, we’ll be in a much better state of mind.
I found the less I care about proving how smart I am and being right, the more joy I have.
I’m all about sharing the knowledge and experience I have. When the other person is receptive and the conversation isn’t a battle of who’s right and wrong, I’ll engage in a humble conversation aimed at learning from each other. However, if there’s resistance, I will often accept my “ignorance,” let the other person win and be right, and move on. It’s just not worth digging in.
“Life offers a cruel choice: you can be right or happy. Not both. This is true regardless of whom you may be involved with, but it is especially true if there is an emotional vampire in your life.” — Albert J. Bernstein
Others’ Needs Before My Own
Selfishness is another instigating factor in anger. When I don’t get what I want, when my needs aren’t met, anger is waiting in the wings ready to pounce. All it needs is a little selfishness to unleash it.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, willingness to do things their way…when their demands aren’t met, their disappointment becomes anger.”
A focus on self seems natural and necessary. The APA further suggests that, “Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.”
Is looking out for your own interests the best approach for survival? Doesn’t anger sprout from not getting what you want? Doesn’t that anger lead to distraction? Perhaps this is why the Bible speaks frequently about putting others before self.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” — Philippians 2:3–4
Anger is a natural human emotion. That emotion is stirred as a result of how we process the world around us. People don’t make us mad. We make ourselves mad.
We make ourselves mad because our pride and selfishness aren’t being fed the way we think they should.
Our response to that disappointment often leaves irreversible scars in our relationships. We may get what we want in the moment, but at what cost?
Our anger often incites resistance that creates a no-win situation for everyone. It’s a self-defeating endeavor.
How we respond to our feelings of anger is what anger management is all about. The APA says anger management is to “reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can’t get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.”
Very true. However, none of this changes the fact that your anger is rooted in pride and selfishness. The more humility you have, the less pride you exert, the less need you have to be right or to get your way, the less anger you’ll arouse in which to manage.
Humility and choosing joy is the anger management technique that has worked best for me, and my relationships. Remember, you control how you feel in every situation. Yes, you are that powerful. Use it for good.