What you can do with all that anger—only better!
By Scott Hendrickson,LCPC
I don’t honestly ever remember being spanked as a kid. One time my dad kicked me in the rear in frustration after I was being ornery. I’m sure it is because my sisters weren’t helping that much with the dishes and I was probably performing a sit-in as a protest. It is likely that I am remembering that differently from my sisters. But other than that time, I don’t remember getting spanked. A few times dad’s belt came out in expert fashion—probably his version of a protest. An anti-sit-in if you will, and an effective parenting technique/motivator for me. I have never been a fan of pain.
Several years ago, my parents reminded me of two times they actually did spank me. Once when I was probably about three, my mother served me an orange that was not sliced in the way I demanded. I guess I threw a major tantrum and she spanked me…according to her. The other time, my dad, who was a mechanic and autobody repair expert, found me in the yard digging with one of his expensive tools. It had to be expensive because he kept this tool in its own special case in its own special drawer at the bottom of his biggest and most impressive toolbox. Most of his tools were tossed in the top drawers all together in no special order. This tool was expensive, so he kept it in its case in the one drawer where all the pricey tools were kept. Obviously, it was not a tool designed for digging in the dirt. How was I supposed to know that? It had some funny French looking name that seemed perfect for dirt digging—torque wrench or ‘creuser la terre’.
When I was a bit older, after this infamous spanking that I don’t remember, my dad would have me working in that garage. Sometimes my assigned task was wrenching on various projects. My philosophy was if the nut was any kind of metal, it required as much muscle as I had to make sure it was tightened properly. The first time I broke off a bolt by over-muscling the wrench, I was so proud of my strength. It was confirmation that I was not a wimp—I had muscles! My dad was not impressed, however. When you are working on someone’s car engine with expensive parts, breaking them because you are just that powerful, is not cool. He reintroduced me to the torque wrench and the concept of ‘everything is permissible but not necessarily beneficial’.
Anger can be an important tool in everyone’s toolbox. Jesus never commanded, ‘thou shalt not be angry’. He even used this tool with perfect precision. If God Incarnate used anger, I would say with 100 percent confidence it is okay for anyone else to use anger.
Anger is designed to be a tool of precision—judiciously and with the right amount of torque. Overpowering breaks and destroys at worst, irritates and annoys at best. When one is angry, there is a temptation to overpower in order to make a proper and lasting point. Be careful! Long-term, this is an expensive destroyer of what is valuable to you and yours. The Apostle Paul famously wrote, ‘be angry…and sin not’. Be angry! There is an important need to use anger. It defines holy boundaries and negotiates other unknown boundaries in virtually all relationships.
When real protesting is necessary, anger can motivate one to challenge injustice. When your children are angry, encourage it, but show them how to use the torque wrench. If you are having difficulty calibrating your own anger, find someone to help you with this. Don’t put it away and avoid it—this too is dangerous. If you avoid anger because you are afraid of your own muscle, it might be that you are not practiced. Good relationships allow for the practice of anger.
One thing to remember is that anger is not a tool to get your own way no matter how loud or soft, openly or covertly it is expressed. That would be destructive torque either way. If you are in a relationship where either you or that other person (male or female) has routinely been ‘torqued off’ it might be difficult to use even a proper amount of anger until you regain some trust. Even in this instance, anger likely exists and should not be ignored. Try new strategies of being angry until you find the ones that do the job constructively. Here are some possible strategies to try instead:
- Wait for a better time when defenses are lowered to communicate your objections or concerns kindly.
- Give everyone the freedom to not comply with your demands even if you know they are proper and just.
- Natural consequences are almost always more effective with kids.
- Develop trust in any relationship in order to establish a platform for effective anger. This takes time—usually more time than you think or expect.
- If the intensity of your anger is destructively high where you don’t trust yourself to express it without doing damage, take a walk, focus on regular breathing through your nose (if possible) or anything that will give you enough time to allow the intensity to lower.
- Pray for wisdom. Jesus said He will always be with us and one of his disciples, James, wrote He will always give you wisdom without judging you. We usually need a pause to even discern this kind of wisdom, however.
- Accept the worst in people (with boundaries of course).
- Practice letting go of offenses as quickly as possible. Find someone to help with this if needed. Being angry out of your offendedness can be counterproductive at best.
Live in harmony with one another. Romans 12:16