Controlling Anger: When Deep Breathing Just Ain’t Enough


Controlling Anger: When Deep Breathing Just Ain’t Enough

Sarah Pachter

Imagine that it’s dinner time. The kids are wailing about the choice of menu, and everyone seems to be tired and out of control. Throw a tantrum or two into the mix, and you get the idea. Your anxiety is rising because you have a deadline for bedtime that evening, since you plan to host a class/go to out to dinner/head to the theater/enjoy a date night with your spouse.

Everyone is popping up and down, finding and playing with toys, even throwing balls around the house. Dinnertime resembles circus practice, and the children are ignoring your kind requests to sit and eat nicely. (This is purely hypothetical of course, for no one reading this article has experienced such madness…)

Bedtime seems to drift further and further into an unreachable distance, and you just know you will be late getting out the door. On top of it all, you suspect that the babysitter won’t be able to get them to sleep, and you can see yourself returning home to more chaos.

You are snapped back to reality by the screams of the children tattling on one another. “She hit me!” “He looked at me funny!” “She started it…” Suddenly, your eldest child picks up his fork to fling a ketchup-covered piece of steak. Before you can stop him, the juicy piece of meat flies across the table, splattering your cheek and hitting your skirt – let’s make it a white skirt, just for kicks.

Of course, it was not aimed at you…

Torah MusingsYour anger is rising. With your red-stained skirt and dirty face, this exhibit of disrespect is too much for you to handle and you begin a tirade. Nothing can stop you now. You can’t even pause to think about last week’s article reminding you to breathe when experiencing anger (which is Anger-fighting Tool #1).

Anger-fighting Tool #2: Imagine Other People Are Watching

Suddenly, the doorbell rings. Everyone races to the door as you try to wipe off your face, smooth out your skirt, and clear your throat in order to welcome your guest. Despite all the anger you just felt churning inside, you are somehow able to calmly answer the door. “Hi, how can I help you?”

The arrival of a friend, or even a stranger, forces us to pull ourselves together! If we look more deeply as to why this happens, we will find pride at our very core. We wouldn’t dare want a friend/acquaintance/stranger to see us lose control. This very concept is, in fact, an effective technique to controlling one’s wrath. Using our pride to overcome our anger is highly motivational, and can affect change in a real way.

Research suggests one of the deep roots of anger is ego. We get upset when others don’t respect us. “How could they have done this to me?” We become frustrated over issues of money, which boil down to power and control – ego yet again. We feel angry because we are insecure, worrying, “What will X think?” Pride and ego are highly combustible, operating like oxygen to a flame.

However, it is possible to use pride to combat pride. If we cannot stop ourselves for a moment to breathe, knowing someone else is present forces us to halt our anger. Our pride keeps us in check, because we don’t want a perfect stranger to watch us lose it and then think less of us.

I was once upset about my son ruining my dress while a babysitter was at our house. Why was I so upset about the dress? Because of pride – I couldn’t possibly wear a stained dress in public. Knowing that a non-family member was in our home gave me the strength to control myself. In other words, protecting my pride by not losing my cool in front of the babysitter helped me overcome the anger I felt over the dress.

A teacher of mine once shared that she uses a visualization technique to control her anger. She pretends students are in her home! This actually works, and you can do it, too. Imagine someone else is right there watching you. Doing so can help with the duration and intensity of your anger, as well as its expression.

If you have cameras in your home, you can watch how you interact with your family in this candid manner. Even if the sound is not recorded, seeing our own body language is eye-opening and has the potential to help us change our ways.

Anger-fighting Tool #3: Life Isn’t Fair – thank G-d!

Speaking of videos, there is a fabulous movie for children called Inside Out, which depicts the way children develop their inner emotions through cartoons. One of the main characters is named Anger, and the movie introduces him in the following way: “This is anger. He likes everything to be fair and loses control when things don’t match up.”

We like when we are in control. Our minds feel secure when there is order, balance, and fairness around us.

My sister has adopted a mantra that she shares with her children when they claim, “It’s not fair!” Her statement usually nips her kids’ complaints in the bud.

She answers, “Yes! You’re right, life isn’t fair. I don’t even want to hear it, because trust me, if life were fair, you would be very unhappy. You have it pretty good.”

Try it on your kids, and even on yourself, when you start to feel anger because things are imbalanced.

There’s hidden depth in this seemingly simple comeback. If we are truly honest, we all know we would choose our own pekele. Take poverty, for example. There are millions of people starving and suffering without basic food, clothing, and shelter. The percentage of people who are privileged enough to have access to newspapers is very small. If we were to partition all the resources of the world equally, we would surely end up with a lot less than what we currently have.

The same is true of suffering. We tend to forget that people suffer in severe ways. Humans are tortured, enslaved, mutilated, and killed at all times around the globe. If we were to divide up all the suffering the world experiences evenly, we would run back into our current lives.

An anger-reinforcing, egocentric thought might be: “This isn’t fair! Why do they have it better than me?”

A great motto to counteract it is, “Life isn’t fair – thank G-d!”

Life is not fair, and no one ever claimed it was going to be. This idea becomes clear when we stop to consider the world around us. Not only can our pride be a useful tool but our compassion for others can dispel our anger. By keeping this concept in mind, we can successfully stop anger in its tracks while also feeling grateful for the life we’ve been given.