How to Handle Anger

Do you struggle with anger? Whether it’s little things that set you off, or being unable to control your temper once it has flared up, anger can cause serious damage to your life and relationships. On the other hand, anger is a natural (and even good!) response to injustices and bad behavior that we witness. So how can we address our anger in a way that helps us see whether or not it is a righteous anger? And how can we keep it under control so it doesn’t become destructive?

Fr. Dave Heney, pastor of St. Bruno Catholic Church in Whittier, CA and host of the Family Rosary Across Americastopped by The Inner Life® recently to discuss anger and how it can become a force for good rather than a force of destruction.

Host Chuck Neff pointed out that anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and Fr. Dave explained why we should take anger seriously, saying, “We call them the Seven Deadly Sins because they frequently lead to other sins. They are kind of the beginning of a chain that can get out of control. So we talk about anger being one of the Deadly Sins because from anger can come violence or great destruction. One person’s anger can devastate an entire family, workplace, or community.”

Father Dave, who has a Masters degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from the University of Southern California, offered insights into how anger is an emotion like any other, but that the way it affects us physically is part of what makes it difficult to handle.

“Anytime we have thoughts that are connected to bodily reactions, that’s called a feeling,” he explained. “So our heart races, our breathing changes, and that can actually cause a chain reaction that increases our anger. Because we’re not breathing right, our heart is racing, our nerves are on end. We lose our temper and can react badly.  Anger and getting mad comes from those kinds of experiences. And that’s why people find them so hard to control.”

And anger doesn’t just affect the person who is feeling angry. If not handled appropriately, it can seriously affect those around you too. Fr. Dave explained one particular way that anger affects relationships when he said, “I would put it all under one word: distancing. We become distant to the people around us and toward God when we have uncontrolled anger. I mean, look, nobody likes to be around an angry person. They can be frightening. What are they gonna do next? They are literally out of control. And nobody likes that. If you don’t have a handle on anger, it causes distance. People avoid us, certain topics that need to be talked about don’t get talked about.”

But not all anger is bad. We should feel anger when we witness an injustice or are unjustly attacked ourselves. Righteous anger can be a great force for good. “Believe it or not, it is one of the virtues when it is righteous,” said Fr. Dave. But how can you tell whether or not your anger is righteous?

“I would say you’re not going to know right away,” Fr. Dave answered. “You’re not going to know in the moment. So the best thing to do is if you find yourself getting angry, if you find yourself getting upset, the most powerful and beautiful advice we often received from our grandparents. Just count to ten. Sometimes I tell my parishioners to count to 1,000 or count to 1 million. Whatever it takes to calm down.”

“Because the first reaction, literally, is animalistic,” he continued. “It’s the way animals respond. What makes us human is our reason, our rationality, our ability to think clearly. So all we need is just a few seconds to stop that instant reaction. To move our reactions to that part of our brain where we can see things clearly. Then we can kind of map and plan out a response that is going to be more effective.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

The Inner Life airs weekdays at noon Eastern/9:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.