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How To Not Get Mad

Last Updated January 05, 2021

How’s that for a title, eh? Is it true? Have I somehow found the secret to not getting angry? Well, no, not hardly. I have, however, learned some things that I’d like to share.

Nothing Makes Us Angry

It’s commonplace to hear someone say something like, “he made me so mad today” or “you’re really making me angry”. And, while that may be what we say, it’s not actually what happens. Nothing actually makes us angry. Queue Morpheus, what if I told you the anger that we feel is already inside of us? It’s certainly not a new concept. King Solomon, the guy thought to have been the brainchild behind the great wisdom we find in the book of Proverbs in the Bible, seemed to think this. Anger is always referenced as something that can be controlled. And if it’s something we can control, then it must be something that originates in us. In other words, anger isn’t something that comes to us, it’s something that comes from us.

Know Thy Enemy

Okay, so maybe you’ve bought in. That’s good. Knowing is half the battle, as they say. I am a firm believer that, in general, you cannot rightly control that which you do not understand. So far we know the anger we feel originates inside us. But how? How does that happen? To know that I’m going to refer to King Solomon, since he seemed to have plenty of insight into the topic. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” I love the word “stirs” there. I think it’s a perfect analogy for how anger births itself inside of us. When we get mad, we are actually getting stirred up. That is to say, when things happen to us that we don’t like that there’s something inside of us that gets stirred up, making us angry. What that means for us, then, is that even though Karen did something maybe she shouldn’t have, she’s not the real reason I’m angry. It’s actually little anger nuggets that I already have inside that just got stirred up.

Anger Nuggets

What are anger nuggets? Anger nuggets is just a name I made up, but I do believe they are very real. Anger nuggets are interesting things. We all have them. Some have more, some have less. Some we have because of something we did, some because of what someone did to us. Some are own fault, and some aren’t. Regardless of where they came from or how we got them, they are ours to bear. What is an anger nugget, though? Well, it could be a trauma experienced as a child, adult, or even as an infant. It could be an absent father, an abusive mother, a manipulative boyfriend, or your biggest regret. All of these things accumulate inside of us, whether we like it or not, sitting, waiting, to be stirred up.

Peanut Butter & Jelly

Alright, we’re almost there. We’ve learned that our expression of anger is really just little anger nuggets that got stirred up inside of us. So, if the goal is to not get angry then that means we only have two options. We either get rid of the nuggets or we thicken the sauce in which they reside. Now, of course I think it would be best to get rid of the nuggets altogether. That’s probably also the healthiest thing to do. An article from a professional software developer is not going to solve that, though, so I’ll be focusing on the latter. We’ll learn how to take steps toward thickening the sauce in which our anger nuggets live.

Have you ever stirred up peanut butter or jelly? There’s a big difference in the two isn’t there? It’s pretty easy to stir up jelly. But peanut butter, now that takes some effort. Do you see where I’m going with this? If we want to be slow to anger then we need to be hard to stir! We need to be the peanut butter!

Thicken The Sauce

Onto the final piece - what you all came here for - the actual practical things we can do to not get mad, or at least less mad. ;)

Flaw recognition precedes anger. In other words, it’s not that we get angry and see someone’s flaws. We see someone’s flaws and then we get angry. This is the first step in thickening our sauce. When we see ourselves start to recognize someone else’s faults then we know that’s our body’s trigger to start stirring. It may still happen, but at least we're cognizant of it! Remember, we often can’t control that which we don’t understand.

Be present, not trapped. It’s a good thing to be as present as possible during any conversation, presentation, or what have you. However, to be present does not mean to be trapped. If you find yourself quick to respond In anger, whether verbal or not, remember though your body is present your mind is free to wander. You are not trapped or cornered. There’s always an escape hatch, even if it’s just in your own head.

Be curious. Responding with questions puts both parties in a less defensive posture. Questions make people think. And it’s harder to get angry when we’re busy thinking. Be careful, though, there’s a fine line between questioning and pestering. So, use this tactic wisely. We’ve all heard what it did to the cat.

Listen to more than just their words. What people say and how they say it is often a reflection of how they feel. So instead of hearing Susie demean and belittle your work, hear Susie’s insecurities of her position. Hear her brother dying of cancer. Hear her son’s addiction. Hear her marriage hanging by a thread. People aren’t often vulnerable, but if we just listen closely and use a little imagination, we can see people for who they really are, and that’s likely a big emotional mess, just like us. And if that’s the case, that the person or people making us angry are more like us than we realize, then maybe we can afford to give them the same grace we’d hope they would afford us.

Those pieces of advice certainly aren’t full proof, but neither is peanut butter, right? The goal isn’t to never get angry. That’s both impossible and an unhealthy goal. We’re not trying to freeze our anger nuggets in carbonite. We simply want to thicken their sauce such that we can have better control over our emotions. It’s a skill. And any skill takes practice. So, I’m not saying look for situations to get angry, but maybe next time you find yourself in such a situation, use it as practice to thicken your sauce. It’ll likely do both parties a little good.

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Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed on this blog are my own and are in no way representative of my employer.