Understanding Your Anger

Do you remember how anger was usually expressed in your home growing up? Did your father express it differently than your mother? Have you looked at your own patterns of handling anger? Are there any similarities?

It wasn't until fairly recently that I really gave these questions thoughtful reflection. My daughters are both well into adulthood now, but I wish I'd been more intentional about dealing with my own anger issues prior to child-rearing and especially prior to adolescence.

In my home growing up anger was ominous. We were warned as children "NOT to make your dad angry." This instilled a great deal of fear which was magnified by my dad's critical perfectionism. Even though I don't remember my dad ever becoming violent or physically abusive toward my mother or us kids, it seemed as though this possibility was always lurking behind a closed door ready to strike at any given moment. We all lived in fear that we might be "the one" who unleashed the anger that had the power to destroy anything or anyone in its path. As a result, I learned at a young age how to "scope out" a situation and carefully avoid any triggers.

My mother's anger was different. I didn't have a name for it until I went to grad school. My mother was primarily silent about her anger. Yes, there were times that she would vocalize her displeasure by raising her voice at me, but her preferred method was silent withdrawal. I knew as a teen and as an adult when I'd made my mom angry. The emotional withdrawal and silence came through loud and clear. She would vacate and I never knew how long this would last, but I learned early on the only way to "get her back" was to tell her I was sorry and that I was wrong for whatever it was that displeased her.

Fast forward twenty years. I brought both my dad and mom's anger patterns into my parenting style. I didn't learn soon enough what it meant to "contain" my children's emotions and stay connected emotionally, especially with our oldest daughter Heather when she was an adolescent. I sure wish Dr. Townsend had written "Boundaries with Teens" earlier because it might have saved us a lot of heartache as a family. Here's a quote from his book:

Parents teach their children primarily through experiences, even more than through teaching and talking. But you can't provide what you don't possess. So no matter how much you love your teen, you have a built -in limitation, and it is this: you can only parent to your own level of maturity.

Let me illustrate. We were all sitting around the dinner table eating and I noticed Heather, now 18, was holding her head in her hand looking quite bedraggled. I said to myself, "Good! She's tired so maybe she'll stay home tonight and get some much needed rest!" You see, I was counting. Heather had been out for thirteen nights in a row. I knew better than to comment about my tallying so I just kept quiet, hoping her weariness would bring with it sensibility. All was going well and I commented about how nice it was to have her home. That is, until the phone rang at 9:30 p.m. My formerly lethargic daughter came to life and I was angry because I knew what was coming. She bounded up the stairs to get ready to go out as her mother's silent disapproval  reverberated off the walls.

When she came downstairs and announced she was going out for the evening AGAIN- I was seething silently in disbelief. As I shared my concern about her need for rest, she waived me off and that fanned the flame of my anger even more. With that she was out the door. I immediately started venting to my husband and my ranting continued until I knew what I needed more than anything was to cry out to God. So I went up to Heather's bedroom and got on my knees and began to pray.

As I prayed, I said, "Oh Lord, when is she going to learn. How can I get through to her? Please Lord show me. Father, I need your comfort and reassurance right now. Would you please give me a verse from scripture to comfort this aching mother's heart?" As I sat quietly for a moment, I sensed the Spirit of God saying, "James 1:19." I immediately responded back to God and said, "Hmm, Lord. I don't remember a lot of words of comfort in the book of James", but I pulled out my Bible and read aloud these words:


I heard the Spirit say to my heart, "Jan, your anger is not going to produce a 'righteous life' in Heather, and it's not doing much for your life either." I confessed my anger to the LORD and was then prompted to write Heather a note of apology and place it on her bed. I wept as I wrote that note, knowing that God was at work in my own heart changing patterns that I carried from my past into the present. 

This wasn't immediate--and in fact, I still struggle at times not to hold onto anger and bitterness. What about you? How was anger handled in your family growing up? What experience comes to your mind when you think about the anger of your father? Your mother?

Get out a journal and record any incidents that you recall. Allow yourself to once again feel the feelings you had as a child. As you do, act as a good parent would to the child inside you who experienced hurt. Offer empathy and understanding for any fear, guilt or shame that the child may have felt. Comfort that child and yourself by asking God to bring healing and comfort to those hurts. Spend some time thanking God that He is the Perfect Parent who knows you, loves you, and heals the broken-hearted.