Here are 4 ways you can try to stop anger before it gets you in trouble.
Stop and Think
I know this sounds incredibly hard or even impossible, but when you get angry at someone, “Stop, think, and reason.” Maybe they’re not saved. Maybe they’ve had something go seriously wrong in a relationship. Maybe they’re facing financial catastrophe. We don’t know why the person snapped at us, at least not all the time, but maybe we can give them the benefit of the doubt. When the Apostle Paul was writing about Christian love, he wrote that, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1st Cor 13:7), but what does Paul mean that love “believes all things?” I think he means that love gives people the benefit of the doubt, and it does not make assumptions, especially assuming the worst. It gives people room to be wrong. It allows people to be people, because we don’t know what’s going on in their lives. The next time someone snaps at you, don’t say anything, just stop and think before you speak.
What is Christ-Like?
If you read one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, and that is Philippians 2, you’ll be humbled and see why we should never treat anyone with disrespect or anger (unless it is righteous anger). The Apostle Paul tells us what it means to be Christ-like, so ask yourself, how would Jesus react? What would He do? What would He say in this situation? Would He react the way that I do? What if He were standing next to you and watching this (and He is!)? Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4), but what if someone’s yelling at you (or me)? If others are more significant that we are, at least in our eyes, we won’t revile when reviled. Jesus didn’t. Paul writes that even “though [Jesus] was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). When we get angry, we’re not displaying humility. When we’re worried about ourselves, we’re not esteeming others better than ourselves.
One thing I discovered from experience was that a harsh answer makes for a harsh response, and raising your voice tends to lead the other person to raise theirs, so Solomon knew what he was writing about by saying, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1). I’m sure you’ve found that to be true too, so one thing we can do when we start to feel anger swell up in us is to stop and think, think like Christ, and speak a soft answer. James wrote, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19), so if we are quick to hear and slow to speak, they might be slow to anger. All too often we’re quick to speak, slow to hear, and quick to anger. Speaking softly doesn’t escalate an argument like a loud voice does. After a while, it becomes a shouting match, and that never ends well.
Repeat the Phrase
In my 60+ years, I’ve had some very nasty things said to me, but rather than respond with something of my own (which would likely be bad), I repeat to them just what they said to me. When we repeat what someone’s said to us, they might realize (hopefully) just how harsh their words really were. I tried doing the same thing to my children when they were young, and this helps them process their anger by hearing what they said. They might not have even realized just how bad their anger is. It sounds odd, but it does act to diffuse the argument. Not always, but it does help to calm things down a bit. One thing that I hear a lot is “They never…” or “They always…” but rarely is anything always or never, so why not respond by repeating their statement, and then when they say, “Yes, that’s right,” you can say, “Okay, why do you feel that way,” which can help them open up as to why they’re feeling so angry or frustrated. Maybe they’re right! Maybe you (or I) did something that you (or I) shouldn’t have and they have a right to be angry. If so, be humble enough to tell them so. An apology can go a long, long way in calming everything down. They might even apologize for getting out of control. There is real power in softness. Again, Solomon writes, “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone” (Prov 25:15). When you do choose to repeat what an angry person has said to you, do it softly and slowly so that they can take everything in, and hear exactly what they said to you. It might make them see that they’re overreacting, or at least, that they’ve said something that’s pretty harsh. That might lead to a softer response in the future of the conversation.
Water is one of the softest, most pliable things there is, yet in time, it can wear away huge boulders. Which is harder? Water or rocks? A rock of course, but the water wins in time, because the consistent soft action of the water wears down even the hardest of objects. Maybe it’s a lot like that with people too. Soft answers are always best in turning away anger, and in keeping our own anger in check.