Sunday, June 5, 2011

How to Deal with Anger – Especially After a Breakup

Samantha was mad. As she drove home after a long talk with Jesse, her boyfriend of three years, she replayed over and over in her mind what he’d said only moments before.

It had been a relaxing Saturday afternoon and the couple was hanging out at Jesse’s house. Samantha casually asked him if he could ever see them marrying each other. Jesse paused, looked up at her and said, “I don’t know. I feel like I don’t really know you.”

He doesn’t know me—after three years?

Samantha was shocked, hurt, and angry. Yet despite her feelings she calmly tried to talk with Jesse about it, but he didn’t want to engage in conversation so Samantha left. But then, Samantha was always the one who wanted to connect and Jesse didn’t.

She couldn’t count the number of times he’d shut down and say nothing when the topic got too deep for him. He didn’t want to share his feelings and, it appeared, he didn’t want to share his life with her either. Samantha and Jesse broke up shortly after that revealing conversation.

She had good reason to be angry. She wanted more conversationally and emotionally from Jesse and he wasn’t willing to give it to her. Added to that was the fact that they’d been together for three years. Samantha had invested her heart with this man and got a zero percent return.

We all get angry once in a while and that’s normal. But when we ignore it, hide it, or express anger in out of control ways to destructive extremes then it’s a problem.

Someone once told me that feelings are “indicators,” but God’s truth leads. You may feel angry, but don’t give in to rage, hostility, violence, cruelty, or physical or verbal abuse. Ephesians 4:26, 27 reads, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Jesus Christ displayed a range of emotions during his thirty-three years on Earth. He was passionate about justice, even if it meant a display of righteous anger when he overturned the tables of the money changers when they turned the temple area, a sacred place, into a selling floor for animals. (John 2:13-17)

Here are some practical things you can do to manage your anger wisely:

For instance, you can write an anger letter expressing to God about what happened during your breakup and/or since then, and how you feel about it. It can even include things that happened during the time you dated, if needed. Pour out your heart—what you’re mad about and why.

Or, you could write a different kind of anger letter. This exercise helps you to get the release you need, but you never ever mail the letter. Picture the person who broke up with you sitting across the table from you as you write. If you could say anything you wanted to him or her right now, what would you say? If you could say anything to them in a Christ-like way, what would you say? It’s up to you how much to include.

The purpose of the letter it to get the emotion out of you and release it. No one else will ever see what you write and you can feel safe to express yourself, vent, and be free of the tangled emotions inside of you. When you’re done, you can choose to burn or shred it if you’d like, but never (never!) mail it.

Write an anger action plan. In the midst of a heated conversation, sometimes you may need to leave so you (or the other person) can cool off and address your issues later. When you need to think through why you’re irritated, this can be helpful. Make a list of what happened, if you need to respond (you may not), how it makes you feel, and some potential ways you can respond. Then, after you’ve reviewed your options you can choose what to do. It will be helpful to pray before you begin. For example:

• What happened? Tony constantly cuts me off before I can finish a sentence.

• Do I need to respond? Yes, I feel like I need to stand up for myself.

• How does this make me feel? I feel angry when Tony doesn’t let me finish what I’m saying. I feel like what he has to say is more important than what I want to say. I feel diminished and unimportant.

• Options to responding: When Tony cuts in when I’m talking, I could say, “Could I please finish my sentence?” or “I wasn’t done yet.” Or, I could spend less time with Tony. Or. . .?

There are other ways to manage your anger too. Some people find it helpful to get punch pillows, talk to a trusted friend, pull out the Bible and read, journal their thoughts, go workout, or get outside for a long walk or bike ride. A good hearty laugh or getting some humor into your life can advance your heart toward joy again.

Find activities that relieve stress for you. And one day, things will be better. If you let them.

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