Practically Processing Anger

Dealing with anger in a healthy way has been a major area of growth for me over the last decade or more. Much of my life was spent stuffing anger only for it to come out sideways and hurting the people closest to me. One of the things I have learned is that anger often times comes from unmet expectations. Think about the last time you were angry. What was the expectation you had of the person or the situation that did not get met?

Here are the steps I now take when I get angry and want to respond out of anger:

  • Step 1: Identify the unmet expectation. Ask “What expectation did I have that went unmet?”
  • Step 2: Do a reality check. Ask “Was the unmet expectation realistic?”
  • Step 3: Respond appropriately. If the answer to Step 2 is “No,” then change the expectation and feel the anger quickly dissipate. If the answer to Step 2 is “Yes,” then be angry and respond with anger (in a healthy way, of course).

One beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon I asked my teenage son to go mow the front yard. It was right in the middle of NFL season and he was in the living room watching a game. Mowing the yard was one of his responsibilities. Now from my point of view, he wasn’t expected to do a whole lot of chores around the house. There were some things like clean his room and wash his clothes. But I was far from being a dictator about chores. And when I asked my son to mow the yard , he responded by throwing a fit. It was very similar to the fit-throwing tactic a 5-year-old would use. That did not sit well with me. I got angry and started raising my voice and pointing my finger. The battle was on. The dynamics of the interaction spiraled downward very quickly.

Later that day I started processing the whole interchange. In doing so, I walked myself through the processing steps mentioned above.

  • Step 1: Identify the unmet expectation: When I asked my NFL-loving, teenage son to go mow the yard on that beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon, I expected my son to respond, “Oh yes, dear father. I will jump up right now and go do that.” That is the expectation that went unmet.
  • Step 2: Do a reality check: Was the unmet expectation realistic? Was it reasonable to expect my son to mow the yard? Absolutely. Was it reasonable to expect my son to mow the yard right then? No, not really. The timing part of the expectation was unreasonable. And so was the attitude part. For some unknown reason I expected him to be joyful about it.
  • Step 3: Respond appropriately. Since my expectation was unreasonable, I changed it from that point forward. I began telling him that the yard needed to be mowed and that it needed to be done within the next couple of days. And guess what? The situation was diffused. There were times he didn’t like mowing the yard, but at least he could dread it on his own schedule.

In addition to processing anger in a practical way, this tool has also helped me in my conversations when I am angry with someone. It has given me language to express my anger in a healthy, productive, non-accusing way. It has felt more powerful to own and verbalize my expectations.

I still have a ways to go when expressing anger productively; and this simple tool has helped a lot. And hopefully, it can be helpful to you as well.

– By Barry Thomas

Barry is Chairman of the Board for The Crucible Project. He has been a catalyst in bringing and growing our ministry throughout Texas. He is a senior operations engineer for Concho Resources in Midland, Texas. Prior to that, he served in ministry for 13 years at churches in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Midland. Barry holds a master’s of divinity from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. He also holds bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Barry completed his initial Crucible weekend in August, 2005.

Photo Credit: Alper Çuğun via Creative Commons