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Responding to Anger (while maintaining your peace)

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

By Pastor René François

We’ve all been there, enjoying our day, loving life and minding our own business when out of the blue like a bat out of hell you get blindsided by someone who is angry and frustrated, and you just happen to be the one in his or her path who gets hit with the fallout from whatever it is that they're dealing with. The angry person could be your boss. It could be your spouse/significant other, or could be a total stranger. However, regardless of who it is, you suddenly, and probably very unexpectedly, find yourself caught up in their drama. And you have a decision to make. What are you going to do? How are you going to respond? The way that we respond to situations like this can have a major impact on our lives in terms of our ability to maintain our peace of mind, as well as our ability to conduct ourselves in a manner that is in accordance with being a peace-loving citizen of the kingdom of God. I felt inspired to write this blog post because I know from personal experience that by using a few simple techniques it is possible to do both—respond to anger and maintain your peace of mind. However, I want to be very clear that this topic does not apply to circumstances where there is a threat of violence. If you are in a situation where are you are being confronted in such a way that you feel as if you are in harms way, by all means extricate yourself from that environment as quickly and safely as possible.

A gentle answer turns away wrath

The next time you are on the receiving end of someone's impatience or anger it is probably a good idea to not be overly quick to respond. Instead, take a breath. Being emotionally reactive—such as being quick to verbally strike back—may not be the better part of valor or wisdom. The word of God tells us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Having a knee-jerk reaction (a harsh response) to an angry person's negativity directed at you does nothing to neutralize a tense and potentially explosive situation. Responding in kind to someone else's abrasive behavior will likely only serve to escalate matters. It is akin to pouring gasoline on a fire.

Blessed are the peacemakers & the wisdom of Viktor Frankl

Making the choice to engage a difficult person in a way that is thoughtful, rather than in an emotionally reactive manner, helps us to be in right-standing with God and our fellow man or woman by displaying the godly attributes of patience, kindness, and gentleness, and by being peacemakers. Remember, the word of God says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Another important thing to remember is that the result of our thoughtful actions in these tense moments can be very helpful in maintaining our peace of mind, which is priceless. When it comes to dealing with heated situations in a way that can help me maintain my peace of mind, I like to remember the wise words of Viktor Frankl, renown psychiatrist, holocaust survivor and author of "Man's search for meaning," who said:

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I find it helpful to remember these wise words and apply them to my own life when I am subjected to someone's frustration or anger. Like you, I am not perfect. I have had my moments when I, too, have fallen short of making the wisest choice in the midst of a challenging situation. Let's face it, we've all been there at one time or another in our lives. And we often come away from those encounters feeling mad, sad, or frustrated, not just with the other person but with ourselves as well knowing that we could likely have handled the situation in a better way. I can honestly say that when I have had the presence of mind to exercise the wisdom of Viktor Frankl's statement in situations that have challenged my patience and kindness towards my fellow man, it has been a tremendously successful method of avoiding the problem of having an emotionally charged situation escalate into something larger and even more undesirable.

It is good to remember that in the time between striking a match and igniting flame, there is a brief moment where we have a choice whether or not to proceed. I'm not saying that you should never stand up for yourself. You must evaluate each situation and respond appropriately. However, there is something empowering in knowing that when met with anger, the power is in our hands to choose to respond in kind and "fight fire with fire," or to make the choice to check our emotions and respond to the negative behavior in a peaceful way.

Important steps to remember when trying to defuse a tense situation

1. Responding in a way that helps to “lower the temperature” of the moment requires first and foremost that we not lose our composure but that we remain calm.

2. You must resist the temptation to argue and not allow the angry person to push your buttons and goad you into arguing with them.

3. Be willing to listen without interrupting.

4. A little empathy goes a long way. As the angry person is speaking, try as best you can to look at the situation from their perspective, and even try to imagine yourself in their shoes. You may not agree with their reasoning or what they're saying, but at least let the other person know that you hear them and that their feelings are valid. When someone is upset about something it is very important that they feel heard and that their emotions are validated. Following these tips can be extremely helpful in diffusing a tense situation.

Responding to anger with an empowered mindset and Self-Control

It is important to remember that once we step out of the protective bubble that we call home and go out into world there that there is no shortage of opportunities to be unexpectedly blindsided by someone else’s misery and drama. When that happens it is easy for us to react to the situation in such a way that we essentially lose control of our happiness and peace of mind, even if only for a brief time. The beauty of taking Frankl's wisdom to heart is that it can be an extremely effective way of maintaining control, not necessarily over the circumstances but, rather, of our emotions. There is a very well-known Bible verse that tells us “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). We can’t always control our circumstances or the people that we are going to come into contact with from day to day, but we can take responsibility for our own actions and for maintaining our composure during trying circumstances. Ultimately, it is not the other person’s behavior that determines our peace but, rather, it is the way in which we choose to respond to the situation in that trying and tense moment that determines our peace. I don't know about you, but I definitely do not want my joy and peace of mind in someone else's hands. I want to live an empowered life, not a life where someone else is pushing my buttons or pulling my strings like a puppet master. That's giving way too much power away to somebody else.

Anger: The by-product of grief and stress

Lastly, one other thing that we must seriously consider when it comes to having encounters with difficult people is that many of us would be absolutely amazed if we knew how many people that we encounter in our daily lives are really struggling to emotionally hold it all together. You can't always tell the battles, nor the severity of those battles, that people are fighting behind the scenes by simply looking at them. Of course, it is a reality of life that we are going to occasionally encounter people on our journey who are toxic and are committed to sharing their misery and negatively with as many people as possible before they die. However, we must also keep in mind that there is another scenario which is incumbent upon us to consider. In a particular situation it may appear that a person is just being difficult, while in reality they may be struggling to put food on the table, fighting to keep the relationship with their spouse or significant other from dissolving, or grieving the loss of a loved one. They may be totally exhausted from being the only caretaker for an aging parent or themselves be a parent who is worried sick about their child who has been hospitalized with a serious illness. Take it from me, because of my many years of counseling people who are experiencing tough circumstances in their lives, I know very well that the stress of experiencing a hardship or personal tragedy can have a major impact on the way in which a person interacts with others. They can often become impatient or easily angered by the smallest inconvenience or provocation due to physical and mental exhaustion. After all, anger is a by-product of both grief and stress, and is often a challenge to keep at bay when a person is physically and mentally exhausted. You just never know what someone is going through. Keeping these things in mind can be very helpful reminders to maintain our composure when we come into contact with someone who projects an abrasiveness towards us.

The following is a brief prayer that incorporates the words and spirit of Victor Frankl’s wisdom:

Gracious and loving Lord, we give thanks for your indwelling Spirit of light and love that provides us the wisdom to respond to challenging circumstances with thoughtfulness and self-control. It is in trying moments when met with anger that we choose peace over strife by remembering that between stimulus and response, or between striking a match and igniting a flame, there is a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response. And that in the response that we choose is where we will experience our growth and our freedom. Amen.

May God's peace be with you always,

–𝓡𝓮𝓿. 𝓡𝓮𝓷𝓮́ 𝓕𝓻𝓪𝓷𝓬̧𝓸𝓲𝓼

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Responding to Anger (while maintaining you piece)

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