Now that we have worked to identify what triggers we have that cause us anger, let’s look at the fact that these are all tied to some form of control. Usually anger arises out of a desire to control someone’s feelings i.e. we want them to be sorry for what they did to us. The other type of control stems from our own personal desire to control other people in order to bend them to our will. If we can be honest with ourselves about our desire for control, then we can work to overcome that irrational need on our part. It isn’t a need at all. It is a disordered (theological term for not ordered to God) desire within us. The world is not ordered to you or me, it is ordered to God.
Let’s examine the first type of control, the desire to control the contrition of other people. All of us have been hurt at one point or another. We live in a Fallen world of sinful people, including ourselves. There are times when people intentionally hurt us and there are times when people have no idea that they have caused pain or offense. In the case of close relationships, you and I need to be willing to discuss what is going on with our loved ones. If we feel anger, then we need to be able to control that emotion so that we can carry on a conversation in love. If we do not tell people that we are hurt, then they may never know how we feel. Step one is to try to talk to the one who caused offense. If we are going to have that conversation, though, we need to accept that they may not apologize. They may not agree with us and we have no control over that outcome. WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE ACTIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE.
Part of living the Christian path is to forgive others even when they do not apologize or do not care that they have hurt us. We have all experienced this type of pain. What we have to realize is that the only person’s actions we have control over is our own. If a person refuses to apologize, then we still need to pray and work to forgive them. Christ forgives us each time that we lose our temper, and let’s face it, how many times have we not apologized our my lifetime?! We must accept that person where they are. That does not mean that we agree, but it means that we will work to forgive them anyway. PRAY! Forgiveness is not something that comes naturally to us. We need grace to forgive those who hurt us, and that is especially true for the apologies we never get. This is why prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments is crucial for our path to holiness.
I want to briefly discuss a certain personality type that people like you or me, who struggle with sinful anger, need to keep a distance from: that is the passive-aggressive type. As I said above, part of working through our anger is being able to carry on a conversation in love with someone who has hurt us . That is almost impossible to do with a passive-aggressive type. Passive-aggressive people typically have no desire to change, do not see anything wrong with their behavior, will undermine you behind your back, tend to act cowardly when confronted, and do not accept blame for most or any of their behavior. This type of person needs serious prayer. Serve them when you can, but do so from a distance until you have a better grip on your struggle with anger. Engaging in battle with this personality type will only hurt you. I recently had to stop a situation like this for my own spiritual and mental well-being. I was getting angrier and angrier. These people do not understand the virtues other than in their own disordered fashion. This is especially damaging in a Christian setting. Engaging in a reasoned discussion with this type of person will get you nowhere but sitting in the confessional telling the priest that you got angry again. Some day you and I will be better equipped through prayer and grace to engage this type of person. For now, pray for them, they really need our prayers.
So, we cannot will an apology. We must relinquish that control, the desire to force an apology out of someone. Our forcing an apology is a form of vengeance. We want to overtake their free will, in order to appease our own desire to be heard. Who doesn’t want to be heard?! Nobody likes to be hurt, but our pain will not go away by forcing others to feel something that they do not. We can pray for them, pray for the desire to forgive, and move on. We must relinquish our desire for control. We must be willing to be vulnerable. When we hurt and have not received an apology, then we need to take that the Christ. Mankind nailed him to a Cross. He gets the pain of betrayal. Take that pain to He who is the only one who can heal you and make you whole.
The next type of control comes from our desire for other people to do what WE want. This is tied to a desire for an apology, but typically this type of control is used with manipulation. Anger, especially within close relationships, can be a powerful tool, at least for bludgeoning people. It is a way to force another person’s hand in order to get we want. No one deserves this kind of manipulation. When you or I sense that we are trying to manipulate our spouse or our children, we need to pray and work to stop it. It will take practice, but all new habits require serious practice. Try to stop and think about why you are angry in a given moment. What are you trying to accomplish? Is there something you want? Manipulation is the antithesis of love. Love is selfless. That means accepting “no” from people. Once again we need to identify our causes for anger and our motivators. Once we see them, we need to wage the battle to stop our sinful behavior. We will fail at times. That is part of the journey. Pick yourself back up, march yourself to the confessional, pray, and keep going by the grace of God.
If you or I want to progress on the spiritual journey, then we must relinquish our desire to control other people. We will never be free until we understand that the only person’s behavior we can control is our own. If I want to be holy, then I must stop allowing anger to run my life. I must live in love. I must tell myself repeatedly that I love the people God has placed in my life. They deserve my love and respect. They do not deserve my wrath. I must ‘will the good of the other.’ I must place others before myself. When I begin to understand this Christian truth and focus on living in love, then I can loosen my grip.
What are areas of your life where you need to relinquish control? How can you forgive past hurts? What are some steps you can take when you are angry to stop the cycle?