Dealing with Anger and Taming the Tongue

After my sermons on James 1:19-27 (dealing with anger) and James 3:1-12 (taming the tongue) I had requests for the lists I gave. Here they are. They were put together with gleanings from Christian teachers and theologians, and advice from all of you.

10 Suggestions for Dealing with Anger

  1. Pray. If you feel you cannot pray, try anyway. Speak your anger to God and ask for help finding love in the midst of that which vexes you. If you need an example, search the Psalms—which often contain open and honest reflections on anger. And when you calm down keep praying, pray to remember that God loves you and that your personal worth is grounded in that love.
  2. Remember that God loves the person you are angry with no less than God loves you. Avoid contempt. Contempt often leads to anger, but contempt can only arise when we deny the value of a person whom God loves.
  3. Remember that you are loved, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Not everything bad that happens to you is an injustice on a cosmic scale.
  4. Try to see it from the other person’s point of view. Walk a mile in their shoes. “Be curious, not angry.”
  5. Remember a time when you have done something wrong and hurt someone and use that memory to find patience and understanding.
  6. Give yourself permission to express other emotions. If you don’t, emotions like grief and sadness will often present themselves in an eruption of anger.
  7. When you find yourself unexpectedly set off by something, it may be worth digging into why it set you off. Are there issues that need to be further explored, resolutions that need to be sought? Ask yourself what hurt or fear was triggered.
  8. Remember that God’s justice will come in the end, and that your anger will not speed it up.
  9. Calm down before confronting the person who made you angry—give your human brain time to reassert control over your lizard brain. If you have to scream, go someplace where no one can hear you—or at least let those around you know that you’re not angry at them. Then take a deep breath, count to ten, exercise, talk it out with a friend, knead bread, or whatever else brings you peace. As we discussed earlier, expressions of anger in response to anger often just provoke further anger.
  10. Do not repress or deny anger, but don’t cling to it either.

12 Tips for Taming the Tongue

  1. WWJD — though Jesus always kept his tongue in check, he still said what needed to be said (often in quite memorable ways, and sometimes quite bluntly). He was not rude or hateful, but he did say what needed to be said. In this, as in all things, we should strive to follow his example. We seek to tame our tongues because we want to accomplish things with the words we say.
  2. Apologize. You can’t unspeak your words, but you can apologize. It may help you control yourself the next time.
  3. A rude response to someone’s facebook post is like putting a rude sign up in their front yard. Just keep scrolling. If they consistently say things that offend you—snooze or unfollow them. Facebook spats seldom change anyone’s mind.
  4. When provoked, follow Abe Lincoln’s example and write out a letter and then wait to send it—you may decide you really don’t need to. This works for both analog and digital. Write emails without putting in an email address, that way you can’t accidentally hit send.
  5. Don’t feel the need to respond to people you don’t agree with. If necessary, confide your feelings to someone you trust. “Venting” doesn’t necessarily help us deal with our anger, but it may help us contain our anger until we can address it rather than expressing it in a way that would be detrimental.
  6. Remember that very seldom are people obligated to listen to you. Even less often are people compelled to heed what you say. And you cannot force anyone to respect you. Biting words discourage people from confiding in you, talking to you, or even listening to you.
  7. Even the truth should only be spoken if you can answer yes to at least one of these three three questions: Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? 
  8. Make your criticism constructive—but remember that it still requires some maturity among the person receiving the criticism in order to be received. The ability to listen to constructive criticism is a skill that we should seek to develop in ourselves.
  9. Don’t respond immediately. Pause. Wise words from Rev. Terry Koehn: “I forget who it was that said, what makes us human is our ability to put a pause between stimulus and response. That pause is where battle with the tongue is fought, and the outcome of that battle is what can sometimes start a war or win the peace” Discern the right time to address the issue.
  10. “Be curious, not combative.” Remember that the person letting you have it may very well be mad about something else and just taking it out on you.
  11. In person conversations can help avoid conflict—we can see facial expressions, we can hear the tone in someone’s voice. Written communications can allow us to carefully word what we want to say and give the other person time to think before they respond. Try to discern which approach is best for any given situation.
  12. Prepare yourself for difficult conversations. Prayer can work wonders.