Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from The Soft-Spoken Parent: 55 Strategies for Preventing Contention with Your Children (Leatherwood Press, December 2012)
Anger often makes fools of us-especially in parenting and family relations. Even as we violate our consciences by insulting those we love, it is quite possible for us to feel virtuous. We may think, “You are wrong or bad, and I am helping you by straightening you out.” We feel like heavenly messengers. What a perfect design by Satan: We violate God’s laws while feeling virtuous!
Consider some of the common assumptions behind anger.
- Anger is real. It tends to feel wonderfully authentic. “This is truth. I hadn’t seen it before, but now I do!” Maybe we discover that our child has stolen from a neighbor, hurt a sibling, or told a lie. We feel that familiar flash of indignation. Suddenly it all makes sense. The child needs rebuke. We would be irresponsible not to deliver it.
- “I must be honest with you.” When we discover something awful, it seems as if we must deal with it immediately. We need to talk about it-we can’t seem to keep “the truth” in. And we cloak our anger in the virtue of honesty.
- “I must deal with anger by getting it out.” “With all this feeling inside me, if I don’t get it out, I’ll burst.” This is the hydraulic theory of anger: The pressure must be released so it does not build up and cause an explosion. So I tell my child just what she has done wrong-in angry, indignant tones that somehow feel authentic, necessary, and virtuous.
- “After I get my anger out, I will feel better.” Most of us assume the expression of anger is cathartic. “After I have fully expressed my indignation, I will feel relieved and peaceful. I will feel better, and the object of my wrath will be wiser.”
- “After I’ve told you what’s wrong with you, you can do better.” It seems that our child has been blind to some truth we have discovered. When we point out his error, he should be able to make better choices in the future.
Anger seemingly has all the satisfactions of a crusade: a worthy cause, plenty of emotion, an opportunity to make the world a better place, and a deep feeling of satisfaction.
Unfortunately for those of us who get angry readily, all of the five ideas above are almost entirely false. The crusade turns out to be a slaughter of innocents. The truths about anger are very different from the common beliefs that mislead us.
The Truth About Anger
Years of research have helped us better understand anger. It is generally not the positive, beneficial force many have believed it to be. Here is the truth about anger.
- Anger is a liar. Our thoughts when we are angry are not calm, sensible, or balanced. They are narrow and frequently irrational and unbalanced. “Rare is the person who can weigh the faults of others without putting his thumb on the scales,” wrote Byron J. Langenfield.1 We get taken hostage by an unhelpful emotion and our reason and civility break down. Instead of seeking understanding, we begin to seek a conviction of the “enemy.” Research is clear: Anger narrows our view and limits our compassion. So at the very time we need clear thinking and loving hearts, anger hijacks our souls and points us toward destruction of peace and love.
- Angry times are bad times for honesty. Anger tends to focus on the negative, but the negative part is not the whole story, or even the most important part of it. The best time to say everything we are thinking is NOT when we are angry. Usually, saying all that we think isn’t “honesty”-it’s “fault-finding.” Anytime we’re tempted to say, “I need to be honest with you,” we would be wise to set aside the so-called honesty and work on our compassion.
- There are ways to deal with anger besides pouring molten lava on those we love. The popular belief that if we do not express our anger, we or it will explode, is simply mistaken. Anger is a little like tasting very hot soup. We must allow it to cool a bit before we eat it or we will burn our mouths. There is nothing virtuous about assaulting those whom God has put in our care.
- We often feel conflicted after we have “blown up” at people we love. After we unload our anger on a child, our mind may insist we were right and that the child needed to hear it. But our heart tells us we have violated the contract of love. We have turned against those we swore to bless and protect, to encourage and to teach. Francis Bacon once said, “A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.”2 Rather than try to justify or rationalize our anger, we would do better to repent.
- When we get angry at our children, it often leaves them unmotivated, even despairing. Think about times you have been given an angry lecture. Were you energized and motivated by the tirade? It is more likely that you were hurt and that your first thought was counter-anger or revenge. You may have tolerated the other person’s anger, but you were probably not motivated or energized by it. The same is true with our children. When we unload on them, they don’t usually feel encouraged. They feel burdened, hopeless, and angry.
Elder J. Golden Kimball astutely observed: “Experience teaches me that when I have been angry, I am quite sure I did not have the Holy Ghost, and I was not in any proper condition to administer reproof. It took me quite a long while to learn that. When I became excited, fanatical, and over-zealous, I mistakenly thought it was the Spirit of the Lord, but have learned better, as the Holy Ghost does not operate that way. My testimony is that the internal fruits of the Holy Ghost are joy, peace, patience, long suffering, and kindness.”3
As a wise man has said, being angry is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die. Anger destroys us. It also damages our most cherished relationships. It gives control of our lives to irrational, hard-hearted, unrighteous passion. It is much like using fire to remodel our homes. It destroys indiscriminately.
The Soft-Spoken Parent: 55 Strategies for Preventing Contention with Your Children is an updated and revised edition of Dr. Goddard’s groundbreaking classic. The new book is available at byubookstore.com, deseretbook.com, and at most LDS bookstores.
2 “Francis Bacon Quotes,”
3 J. Golden Kimball, in Conference Report, Apr. 1907, 81.
Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health, by Redford and Virginia Williams (HarperTorch, 1998).
Authentic Happiness, by Martin Seligman (Free Press, 2002).
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (Harcourt, 2007).
Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, by Carol Tavris (Touchstone, 1989).
See the World Through My Eyes, by H. Wallace Goddard, et al. (University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, 2008)