5 Steps to Preventing Habitual Anger

When we habitually remember the good, acknowledge that everyone around us is fully human, listen well to those with opposing viewpoints, maintain reasonable expectations, avoid blame or the need to be right, and allow our wound to be open to healing, then the threat of a corporate wound becoming chronic lessens dramatically.

By Jennie A. McLaurin and Cymbeline Tancongco Culiat, adapted from the book Designed to Heal: What the Body Shows Us about Healing Wounds, Repairing Relationships, and Restoring Community

In public health, we look for early warning signs of complications in a chronic disease like diabetes. We measure body mass index (BMI), a range of ideal weight for height, and we examine blood lipids, blood pressure, and changes in blood glucose. People with diabetes also get annual eye exams and tests of their sensation in their feet. These are all indicators of overall diabetes control and whether patients are at risk for complications from chronic inflammation, such as the development of ulcers.

What are the analogous things we can monitor to avoid lapsing into habitual anger and outrage?

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez (@priscilladupreez)

Practice positivity

There are a number of ways to track our moods and outlook, from smartphone apps to ancient spiritual practices. Mood tracking has been shown to help people manage anxiety and depression, and smartphone apps like Happyfeed and Moodistory make it pretty simple for the technology minded.

I don’t use an app, but I do practice an ancient low-tech discipline started by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Called the Examen, it consists of two questions to be asked daily. The first question is: What are your consolations today? A consolation is a time when we think we drew closer to God, to our sense of rightness with the world, and to our sense of authentic self. Less formally, it is a spot of goodness, delight, or joy in the day.

The second question is: What are your desolations today? A desolation pulled us away from the ideal. It is a “not again” incident, a negative emotion or turmoil or outright sin. For me, it is a lost temper, a procrastination, or a refusal to yield to another’s need. Sometimes it is working in a job that drains me, being part of a project that I don’t feel suited for or seeing that one activity is pulling me away from something better.

As we begin the Examen, we are to quietly become aware of God’s presence with us. Then we review the day with gratitude. We attend to our emotions as we ponder how the day unfolded while contemplating our responses to the two questions.

Another tradition is intercessory prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the crowd, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Praying for those who persecute us opens the way for restorative healing. It forces us to let go of the outrage, if only for a bit.

Give in to gratitude

Count your blessings is not just a saying on a retro kitchen towel. Acknowledging what is good and beautiful leads to an internal perception of wellness, an attitude of joy, and an openness to others and their needs.

I keep a running list of things I’m grateful for, often looking at it when the current moment seems difficult or unjust. A sign in my kitchen reminds our family of one of my early parenting refrains: “Attitude of Gratitude.” During the pandemic, many people posted photos of beautiful landscapes or shared one grateful thought each day. There’s no best method or secret to being grateful—practice makes perfect, and we all need practice.

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova (@daria_shevtsova)

Manage expectations

Most experts say that entrenched conflict is never solved by proving the correctness of an argument but is instead achieved by restoring a relationship. How much does “being right” matter versus moving toward a compromise, or reaching an adjusted outcome that promotes wound closure rather than amputation?

In terms of managing expectations, I love what my friend Julie always said when she invited folks to dinner. Because she had a large family of young children, guests invariably asked what they could bring to help with the meal. “Low expectations,” Julie would reply, putting everyone at ease.

My expectations for myself are just as often a problem as the external issues are. One of my daughters painted a sign for me that now hangs in my office: “There is no way to be a perfect mom, but a million ways to be a good one.” Amen! Lowering expectations doesn’t mean lowering standards; it simply means allowing one another grace to heal and grow in the present reality of our circumstances.

Listen well

Listening is so countercultural that a new wave of writing and teaching on it has emerged as if it were a recent discovery. Listening isn’t a debate tactic; it is a recognition of shared humanity. Rather than only presenting our own view in support of our arguments, we take the time to hear why a particular subject matters so deeply to the people we are with.

Some of our most tense conflicts come from the mundane experiences of daily life. As a household that is now full of adults who come and go on their own schedules, our family doesn’t always take time to connect well when little things bother us.

Recently, we decided to sit down with each other and really try to work on solving these daily difficulties. We set ground rules, agreeing to listen to each other by allowing a five-second pause between speakers. We also allowed no interrupting. Even so, hands shot up, asking to be recognized next, while someone was still speaking. The next comment was already being formed in the listener’s mind. This exercise wasn’t easy for our verbal tribe! Yet we all agreed it was one of the best family meetings we have held because we refrained from giving our own opinions until we really listened to another’s.

Photo credit: Etienne Boulanger (@etienneblg)

Counter stigma

Many people who battle mental illness still think that seeking psychiatric help is a sign that their faith or willpower is weak. None of us can overcome stigma singlehandedly, but the more we allow others to safely enter into our painful places, the less power that stigma may yield.

When we’ve been badly hurt, our natural tendency is to avoid the people and situations that caused pain. If we perceive a new threat from the same source, our response may be rapid and explosive, a tempest. Our immune system, which is all about memory, behaves this way too. It stores molecular and cellular memories of past infections, as well as encounters with hostile intruders such as a foreign blood type or protein. When it experiences those a second time, it is ready with a much stronger inflammatory response. This is basically why tiny doses of vaccine can arm us against a real infection by the full disease.

When we habitually remember the good, acknowledge that everyone around us is fully human, listen well to those with opposing viewpoints, maintain reasonable expectations, avoid blame or the need to be right, and allow our wound to be open to healing, then the threat of a corporate wound becoming chronic lessens dramatically.

Featured image photo credit: Jonas Leupe (@jonasleupe)

You’ve been reading from

Designed to Heal by Jennie A. McLaurin and Cymbeline Tancongco Culiat

“A rare combination of vivid science, compassionate storytelling, and lasting spiritual lessons. A delight to read.” –Philip Yancey

Our bodies are designed to heal. We fall off our bikes and skin our knees—and without effort on our part, the skin looks like new in a few days. But while our skinned knees easily heal, it can sometimes feel like our emotional and relational wounds are left gaping open, broken beyond repair. If our bodies instinctively know how to heal physical injuries, could they also help us understand how to restore painful emotional and relational ruptures?

In their groundbreaking debut book, physician Jennie McLaurin and scientist Cymbeline T. Culiat write Designed to Heal: a fascinating look at how the restorative processes of the body can model patterns we may adapt to heal the acute and chronic wounds of our social bodies. Through engaging patient stories, imaginative travels through the body’s microcellular landscapes, accessible references to current research, and reflections on the image of God, Designed to Heal offers a new perspective for healing our social divisions. By learning how the body is created with mechanisms that optimize a flourishing recovery from life’s inevitable wounds, we are given a model for hopeful, faithful, and enduring healing in all other aspects of our lives. Our wounds don’t have to have the last word.

Charlotte is a Content Marketing Specialist based in the Chicagoland area. Charlotte is originally from Minneapolis but moved "south" for college, where she fell in love with writing and her husband Mark. In her free time, she loves to swim, bake bread, and dance around the living room with her kids.

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