Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: How can I manage my anger?

Editor's note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

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Q: Most days I don’t like myself. I love my spouse and my children, but the stresses of work, managing a home, and raising a family are getting to me. I used to be so fun-loving and full of life. Now I’m constantly on edge, annoyed, frustrated, and angry. I often see my kids as obstacles to getting my tasks done. I respond to my spouse’s requests for support and connection as if they were being selfish. I snap, raise my voice, and make snide remarks. How can I change?

A: Thank you so much for reaching out with this. As a husband and father of five juggling a career with family responsibilities, church callings, and self-care, I can relate better than you know. I often tell people that I didn’t think I had an angry side . . . until I had children. I adore them, but parenting and adulthood are trying tasks that push us to our emotional, mental, and spiritual limits. It’s how we grow.

It certainly adds to the challenge that children generally lack the maturity that can come from life experience and instruction when it comes to managing their emotions, resolving conflict, delaying gratification, displaying self-discipline, and showing patience and altruism. Though come to think of it, many adults struggle with the same things. Point is, children are many wonderful things. They are also, by virtue of where they are in their development, button-pushers. The trick is to control yourself so that you don’t blow up when the buttons are pushed. 

This is one of the great challenges and purposes of mortality, to overcome the “natural man” within us (see Mosiah 3:19) and replace our default reactions with godly patience, long-suffering, humility, self-control, and love. It is what God has asked us to do that we might have joy (see 2 Nephi 2:25), and we must trust that he will help us. You can be that joyful person again. You can be patient with your family. You can stop being angry, stressed, and frustrated so often. Let’s look at 5 ways to do just that.

1.    Truly, fully rely on the Lord. Unlike so many people who do not yet know God and must rely “on the arm of flesh” and the wisdom of the human race to find solutions, you’ve got the advantage of knowing there is a Heavenly Father who loves you, wants to help you, and is already on your side. Your proclivity toward anger is nothing but human weakness, and a common one at that. The Lord has said “if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then I will make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). 

Fast. Pray. Pray in the very moment of anger that you can have a change of heart, see things from the other person’s perspective, and recognize the vulnerable emotion beneath your anger (hurt, embarrassment, fear, overwhelm) and express that instead. Pray, as Mormon taught, “unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed unto all who are true followers of his son Jesus Christ” (Moroni 7:48).

2.    Recognize your body’s signs of anger. Our bodies, which God has designed for us, have a wonderful warning system to help us recognize that we’re getting angry and shouldn’t try to resolve the current situation until we’ve dealt with the anger. Failing to do so leads to withdrawal, harsh words, and actions that damage relationships. So, we must pay attention to warning signs from our bodies. Accelerated heartbeat, tensed muscles, grinding teeth, balled fists, heavy breathing, feeling hot in the face, and more are all indicators that we should walk away and calm down. Even if we’re “in the right,” that doesn’t mean that our perspective should be shared in a furious state. 

3.    Have a plan to stop and calm down. Know yourself. What helps you to calm down when you’re angry? Is it relaxation or catharsis? Relaxation looks like meditation, soft music, slow deep breathing, hot baths, praying, hot baths, etc. Catharsis, on the other hand, is the release or channeling of anger in a healthy direction. It looks like working out, screaming into a pillow, listening to rock music, hitting a punching bag, or otherwise letting it out. What works for you? Have a plan in advance so you can follow it in the moment without having to think about it. 

4.    Make time to enjoy your family. Don’t wait until things are perfect, till all the responsibilities are met, till all goals have been achieved, or until all stressors have been eliminated to connect with your spouse and children. Focus on the blessings you’ve already received. Allow yourself to feel grateful for them and to enjoy them. Play with your kids. It’s not just good for them, it’s good for you. Let yourself not stress out every moment. Feeling anxious isn’t going to solve the problems. Take a break to have fun, to fix something, to solve a problem, to play a game, to teach the gospel, to have a conversation. In doing so, you may find new energy and perspective to face the challenges that face you.

5.    Schedule time for self-care. I know. What time, right? But 20–30 minutes per day of self-care will dramatically enhance your ability to be efficient, focused, confident, and even joyful in facing your challenges and responsibilities. You’ll be less resentful towards your wife, your children, your work, your calling, and anything else that might demand your time.

God bless you. I hope this helps. 

Lead image: Shutterstock


Jonathan Decker, LMFT, Contributor

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily gospel-based relationship tips. 

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