Updated: Sep 19, 2020
“My father would never physically abuse me, but with his words he tells me things that hurt deeper and scare more than any slap ever could.”—Ann.
“The verbal attacks made me feel worthless and would stay with me for days, even weeks. They caused mental wounds that healed in time but left scars.”—Ken.
Angry outbursts toward a child causes systematic destruction of a child’s self-esteem. Though no bones are broken and no bruises show, verbal attacks by parents are considered by some to be a very destructive form of child abuse. Low self-esteem is not uncommon among youths who are repeatedly called stupid or worthless, threatened with violence, made to feel like a failure (“You always let me down!”), blamed for mishaps (“It’s all your fault!”), or are constantly scolded and never commended. Granted, what some youths call abuse often amounts to little more than parental discipline. In the heat of anger, even the best of parents occasionally say things they regret. When harsh, cruel words become a way of life, an ongoing destructive pattern, such speech may amount to serious emotional abuse.
There are times that anger is appropriate. We may feel righteous anger welling up in our hearts when we see deliberate, unrepentant acts of cruelty, hypocrisy, dishonesty, or disloyalty. Therefore, it is not always wrong to get angry. We may even face situations wherein it is wrong not to feel angry! But can we express our anger in a peaceful and assertive way rather than an aggressive one? The key will be to follow the course of wisdom, making sure that we have a valid basis for our feelings and that we express them in a mature and assertive manner.
When you become provoked are you aggressive or assertive? To be assertive is to express a point of view in a way that will not accelerate or cause a conflict. It would be a way of openly expressing feelings, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression for either the sender or the receiver. The dictionary’s definition is: to state positively, allowing no denial or opposition, to defend or maintain a position, protecting your dignity, expressing needs in a positive manner.
On the other hand, to be aggressive is to dominate the situation or individuals in an effort to get your way. When we are aggressive we put others on the defensive. We humiliate them and accomplish nothing worthwhile. We often become aggressive when we are angry. “Getting it off one’s chest,” or “blowing off steam,” perhaps accompanied by angry outbursts, screaming, crying, or even physical assault, creates more problems than it solves.
When people lose their temper, a personality change occurs, and unpleasant things are almost sure to result. When we shout or cuss in anger, we do not get the results we hope for because the other person is usually provoked to strike back, or at least attempt to protect their dignity that is being invaded by the aggressor. Often, the outburst of temper will be remembered longer than the provocation that led to it.
Being assertive is healthy and an effective way of expressing and setting boundaries. When we are assertive, we can get our wants and needs met without attacking or purposefully hurting another. By contrast, when angry and aggressive with another person, we usually hurt them and often create a conflict that may be hard to resolve. It is often a lose-lose situation, in contrast to a win-win by being assertive and expressing ourselves in a peaceful, loving manner.
We must have enough self respect to stand up for ourselves when our dignity is being invaded, or are being put in an environment that is harmful emotionally, physically or spiritually. If we calmly and lovingly protect that dignity, then we are being assertive in a healthy way.
An ancient proverb states: “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.” Here the word “spirit” is referring to the dominant attitude that motivates a person to pursue a certain course. “A stupid one” that lets out all his spirit or emotions, has no mastery over them. He lets his anger explode without regard for the consequences.
To control our spirit means to control our heart, that is, our very attitudes and motives. The wise person keeps his spirit “calm to the last.” He controls it and carefully weighs what might occur, or the emotional damage that might be done, if he gives way to anger. Even if he has good reason to become angry, he realizes that acting instantly while in an indignant frame of mind might cause great harm to his relationship with the other person. Hence, he exercises self-control and holds himself back from a careless, unrestrained expression of his anger.
In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman states that “anger builds on anger, the emotional brain heats up. By then rage, unhampered by reason, easily erupts in violence. Venting anger is one of the worst ways to cool down, outbursts of rage typically pump up the emotional brain’s arousal, leaving people feeling more angry, not less.” Anger can upset the thinking processes, and the aftermath is often a period of mental depression.
Anger is usually specific: We are angry about something. How we express anger makes a big difference. Anger is a normal human emotion. Like fire, anger has its place. But it can also be horrendously destructive. All too often, humans feel anger without proper basis or express their anger in unloving ways.
Identifying the underlying cause of our anger, can help us deal with it properly. We have a built-in sense of justice. So when faced with unfair treatment or injustice, we may quite naturally feel anger rise within us. When faced with words that cause pain to us emotionally, then our anger will rise and we will feel the need to defend ourselves. The problem is, unbridled anger usually makes a bad situation worse. The damage that has been done if we lose our temper is often worse than the provocation that stirred us up in the first place! Not only have we not accomplished anything worthwhile or beneficial, we quite possibly have ruined our reputation and relationships with others in the process.
Love does not quickly take offense. It is not thin-skinned. It exercises self-control. Especially should married couples and parents take to heart this admonition by guarding against raising their voices impatiently or shouting at each other or their children. There are circumstances when it is easy to get provoked, since all humans are imperfect, at times someone may say or do something that upsets you. Having insight can slow down or even prevent anger all together.
To have insight means to see beneath the surface of a situation, to grasp underlying factors that cause a person to talk or act in a certain way, having all the facts of a matter before taking action. By exercising insight, you may find that there is little reason for you to take offense in the first place. Insight could also include taking the time to weigh the consequences of angry retaliation. Considering the consequences of an angry outburst could similarly protect you from needlessly escalating a disagreement with someone.
Examine Yourself. It really does help if we try to analyze our feelings. We can bring reason to bear on the problem, asking ourselves why we are disturbed. Often when we do this we find that our “reasons” are quite petty. Or we may discover within ourselves a motive that we did not realize existed. The advantage of self-examination is that we then focus on our own share of the problem, which we can do something about, rather than becoming frustrated by focusing solely on the other person’s fault, regarding which we can do little. Through such self-examination, we may learn to recognize our own particular weak spot. Then we are in a better position to work on it and eventually master it.
Take an objective look at the other person. When someone upsets us, we tend to see only his weaknesses. Overall, is the person showing a good attitude, perhaps falling short on just one or two points? If so, it will help if we concentrate on his good qualities rather than the things that irritate us.
Most of us manage to excuse our own mistakes. Why not also use it to understand and cover the imperfections of others? It takes self-control to respond with mildness, but this wise course smooth's out problems and promotes peaceful relations.
By mastering our emotions we preserve our dignity as well as our peace of mind, and do not degrade ourselves by resorting to disgraceful words. Furthermore, the person maintaining self-control gains a moral victory. Yes, a person may outwardly appear powerful but inside be a moral weakling. Moral strength is far harder to come by than any other kind of power. Many lacking strength to control their feelings are vulnerable to every passing provocation. It takes great inner strength to master strong emotions, and to express them in a way so as not to harm others.