Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
A monstrous threat to families
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Aug. 24, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
A threat looms over many of our marriages and families. This danger comes not from outside forces, but from inside ourselves, and it puts at risk the vital fabric of our relationships. This menace is anger.
It’s not a problem for everyone, but I know this anger, and it is like a monster. It creeps up undetected and then takes over your body in an instant. It feels uncontrollable, making you say and do things that ordinarily you would never say and do. Then it slinks away, leaving you feeling ashamed, guilty and determined – determined to never let this monster rise up in you again. You have the best of intentions, but no matter how hard you try, a week, a month or six months later your pulse is pounding, your muscles constricting and the monster of anger returns lashing out at your spouse or your children.
When my husband and I attended a engaged retreat before our marriage, I confided to one of the leaders that although I hadn’t yet lost my temper with my soon-to-be-husband, I feared I would. I wanted help. I wanted to know how to keep my temper in check. The retreat leader laughed and said he couldn’t imagine me losing my temper. The wedding came and went and I remained in the dark about how to cope with my anger.
The sacraments of baptism and holy matrimony shower you with grace, but unfortunately they do not convey communication and anger-management skills. It took years of struggle, pain and hard work for me, my husband and children before I learned to follow the Biblical instruction: Be angry, but do not sin.
There’s a reason I’m confessing this. During all these years of working through my bad temper, I often felt alone. I couldn’t imagine other couples having this problem. I knew other parents felt frustration and irritation with their children, but I didn’t picture them being taken over by the ranting, raving monster that came out in me. It was my own private shame.
This summer, as my husband and I traveled around the state giving talks on marriage and family communication, I have discovered that was not true. I am not unique. As I have shared my story of how I learned to express my anger appropriately, I have been surprised at the response. Time after time, people came up to me after our presentations and said, “I’m just like you.”
I heard myself saying, “I can’t picture you getting angry.” And I tried to stop myself and listen. I found people want to talk about anger. They feel isolated, guilty and unable to break their patterns of resentment and rage. One young mother told me with tears in her eyes, “I confess the same thing every time I go to confession.”
When a problem feels so overwhelming, where does a person even begin? Spokane psychotherapist Quinn Woodworth says the first thing to do when you’re angry is to walk away, try to get some space.
“That is hard to do,” she admits, “so you also need to do the necessary work to keep anger from bottling up. You need to be able, in safety, to talk about what you don’t like.” She admits when she first married she wanted to tell her husband what upset her, but was so afraid all she could do was cry. Eventually she was able to speak up, and it saved her marriage.
Woodworth says speak your feelings responsibly, with ownership, not name-calling or criticizing. Try saying, “When you do this, it makes me feel this, because….”
Two good books about anger management are: Letting Go of Anger: The Eleven Most Common Anger Styles and
What to Do About Them, by Ronald T. Potter-Efron and Patricia S. Potter-Efron, and The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s
Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, by Harriet Lerner.
It takes time, work and self-awareness, but we can learn to deal with anger in constructive ways. If you don’t believe me, just ask my husband.
© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and
children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been
published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at www.marycronkfarrell.com)
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