There is a recently-concluded hearing in the United Kingdom, where a Singaporean is on trial for the murder of his wife. The alleged cause of death was suffocation. Both husband and wife were visiting their son in the UK, and were also holidaying in the surrounding area before the fateful incident happened in Newcastle.
The man has since been given a life sentence (at least 12½ years in a British prison before the possibility of parole) after pleading guilty to smothering his wife to death. His memory of what exactly happened is sparse. The record showed that the man suffered multiple falls and accidents while on holiday, which saw him seek treatment at a hospital. He was prescribed medication to help manage the severe pain from the fall. Messages sent to their son also appeared to indicate that, leading up to the fatal incident, there was some bickering between the couple about the falls. Their son also testified that his father has never shown any physical abuse towards his mother before; he also mentioned that they had a “perfect family.”
The purpose of sharing the above is not to speculate on the incident; however, the tragic nature of the entire case really pained me. The husband, while in a holding cell, was recorded as saying, "I snapped. I just wanted her to keep quiet". The phrase “I snapped”, in particular, resonated with me and struck me deep.
Most who know me from young would attest to my mild manners and generally even-keeled personality. However, in recent years, I have to confess that losing my temper, or snapping, has occurred more often than ever before. To put it in mathematical terms, the rate and intensity of losing my temper seems to be proportional to the number of kids I have, multiplied by the duration of the ongoing pandemic. In all seriousness though, it concerns me greatly. Although I have not, and cannot, imagine doing any harm to my loved ones, the very nature of uncontrollable rage is that you do things out of your control and routine. It is thus important to approach the topic from a precautionary standpoint rather than from a point of regret.
Throughout the Bible, we see many who displeased God because of their inability to control their anger. Cain killed his brother Abel in a fit of anger (Genesis 4:5-8). Moses, who was “very meek” (Numbers 12:3), struck the rock twice in anger, thus missing out on the Promised Land (Numbers 20:9-12).
Likewise, anger, and specifically uncontrolled rage, is something that can happen to anyone. We read in the bible that
“An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression” (Proverbs 29:22).
Anger is something that we should aim to “put away” (Ephesians 4:31). While feeling angry is not a sin in itself, the lack of ability to control it may lead to sin and often regret. Anger management tips and courses abound. However, we are blessed that in the Bible, this topic has been given considerable attention as well.
SLOW TO ANGER
The most obvious but helpful tip to remember is that we need to be slow to anger. (James 1:19-20). Conversely, we are warned that he who is quick to anger “acts foolishly” (Proverbs 14:17). Indeed, psychologists have surmised that anger of the uncontrolled sort often results when people use their unconscious thinking. It creates a much faster fight or flight response, but comes without much planning as a result. When we slow anger down, we gain control of it with our conscious, rational mind, and can better think through the consequences of our behavior.
In my personal experience, it is the times where I inexplicably get triggered quickly that I have angry – and occasionally hurtful – outbursts. Although I may regret my outburst midway, I still am unable to fully tame myself. Anger is indeed a scary beast, for all parties involved.
We need to look for ways to slow our anger down. Identify your trigger points. Walk away and take a timeout, if possible, when you spot the warning signs that your emotions are spiraling out of control. Practice reframing the situation from a broader perspective e.g. my child is not rebelling – he might just be learning how to express his emotions appropriately.
While being angry might not necessarily always lead to violent outbursts (thankfully), it does often lead to angry words being said. We read that “grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Indeed, being angry with another person has rarely solved an issue, much less end a quarrel. Quite the contrary, it often escalates things. Here, I am also reminded of my duties as a father to not “provoke” my children to wrath (Ephesians 6:4).
The “answer” to this problem lies in the earlier part of Proverbs 15:1 –
“A soft answer turneth away wrath.”
We read further in Proverbs 12:18 that
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Therefore, in order to de-conflict, as well as to deescalate tensions, a “soft answer” is often a good place to start.
FORGIVE AND FORGET
Lastly, the act of snapping may result from holding onto a grudge for too long; you may recall the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Instead, the apostle Paul warned that we are not to let “the sun go down upon your wrath” because in so doing, it may “give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). When you hold onto a grudge for too long, there is a tendency for it to build up in your mind, to become something worse than it actually is in reality. Rather than to wait for the dam to break, and thereafter lose control over your actions or speech, it is preferable to handle the issue quickly before it boils over.
Paul goes on to emphasize that we are to “put away” bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking, as well as to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:26-27); therein lies the ideal end-state of each conflict that we may face. To find a resolution, we must forgive, forget and move on.
Emotions are complicated. They are a result of both internal and external factors of our past experiences and present circumstances. Nonetheless, we need to persist in gaining control over our emotions, and importantly, the actions resulting from it. Anger in particular is an emotion that can quickly spiral out of control. The above steps given are admittedly easier said than done. However, in the examples given above, both from the news and in the Bible, we can see that the consequences of uncontrolled anger can be heart-wrenching and far-reaching. Thus, it is vital that we continuously reflect and work on taming our anger lest we snap.