On Dealing with Anger

by Fr. Charles Irvin

August, 1996



[Based on Matthew 18:15-20]

We can and do hurt other people. And I think it’s true that, generally speaking, the ones that can and do hurt the most are the ones who claim to love each other. A total stranger can hurt us, but there is no hurt greater than that which comes from one we want to love us.

When I was a boy I was hurt by other children who excluded me from their games. As I grew older I was hurt by children who called me “fatso”. When I was a teenager there was no hurt greater than being laughed at. As an adult I was hurt by those who did not return my generosity. I mistakenly thought that if I was kind and nice to others they would be kind and nice to me. How mistaken I was!! Rejection is an excruciating form of pain.

So what do we do with our hurts? What do we do with the anger that comes pouring into our souls when we have been hurt? Jesus speaks to that in today’s Gospel when He tells us: “If your brother (not a stranger, mind you, but a member of your own family – your “brother”) sins again you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” If that doesn’t work, Jesus says, take the matter to two or three others – presumably people close to you whom you can trust. If that doesn’t work – let go of both the hurt and the one who is hurting you. Don’t cling to the cancer.

Jesus is quoted here as saying that if all else fails, treat the offending party like you would treat a Gentile, or a tax collector. Churches have used this passage as justification for the act of formal and judicial excommunication from the Faith Community. My only concern here is to note precisely how Jesus Himself treated Gentiles and tax collectors. I think we, as a Church, would do well to treat offending persons in exactly the same way – just as Jesus treated Gentiles…. and tax collectors. But that is another issue that I can’t deal with here and now.

Back to dealing with those who hurt us and cause our souls to be filled with hurt, anger and rage.

The primary principle to be noted here in Jesus’ teaching is this: DO NOT NURSE YOUR HURTS – DEAL WITH THEM…. AND DEAL WITH THEM OPENLY.

We all have a tendency to avoid conflict; all of us hate to convene confrontation sessions. We all avoid and deny, evade and allow. Which is a major reason why alcoholics and drug addicts wallow deeper and deeper into the quicksand which traps them and eventually suffocates them. Avoidance and denial are other forms of ENABLING – they enable the offender to sink deeper and deeper into his or her hateful behavior.

Another avoidance technique to “stuff” our feelings deeper and deeper into our souls – where they fester and multiply like cancer cells in our bodies. I came across a story about a government official who requested permission to destroy a huge amount of dead files that were simply taking up space and choking off both time and space in his office. He recommended they be destroyed. After a long, long delay, a reply came down from the central agency: “Permission granted to destroy dead files. Be sure to keep copies of everything.”

We do that in our souls. We store up, and store up, and store up vast files of past hurts and resentments and then finally blow up like a huge volcano in full eruption, pouring out hot lava on all around us. Instead of getting hysterical in releasing our anger, we get historical, bringing up with great relish every little event in history that has hurt us and made us angry – and losing in the process the way to constructively deal with what is actually wrong and missing the way to get the offending party to actually change. Pouring out of grievances on everyone around us does not enhance their view of us or make their opinion of us any better.

There are techniques for conflict resolution. One simple home remedy is to schedule a “Family Council” every couple of weeks or once a month. Everyone sits in a circle; each person is given fifteen minutes in which they can say anything they want to – share any thought or any feeling. No one else can challenge their statements either verbally or using body language. Everyone gets fifteen minutes of unchallengeable statements. If you try it you’ll be amazed at what peace and serenity in your family can result.

Furthermore, we are surrounded by people who are quite skilled in helping us to ventilate our hurts, resentments and in deal with anger. Why is it that we turn to such people only after our spiritual house in on fire, raging, and about to be totally consumed? I remember getting a telephone call on Christmas Eve from a man who was shrieking in grief, telling me that his wife was leaving him, in fact was walking out the door while he was on the phone with me. The matter, it turns out, had been building up for eleven years, he had done absolutely nothing about it, and called me to “do something about it” on Christmas Eve. He reminded me that I was a Catholic priest, the Church was against divorce, and I was supposed to do something just as his wife was walking out the door with the children.

Why do people do such things to themselves?

There are techniques that can be put in place in any marriage to allow each person in the family, husband, or wife, or children, or any one child, to get the hurt, the resentment, the pain, or the anger out of their souls. It’s all a question of having the HUMILITY to speak out about it. If anything needs to be “stuffed” it is the false pride that tells us that we can solve any problem and handle any difficulty all by our selves – alone.

That word: ALONE, is the key. It only leads to isolation, loneliness and the hell that we live in there all by our pride-full selves.

Jesus tells us that we simply can’t live that way. God had created us with a human nature that cries out for others, cries out for others in good times, and cries out to others in bad times. Isolating only pours gasoline on the flames of hurt and anger.

Which is why Jesus spoke the words quoted in today’s Gospel account.


About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”