Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Controlling Anger

Nikki came from a dysfunctional family. Her father threw her out of the house when she was in her teens. But Subhanallah! She discovered Islam and converted after a man married her for a green card. Always looking for answers to her problems she developed her relationship with Allah. It wasn't what someone raised by two good Muslim parents would have, but it is a true relationship. With His help, she fought against adversity in many different ways. She's known food pantries and homelessness. She survived and put behind her two failed marriages. She's struggled to raise three kids. She got herself through college and into a good career track. Her growing up was tough. But Allah (SWT) doesn't give someone something harder than they can bear. Nikki cried and floundered many times, but she ended up beating so many odds.

Nikki knows what Islam says about anger. But she admits that when the going gets tough, she still screams bad words at her children. She's proud of how she doesn't hit them, as her parents and ex husbands hit her. But she is embarrassed and defensive about the language she uses when she yells.

While she works on self control she compensates for her lapses by talking with her children about her anger problem to reduce the role model effect for them. She doesn't want them to think her anger behavior is correct and copy it, and she wants them to know she is trying to improve. She is also working to reduce the situations that trigger her anger, and generally just trying to be the most thoughtful caring mother she can be.

Alhamdullilah, most of us don't come from such difficult backgrounds as Nikki. But everyone has trouble controlling their anger, and their tongues from time to time. Nikki is working to improve. What is your excuse, or my excuse for yelling or using abusive language?

There are many hadith where the Prophet told the people not to be angry. Among them are:

The strong one is not the one who throws (people) down, but the strong one is the one who controls himself in the face of anger. (Bukhari and Muwatta)

No one swallows anything more excellent in the sight of Allah, the Great and Glorious, than anger which he restrains, seeking to please Allah Most High. (Ahmad).

He gave lessons on how to exert self control:

If the Prophet was angry and he was standing, he would sit down. If he was seated, he would lie down, and the anger would go away. (Abu Dawud and ibn Abi Dunya)

If you are angry, keep silent. (Ahmad)

Anger comes from Satan. Satan was created of fire and fire is extinguished by water; so when one of you becomes angry, he should make wudu. (Abu Dawud)

And of course there is advise in Quran: And if an evil suggestion from Satan incites you, seek refuge in Allah. Truly, He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Qur'an 7:200)

So see if it works for you. We are not always in a position where we can leave to cool down with water, or to sit down, but sometimes we are and it really can help us. It's like counting to 10 or taking a walk, only it is how the prophet dealt with anger. Just thinking about whether to do one of these things can divert the mind somewhat from anger and start a person toward self control.

Try to change the words you say when angry. This is what the Quran is telling us to do, in saying the dua' "I seek refuge in Allah". (In transliteration: aAAoothu biAllah). Sometimes you may not be able to recite dua' in Arabic out loud (like in an airport) and you may want to recite it to yourself quietly. But it is good to recite it out loud when you can so your children can hear you.

This is not a novel concept. Words like 'fiddlesticks' and 'shucks' exist as expletives in English because of people in the past trying to be polite when yelling. Instead of 'taking the name of the Lord in vain', Christians have yelled 'Gosh!'

From my years of observation and experience, words seem easier to gain control over than tone and volume of voice. So the dua' can come out in a very loud or threatening tone. Over time and practice, the tone and volume can get under better control. This is a slow learning process. You might want to explain yourself sometimes so people (particularly young children) know what you are doing. Otherwise they might think you are saying bad words just from the tone.

So how does this work? Imagine that you see your child spill juice on the carpet and your temper flares. Let's say you respond by calling out to Allah for help and then going to wash in the bathroom, or sitting down absolutely quiet on the sofa, working to control your temper. What does the child think, or do?

Your child may either feel really horrible, or may not realize that you are upset. Children can be either sensitive or oblivious to the adults around them, or somewhere in between. Could you tell your child how you feel? "I'm so upset about having the carpet look bad and having to clean spots again, that I'm not going to talk right now so my tongue won't get out of control," is one thing you might say. What else could you do so your child doesn't get away with bad behavior because you are trying to get control of yourself?

Because that is often what it boils down to. Parents are so busy being responsible for their child's behavior immediately, and trying to get that under control, that they lose sight of their own behavior, or feel they can't control it because they feel forced into it by the need to respond to their child. "Yes I know I yell but this kid drives me nuts."

Aside from emergency steps to keep children from injury and objects from disaster, nothing needs to be handled immediately. And those steps can be taken without bad words and/or hitting on the part of the parent. Name something else that can't wait? When we are back in control of ourselves we can start doing something about the problem of the child's behavior, thoughtfully. There are many options - when we are in control of ourselves.

What kinds of situations push your anger button? Your own fatigue? Your child acting like someone you don't like? Your fear of someone criticizing your child's less than perfect behavior? Having to multitask more tasks than you feel comfortable with? Your child's forgetfulness? ??? Thinking these issues through can help you in your quest for self control.

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