Anger Control by R. Dovid Gilberg
HOW TO TAKE STEPS TO
Anger Control Project
Rechov Messilat Yosef 18/4
Kiryat Sefer, Israel
6 M. Cheshvan 5779
Dedicated to the Memory of
Pinchas ben Pesach Dovid HaLevi ז”ל
)REB PINCHAS REBHUN(
18 Tishrei 5766
And his wife
Nechama Bas Yehuda ע”ה
3 Elul 5757
Reb Pinchas printed and personally distributed Orech Apayim in America and Eretz Yisrael.
Also Dedicated to the Memory of the 881 Jewish residents of Reb Pinchas’s hometown Amsana (in Galicia, Poland), who perished on the 6th of Elul, 5702 – including Reb Pinchas’s parents.
File: Anger Control
HOW TO TAKE STEPS TO CONTROL ANGER
These guidelines/steps for controlling anger are but a preliminary draft for a more complete and more organized booklet that G-d-willing will be prepared in the future.
For example, it is hoped that a future draft will be built around the following concepts:
- How to avoid anger altogether (to stay far away).
- How to avoid anger that is about to start.
- How to defuse anger that has already started.
- How to patch things up after an angry outburst.
Because of the importance of controlling anger, it was felt that these guidelines should be circulated as soon as possible so that people can benefit, even though they are but a preliminary draft.
In addition, it is hoped that readers will provide feedback, suggestions, for how to improve these guidelines. That feedback will then be included in a later draft. A comment sheet has been attached to the last page to facilitate making comments.
There are many different approaches to controlling anger. Most involve changing ourselves; some involve changing others. Other approaches involve davening to Hashem to change us, or to change the difficult situations that we deal with. Some approaches involve avoiding the situations that lead to anger. Other approaches deal with how to control and diffuse anger safely once an angry situation has developed, or how to recover from anger that wasn’t defused.
The steps to control anger, listed on the attached pages, can be viewed as tools. Each tool is suited for use in certain situations. A good carpenter must know all the tools available to him, and how to use them.
In order to know which “tools” are best suited for you, it is recommended that you try out each step for one day or one week, and then go on to another step. If a particular step is particularly useful, continue using it.
If you have suggestions to add to this list, or other comments, please contact the compiler at 050-4180658 (from America 972-50-418-0658). Or mail your comments to:
Anger Control Project
Rechov Messilat Yosef 18/4
Kiryat Sefer, Israel
May Hashem help you abundantly in your efforts to gain control over anger, and may He bring you peace and tranquility in all aspects of your life.
SUMMARY OF STEPS TO CONTROL ANGER
Need to be motivated to control anger (regret over the past)
- Realize the immense damage done by anger (Step 57).
- Realize that the Torah forbids many of the behaviors and other manifestations of anger (Step 20):
– Must not hurt people with words.
– Lashon HaRah in general is forbidden (Step 59).
– Must not bear grudges or take revenge. (Step 10)
– Must love our fellow man as ourself. (Step 11)
- Other Steps: 43, 71, 23, 40, 9, 55, 56, 8, 39, 50, 52, 62.
Need a formal commitment to get anger under control
- Make a kabbala/commitment to get anger under control (Step 49).
- Make an action plan (Step 49).
- Start! – Leave the past! Take a first step now!
Enlist allies to get anger under control
- Find a chavrusa/study partner to review these guidelines (Step 55).
- Ask a Rav/mentor/relative/friend for advice and support (Step 50).
- Daven/pray to Hashem (Steps 8, 39, 78).
- Find a partner to provide support in implementing these guidelines (Step 49).
- Other Steps: 19, 51, 63, 22, 47.
Global Approaches to Avoid Anger Altogether
- Have deep emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) – Step 7. Realize that Hashem runs the world, and He runs it for our maximum benefit. If something happens to upset us, it is from Hashem, for our ultimate good. Instead of getting angry, we should realize that Hashem is helping us in some way (Step 25). Our proper response to what upsets us to thank Hashem! Those who have done this see bracha come into their lives.
- Daven/pray to get anger under control (Steps 8, 39, 78).
- Avoid pride – get the ego under control – yield to others (Steps 23, 24, 33, 54).
- Use visualization techniques to become a calm, patient, understanding person (Step 23).
- Study mussar and Torah sources (Steps 5 and 20). Study with a chavrusa (Step 55).
- View every person as important, as a VIP, entitled to the utmost respect:
– Love your fellow man as yourself (Step 11).
– We are all children of Hashem (Step 87).
– We are all connected to each other person (Step 38).
– Judge each person favorably (Step 9).
– See the Divine image, Divine soul in each person (Step 69).
– Love yourself (Steps 30 and 72).
– Be a yielder (Step 24).
– Daven for everyone (Step 80); bless everyone (Step 37).
- Maintain a happy, calm disposition (Steps 26 and 27, 23, 30, 8, 39, 31).
- Have a calm, problem-solving attitude towards life’s problems and upsets (Steps 3, 17, 40, 49, 58, 61, 73, 82, 86).
- Other Steps: 36, 47, 48, 50, 53, 61, 62, 72, 73, 76, 79, 81, 83.
Technical Approaches to Avoiding Anger
- Avoid situations known to be upsetting (Step 46).
- Lower your expectations realistically (Steps 2, 6, 53).
- Avoid interacting with people when tired, hungry, under stress, or when experiencing any other lack. Address the lack. (Step 13)
- Maintain a log of anger incidents. Analyze the log and devise corrective actions. (Step 1)
- Other technical steps: 18, 19, 21, 22, 29, 31, 36, 23, 51, 52, 56, 63, 84, 70, 71, 75, 82, 85.
How to Defuse Anger
- Delay reacting (Step 3).
- Speak gently, quietly (Step 4).
- Is this really worth getting upset over? (Step 6)
- Communicate in writing (Step 12).
- Use humor (Step 14).
- Focus on the problematic behavior and not on the person (Step 17).
- Judge everyone favorably (Step 9).
- Buy off the anger (Step 43).
- Get absorbed in something else (Steps 32, 41, 42, 44).
- Other Steps: 8, 16, 25, 32, 58, 60, 64, 65, 66, 77, 84, 86.
How to Fix Things after an Angry Outburst
- Do not leave a conflict unresolved (Step 15).
- Communicate in writing (Step 12).
- Do a kindness to patch up a quarrel (Steps 68 and 74).
- Use positive, constructive speech (Step 66).
- Other Steps: 8, 10, 11, 14, 28, 39, 58, 61, 67, 81.
- Handling children (Step 34)
- Regarding spouses (Step 35)
- Keeping Shabbos: Shabbos peace (Step 79) – (Also Pesach preparations)
STEPS TO CONTROL ANGER
Step 1. Maintain a log of incidents of anger
Each day make a list of situations where you became angry. Answer the following questions in writing: (a) What caused the anger? (b) How did I react to the situation? (c) How can I prevent this in the future? Review the list weekly to refresh your memory about preventive measures that are needed. (See sample “Anger Log” attached.)
Such a list can also be compiled from memory based on past incidents of anger.
[Orech Apayim has an elaborate system for maintaining and reviewing a notebook of behavioral deficiencies and devising strategies for improvement (Chapter 3, Section 5).]
Step 2. Have more realistic expectations
Have more realistic expectations of yourself and of others to reduce frustration and anger. If we expect others or ourselves to be perfect, we set ourselves up for feelings of anger and frustration. For example, if someone does something frequently that annoys us, and we cannot seem to change the person, then we can try to change ourselves. We can work at being more tolerant of the annoying behavior, and more accepting of other people’s weaknesses. If we are angry at ourselves, we can be more understanding of our own weaknesses and shortcomings, and more patient with ourselves as we work to improve.
Step 3. Delay reacting to anger, then react constructively
If a person is causing you a problem, and you have become angry, restrain yourself from reacting. Any reaction at this point will likely only make the situation worse. Try to defuse the situation at once, by walking away, or by maintaining silence. Some say count to 10 or some such number. Do not try to talk to the other person until the feelings of anger have passed. This might be an hour later or even a day later. Once everyone is 100% calm, that is the time to approach the person to discuss the situation that caused you to be angry, and to attempt to find a solution to the problem, so that the situation does not occur again. Reason and sincere communication is very effective when people are calm. But it has little benefit when we feel angry. (Source: Proverbs 14:29).
See step 66 on using constructive, positive speech.
Step 4. Speak gently and quietly
The baalei mussar recommend strongly that we speak gently and quietly. This will help us to avoid getting angry. And if we should become angry, by speaking gently and quietly we can limit the damage and maintain relative peace. For example, if a person is playing a radio too loud, he is not angry, but we might feel anger. By speaking to him gently and in a friendly tone, we will likely be successful in convincing him to turn the radio down. (Sources: Ramban’s letter to his son, Orech Apayim, Proverbs 15:1)
Step 5. Study Mussar (Teachings on character improvement)
Each day, study mussar on the topics of anger and building and maintaining peace. Find a chevrusa/study partner if possible. See step 20 – list of Biblical verses and other Torah sources and list of mussar readings. (Source: Orech Apayim.)
Step 6. Objectively assess the severity of upsetting situations
When a problem situation arises, try to assess its significance objectively and put it into perspective. Rank each situation on a scale of Low – Medium – High. Low is a minor situation, such as someone bumping us unintentionally, taking our parking spot, or playing music too loud. High, on the other hand, is very serious – such as something life-threatening. Medium is something of significance, but not critical nor urgent.
Most of the troublesome situations that we encounter in life day-to-day are fairly minor – nothing that in any way warrants anger.
Conversely, for certain serious situations, a controlled display of anger may be in order. For example, if a young child is crossing streets without adult supervision, a stern reprimand may be in order. Or if an adult has placed himself in imminent danger and does not realize the seriousness of his situation, he needs to be warned. For example, an adult swimming in the ocean in an area of dangerous under-tow currents needs to be told urgently and with forcefulness to leave the water.
The medium situations, which are significant but not urgent, may or may not warrant anger. It all depends on the circumstances and the personalities involved.
Step 7. Have Emunah (Faith) and Bitachon (Trust) in Hashem (G-d).
We have to realize that Hashem (G-d) runs the world. And He runs the world for our maximum well-being and benefit. Hashem only desires good for us and only does good (Derech Hashem, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto 1:2:1). If something happens that angers us, we have to realize that there is an element of Divine Providence behind the situation. Instead of getting angry, we should stop and reflect on what Hashem is doing to directly or indirectly influence us.
Trust in Hashem (G-d). When a difficult situation arises, remind yourself that Hashem is the Boss and runs the world. If a person is causing problems, we should view the situation as being sent from Heaven. It is up to us to figure out why the situation was sent. Perhaps this is a test of our ability to deal with anger and with difficult situations. Perhaps the person is functioning as a shaliach, an agent, of Hashem to teach us something. In any event, it is not appropriate to get angry at the person “causing” the problem, as that person is but a tool in the hand of Hashem. We should instead turn our heart to Hashem and attempt to understand the message.
See Step 39 regarding prayer. See Step 25 on how upsetting situations can be for our benefit, an expression of Divine favor.
See the booklet You Can Learn Bitachon (Based on Chovos Halevavos) a private publication that can be ordered from Yeshiva Zichron Eliezer, Brooklyn, NY.
Step 8. Daven/pray to Hashem
Daven to Hashem. Pray to Hashem that He should help you to avoid getting angry. This prayer can include having better control over your feelings and emotions, and helping you to avoid the situations that tend to make you angry. Such a prayer can be expressed informally at any time or any place. In addition, there are formal times when such prayers can be made:
In the Shmoneh Esrei: (a) During the bracha for forgiveness: Ask Hashem forgiveness for past episodes of anger. Express regret for past episodes of anger, and resolve to avoid these past mistakes, and ask Hashem for help in carrying out that resolution. (b) During the bracha Shema Koleinu “Hear our prayer”. (c) During the bracha for shalom/peace. (d) At the conclusion of the Shmoneh Esrei (after the bracha for peace). Some siddurs have a nusach that includes a prayer for avoiding anger.
Recitation of the Shema when going to bed: In the first paragraph, we forgive those that angered us during the day. We also pray to Hashem that we sin no more – this includes the sin of anger.
Note that our prayers to Hashem can be about controlling and avoiding anger in general, or they can be about specific situations that tend to occur over and over again. Or it can be about a specific difficult situation that you are presently dealing with.
See Twerski on Prayer (Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Shaar Press, 2004). See pages 174-175 on the blessing of peace.
See related comments in Step 39. Also Step 78 – praying to control the anger of others.
Step 9. Judge each person favorably
Judge each person favorably. It says in Pirkei Avos (1:6) that one should judge each person to the side of merit. One should try to see the other side of the story. Try to view the situation from the perspective of the one who is annoying us or disturbing us. Quite often people do things innocently with no intent to disturb us. If the disturbing behavior or situation is brought to their attention in a friendly, respectful manner, they will generally stop doing this behavior or they will correct the difficult situation.
Sometimes people do not have control over a certain behavior (due to physical or mental limitations). In these cases, we must be understanding and accepting of the difficult behavior or situation, and learn to live with it peacefully. By speaking with a person in a friendly, respectful way, with a good heart, these extenuating situations will often come to light. But even if it is not possible to speak with a person, judge him meritoriously, and then the feelings of anger will subside.
Step 10. Let go of grudges – Forgive!
Let go of grudges. It is a mitzvah of the Torah from Parshas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:18) “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge.” Frequently an explosion of anger is the result of a person storing up many hurts or storing up anger from many encounters with a certain person. The Torah commands us not to store up hurts and anger. This is a commandment that is as binding as the prohibition on eating non-kosher food or the prohibition of eating milk with meat. As noted in Step 8 above, the nusach of the Bedtime Shema gives us a chance to forgive everyone for the hurts they caused us during the day. If we let go of these hurts and anger daily, there will be much less likelihood of explosions of anger.
Forgiving is absolutely essential for healthy long-term relationships. If hurts and grievances are stored up, the relationship will eventually suffer greatly under the weight of the accumulated hurts and anger. This is particularly important for spouses, parents and children, and siblings. Grudges, accumulated hurt, and lack of forgiveness can be devastating to our most important relationships.
How does one forgive? He simply has to wipe the slate clean, like forgiving a debt. If a person has difficulty doing this, he should consult with a Rav or other mentor. In some cases professional counseling is required to uproot deeply-rooted hurts and emotional pain.
The following steps from this booklet can help in the process of forgiving:
- Love your fellow man as yourself (Step 11).
- We are all children of Hashem (Step 87).
- Judge each person favorably (Step 9).
- We are all connected (Step 38).
- See the Divine soul in each person (Step 69).
- Be a yielder (Step 24).
- Emulate the 13 attributes of mercy (Step 28).
- Focus on the behavior and not the person (Step 17).
- Do not leave a conflict unresolved (Step 15).
- Daven/ pray to Hashem (Step 8).
- Communicate in writing (Step 12).
- Visualize forgiveness (Step 23).
- Do kindness to patch up a broken relationship (Step 74).
Step 11. Love your fellow man
Love your neighbor as yourself. The very same posuk cited above (Step 10), about lettings go of grudges, contains the mitzvah (Vayikra 19:8) of loving your neighbor as yourself. The theory here is simple: If we love and respect someone, we are less likely to get angry at that person. Every person is created in the Divine Image (Step 69). Every person is a child of Hashem (Step 87). Each person contains a holy neshama (soul). Each person deserves our greatest respect.
Loving a person means caring about them and wanting only the best for them. It means their welfare is our concern and is important to our welfare. When we maintain this perspective of love with each of our fellow men, then it is easier to apply some of the other steps, listed above, on controlling anger: Step 9 Judging people favorably, Step 10 Not bearing grudges.
We have to see ourselves as spiritually connected to each other person (Step 38) . Each of us is like a finger on a hand. It would never make sense for one finger to strike another finger, or for a hand to strike a leg. Each is connected and part of a whole. So too, it is inappropriate for one person to strike out in anger at another person with angry words or behavior. The more we can identify with the welfare of other people, the less likely we will get angry at them.
For further ideas see:
Love Your Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Jerusalem, 1977) Kdoshim 19:18 – “Love your fellow man”.
Step 12. Communicate in writing
Communicate in writing. Instead of responding verbally when an angry situation arises, refrain from speaking (Step 3). Instead, sit down and write out your comments to the other person. Then put the paper aside for a day or two. When you are in a calm, clear state of mind, re-read what you wrote, and then decide if it should be given to the other person. In many cases, with the passage of time, the severity of the angry situation will diminish. Viewed objectively, the situation many not warrant any response.
If a response is warranted, after the passage of time you can edit what was originally written to tone it down, if necessary. The response can be modified to be more constructive, and not hurtful (Step 66). The very fact that comments are written generally make them less hurtful and more palatable than verbal comments.
(Source: Berel Wein, lecture at Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim)
Step 13. Minimize interaction with people when experiencing a physical or emotional lack.
If you are tired, or hungry, or hot or cold, or stressed, you will tend to have less tolerance of difficult situations. These are the times when anger is more likely. Interaction with others should be reduced in these cases. Conversely, one should make an effort to be well-rested, comfortable, etc. This will increase one’s tolerance level for difficult situations.
Similarly, one should minimize interaction with others who are experiencing a physical or emotional lack.
Step 14. Use humor.
If used effectively, humor can be a powerful tool for reacting to difficult situations, and to deal with those difficult situations positively. Humor is a far better approach to expressing displeasure or to correct someone’s behavior than anger. Humor can also be used to re-frame a difficult situation that is difficult to change, so that it is more tolerable.
Step 15. Do not leave a conflict unresolved – patch things up.
If there has been an angry encounter with someone, and particularly if it is someone close to us, whom we interact with regularly, it is essential to resolve conflicts and angry situations at the earliest possible time. It is necessary only to wait until emotions calm down and return to normal (See Step 3). The simplest solution is direct verbal communication as mentioned in Step 3. If feelings and emotions have been bruised to the point where verbal communication is problematic, then try one of the following approaches:
- Written communication, as described in Step 12. It might be only a simple note of apology, or a written request to meet to patch things up in a friendly way.
- Ask someone else, not involved in the conflict, to be a go-between, or shaliach, to approach the other person on your behalf to make peace. This outside party can deliver a verbal message of apology or to convey your desire to resolve the conflict and to get the relationship back to normal.
- Give a gift to show intent to patch things up (see Step 68).
- Do an act of kindness to show intent to patch things up (see Step 74).
- Learn to say “I was wrong” – even if you were in the right. (See Step 65.)
Step 16. Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements.
When speaking with another person to resolve a problem, avoid putting the other person in a defensive position. “You” statements, such as “YOU did this……..”, or “YOU always do this………..” or “YOU are in the wrong” – these will generally put people on the defensive and block needed communication. When “You” statements are used, it tends to bruise the ego. The result is that the “You” will respond angrily without listening to us. “You” statements thus are not very helpful and should be avoided. Instead, “I” statements should be used. An “I” statement is an expression of feelings and emotions. Examples are:
I am very uncomfortable when people smoke near me.
I am unable to sleep when people make a lot of noise late at night.
I feel unhappy and taken-advantage-of when people jump into line before me.
I experience a great deal of discomfort when people use up all the hot water, leaving only cold water for a shower.
These “I” statements are a legitimate expression of a person’s feelings. As such, they are not subject to challenge by the other person. People might debate the merits of smoking around others, but there is no debating the truth of the statement that “I am uncomfortable near smoke.” For this reason, “I” statements generally facilitate the presentation of a grievance.
For optimal success, “I” statements should be expressed without anger. But even if a person cannot avoid feeling angry and cannot avoid expressing it, the use of “I” statements will take some of the bite and hurt out of the anger.
Examples: I get angry when people jump into the line. I get angry when people take things without asking.
“I” statements will be even more successful when stated in the passive. For example, instead of saying “I experience discomfort when people use up all the hot water,” it is better to use the passive: “I experience discomfort when all the hot water is used up.” Notice that the word “people” has been omitted. This is because the reference to “people”might be perceived as an indirect type of “you” statement, putting the listener on the defensive. This latter idea (use of passive verbs) is developed more fully in Step 17 below.
(Source: Gavriel Goldman, Bureau of Jewish Education, Cleveland, Ohio)
Step 17. Focus on the troublesome behavior or situation and not on the person causing it.
This piece of wisdom was taught by Bruria in Gemora Brachos 10a. Rabbi Meir, her husband, was complaining about the thugs who were harassing people and making life miserable. Rabbi Meir expressed a wish that these nasty people should disappear from the earth. Bruria interpreted the closing passage of Psalm 104, teaching that Hashem does not want sinners to disappear, but rather that they should stop sinning. Rabbi Meir took this mussar to heart and davened that the thugs should do teshuva and abandon their bad ways. And Baruch Hashem, this is what happened. The thugs did do teshuva, and the problems ceased.
We also learn this approach from Yaakov Avinu when he criticized the anger of Shimon and Levi rather than focusing on the persons of Shimon and Levi (see Bereishis 49:7 and Rashi there).
This principle – of focusing on the problematic behavior, and not on the person – is a wonderful approach for how to deal deftly with a difficult situation.. For example, instead of saying: “I am going to make life miserable for you if you do not turn that music down!”, or instead of even saying: “Turn that music down – I can’t sleep!”, it is better to focus on the behavior rather than the person: “I can’t sleep when the music is so loud.” Notice that this last statement makes no reference to the person causing the problem. It instead focuses on the problem itself (inability to sleep due to loud music). Notice further the use of an “I” statement, as explained in Step 16 above.
Here is another example: Instead of saying “Why did you take all the hot water?”, it is better to focus on just the problem: “All the hot water is gone. I and everyone else will now have to take cold showers.” Notice that this reply uses the passive form “is gone” and incorporates an “I” statement. These two devices, discussed in Step 16 above, take much of the sting out of the reply. Even better would be the following reply: “All the hot water is gone. What can we do to avoid this problem in the future?” The focus here is on the problem rather than the person. There is also an effort to be constructive. See Step 58 on reframing negative situations into positive situations.
Note that tone of voice is important in achieving success with “I” statements. A calm voice will be more effective than an angry voice. It is best to speak gently (Step 3) and if possible to use humor (Step 14).
Step 18. Each day make a list of situations where you successfully avoided getting angry.
For each situation, describe what it was that could have made you angry. Also describe what you did to avoid getting angry. (See the sample of “Log of Anger Avoidance” attached). At the end of each week review the list of your successes and reward yourself in some way. See Step 56 on rewarding anger avoidance.
Step 19. Form (join) a support group.
If you feel that anger is a severe problem in your life, and is disturbing too many relationships and too many encounters with others, then locate one or more individuals with the same problem and agree to meet on a regular basis (weekly, every second week, etc.) to discuss dealing with the anger. These meetings could be most useful for persons who maintain a daily list of angry situations (see Step 1 above and Anger Log attached). The list of angry situations can become the subject for discussions. Participants in the meeting can give advice and suggestions to each other, and can be supportive of each other in their efforts to deal with anger.
See Step 51 – participating in workshops to learn to control anger.
Step 20. Study pesukim (verses) from the Torah related to anger.
Vayikra 25:17 – Not to aggrieve one’s fellow man (through hurtful words); fear Hashm.
Vayikra 19:17 – Not to hate one’s brother in his heart.
Vayikra 19:18 – Not to bear grudges and not to take revenge.
Vayikra 19:18 – Love your fellow man as yourself.
Shemos 20:3 – Not to have other gods (anger can emanate from self-worship)
Shemos 34:6 – 13 attributes of mercy of Hashem, including slow to anger.
Shemos 20:14 – Do not covet (jealousy produces unhappiness, can lead to anger).
Devarim 4:15 – Protect one’s health (including mental/emotional health)
Note that mitzvas of the Torah are 100% binding – including those connected to the issue of controlling anger. By studying these mitzvas, including appropriate commentaries, we will be better motivated to control anger. There are no personal choices here. Rather, we are obligated by the Torah to comply.
In addition to the various Torah commandments related to anger, there are many events and accounts in the written Torah and rest of the Tanach (Bible) that provide guidance on dealing with anger. The following are examples of Biblical sources dealing with anger:
Parshas Korach Bamidbar/Numbers Chapters 16-17 – Study in anger and communal conflict.
Parshas Chukas Bamidbar/Numbers Chapters 21-22 – Study in peace diplomacy (with other nations).
Parshas Chukas Bamidbar/Numbers 20:7-13 – Moshe’s anger regarding water, consequences of anger.
Related texts to study:
– Pirkei Avos/ Ethics of the Fathers 1:6, 1:12, 1:15, 1:17, 1:18, 2:6, 2:8, 2:13, 2:15, 2:16, 2:18, 3:1, 3:2, 3:3, 3:7, 3:8, 3:13, 3:16, 3:18, 3:19, 3:21, 3:22, 4:1, 4:3, 4:4, 4:9, 4:15, 4:20, 4:23, 4:24, 4:29, 5:14, 5:20, 5:22, 6:1, 6:3, 6:4, 6:5, 6:6
– Sugyas in the Gemara/Talmud:
* Baba Metzia 58b-59b – Avoiding verbal abuse; maintaining marital harmony
* Shabbos 30b-31a – Hillel teaches that anger must be controlled, and can be
controlled even under very trying circumstances.
* Shabbos 105b – Anger is tantamount to idolatry.
* Sotah 5b – Importance of humility, avoiding pride.
* Sanhedrin 6b – Pursuing peace, including in the judicial process.
* Berachos 10a – Focus on the problem and not on the person.
* Berachos 60b – Everything that Hashem does is for the good, including life’s
* Berachos 5b – Suffering has spiritual dimensions.
* Nedarim 22a,b – Various ills caused by anger; anger shows lack of
– Mishlei/Proverbs 3:30-31, 6:16-17, 10:12, 11:27, 12:16, 14:16, 14:17, 14:29, 15:1, 15:18, 16:32, 17:1, 17:9, 17:14, 18:6-8, 18:18, 19:11, 19:13, 19:19, 20:3, 21:9, 21:14, 21:19, 22:8, 22:10, 22:24-25, 23:12, 24:17-18, 24:25-26, 24:29, 25;8, 25:11, 25:15, 25:21, 25:23, 26:10, 26:17, 26:20-21, 26:22, 27:3, 27:4, 27:15, 28:25, 29:8, 29:9-11, 29:17, 29:18, 29:22, 30:32-33.
– Koheles/Ecclesiastes 7:9, 10:4, 11:10
- Orech Apayim (Rav Avraham Yellin, Jerusalem 5752 Hebrew, vowelized)
- Orech Apayim (Rebhun Edition, Jerusalem 1986 Hebrew)
- Orchos Tzadikim/Ways of the Tzaddikim – Chapter 12 on anger (Rabbi Shraga Silverstein, trans., Feldheim Pub. Jerusalem, 1996). Also see chapters on pride, humility, arrogance, love, hatred, mercy, joy, worry, envy – all Vol II.
- Rambam – Book of Knowledge, Hilchos Deos, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 6, 7
- Iggeres HaRamban: A Letter for the Ages (Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Art Scroll/Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY 2007)
- Chovos HaLevovos/Duties of the Heart (Rabbeinu Bachye Ibn Pekuda/)
- Shaarei Teshuva/The Gates of Repentance (Rabbeinu Yona of Gerona, Rabbi Shraga Silverstein, trans., Feldheim, Jerusalem 1967) – The Third Gate
- Tomer Devorah/The Palm Tree of Devorah (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, trans by Rabbi Moshe Miller, Targum Press, Southfield, MI, 1993)
- Encyclopedia of Torah Thoughts/Kad HaKemach (Rabbeinu Bachya, trans by Rabbi Charles Chavel, Shilo Pub., New York, NY 1980)
- Shmiras HaLashon/Guarding the Tongue (Chofetz Chaim)
- The Chofetz Chaim Looks at Middos: The Measure of Man (Bais Yechiel Pub. Jerusalem, 1987)
- Strive for Truth, Vol I (Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, trans by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, Feldheim, Jerusalem 1978)
- Living Mussar Every Day (Rabbi Tzvi Miller, Targum Press, Southfield, MI 2007). Teaches Orchos Tzadikim, Chovos HaLevovos and others. E.g. see pages 109 and 116 – happiness, 119 – bitachon, 123 – worry, 124 – chesed, 165 – jealousy.
- Ohr Yisrael (Rav Yisrael Salanter and RavYitzhak Blazer, trans by Rabbi Tzvi Miller, Targum Press, Southfield, MI 2004)
- Patience (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Shaar Press 2001)
- Gateway to Happiness (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin,1983)
- Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Aish Hatorah Publications, New York/ Jerusalem, 1988)
- Love Your Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Jerusalem, 1977)
- Code of Jewish Conduct (Rav Yitzhak Silver, Jerusalem 2008)
- To Live Among Friends: Laws and Ethics of Everyday Interactions (Rabbi Dovid Castle, Feldheim, Jerusalem, 2006)
- The Garden of Emuna and The Garden of Gratitude (Rabbi Shalom Arush, Rabbi Lazar Brody, trans, Chut Shel Chesed Institutions, Jerusalem)
- Calm Down – Taking Control of Your Life (Miriam Adahan, Targum/Feldheim 1995)
- Appreciating People (Including Yourself!) (Miriam Adahan, Feldheim/Gefen, Jerusalem 1988)
- Guard Your Anger (Rabbi Moshe Goldberger, Targum Press, Southfield, MI, 1999)
- Mastering Patience: 30 Day Program on Overcoming Anger (C.T. Friedman, Brooklyn, NY 2010) – Based on Orech Apayim. To order: 718-436-2360.
- Master Your Anger (Rav Avraham Sitbon, trans by Avraham Shoshanni, Jerusalem 2017) To order: 054-7127220.
- Raising Roses among the Thorns (Rabbi Noach Orlowek, Feldheim, Jerusalem, 2002)
- Bringing Out the Best: A Jewish Guide to Building Family Esteem (Rabbi Yisroel Roll, Targum Press, Southfield, MI, 2009)
- The Quest for Peace: Questions and Answers (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Fuchs, Mishmeres HaSholom, Jerusalem, 5770)
- The Path of Improvement (Mordechai Menachem Reich, Tzfas, Israel 1989)
- The Power to Choose (Rabbi Shmuel Dov Eisenblatt, Feldheim, Jerusalem, 2002)
- Begin Again Now: A Concise Encyclopedia of Strategies for Living (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Aish Hatorah Publications, Jerusalem, 1993)
- Dearer Than Life: Making Your Life More Meaningful (Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Shaar Press, 1997)
- Pathways to Peace of Mind: A Guide for Over-coming Anger and Acquiring Self-Control (Rabbi Eliyahu Porat Teherani, Private publication, Bnei Brak, 5747)
- אדרבה תן בלבנו: על מעלות הויתור והשלום (רב יעקב ישראל פוזן, ארגון שלום על ישראל, ירושלים, תשעו)
Step 21. Avoid people when they are upset.
When people are angry, they have difficulty in dealing with people and issues in a meaningful way. Try to avoid altogether people who are in a highly-charged emotional state. Wait for them to calm down before speaking with them or before trying to solve problems connected with them. (See Pirkei Avos 4:23 R. Shimon ben Elazar.) (See Step 3 for related guidance to those who get angry.)
Step 22. Medical consultation for chronic anger.
If a person constantly experiences anger throughout the day and on most days, it may be the sign of a medical problem. An appropriate medical evaluation should be obtained.
There might be a bio-chemical/hormonal imbalance. Or it might be rooted in diet – some foods can cause irritability to those who are allergic to them.
Step 23. Visualize being calm and patient.
A useful technique is visualization. A person visualizes in his mind several times a day that he is a calm, patient person who does not get angry. By seeing oneself as calm and patient, one is less likely to get angry (Source: Miriam Adahan, “Calm Down – Taking Control of Your Life, Targum/Feldheim, 1995; Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, “Patience”, Shaar Press, 2001: Chapters 5 and 30.) A variation of this is to observe a calm, patient person and then project one’s self into that scene of calm and patience (Source: R. Pliskin, Chapter 32 “Model and Morph”).
Visualization techniques are based on putting our sub-conscious mind to work. Our sub-conscious mind is the real ”power” hidden behind our conscious mind, constantly pulling strings to shape our behavior without our being aware of it. (In Torah terms, this is the realm of the Yetzer HaRah and Yetzer Tov). The sub-conscious is the part of the mind affected by hypnosis. One can view visualization techniques as a form of self-hypnosis, or auto-suggestion, where we reprogram our sub-conscious mind to operate on a mode of calm and patience.
In addition to the visualization technique cited just above (telling ourselves that we are calm and patient), two other techniques are taught by Rabbi Pliskin in his book on patience:
—–Collecting States of Mind: Recall times when you felt calm and patient and were able to control anger successfully. “Play back” these calm states of mind in your memory several times a day to re-program your sub-conscious.
—–Model and Morph: Observe others who have excellent control of their emotions and who avoid anger when provoked. Mentally record the scenes in which they control their anger. “Play back” these scenes with you taking the place of the real person. I.e., assume the character of the role model. (See Step 47 regarding role models.)
Visualizations need to be recited out loud. One needs to be relaxed and in a quiet, calm setting. Visualizations should be repeated daily – if possible, several times a day. Be sure to learn to do visualizations and to use them as much as possible: Visualizations are very powerful, very effective for making changes in behavior and attitude.
“I am a calm and patient and understanding person. I avoid anger and avoid getting upset. I understand that things can and will go wrong in life, but I take them in stride, knowing that peace and harmony and calm are more important than anything else. I am a calm and patient and understanding person.”
- I am a calm person.
- I am a patient person.
- I am an understanding person.
- I always see the good in each person.
- I see the Divine soul in each person.
- Each person is important – a VIP.
- I love each person.
- I judge each person favorably.
- I forgive everyone for everything.
- I desire peace in all my relationships.
- Hashem runs the world – Ultimately, everything is for the good.
- The challenges of life give me a chance to grow.
- The challenges of life bring me closer to Hashem, as I turn to Hashem to deal with those challenges.
- I am a kind person.
- I am a caring person.
- I want the best for everyone.
- Hashem wants the best for me.
- Hashem gives me the life and circumstances best suited for me.
- Hashem has given me everything I need – I am lacking nothing.
Also see Ohr Yisrael (Rav Yisrael Salanter and Rav Yitzhak Blazer, trans by Rabbi Zvi Miller, Targum, Southfield, MI 2004), pages 180-181 regarding how mussar learning influences the subconscious.
Also see Gateway to Self-Knowledge (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Aish HaTorah Publications, Jerusalem/Brooklyn 1986). See pages 298-300 on imagery. See Chapter 2 on changing.
Also see It’s All in Your Mind (Rabbanit Sara Yosef, trans Zvi Kaniel, 2008) – see Chapter 5 on The Power of Imagination.
(Source: Some of the visualization material is based on lectures by Rav Moshe Allen in Beitar 2016.)
Step 24. Learn to be מוותר – to yield to others.
Even if you are right and justified and the other person is wrong or at fault, learn to give in to the other person for the sake of peace. As Rashi points out on verse 6 of Vayikra, Chapter 26: Even if we have an abundance of material possessions, if there isn’t peace to enjoy what we have, then we really have nothing. There is little point to winning an argument if it is going to cost us peace with our spouse or business partner or chevrusa or roommate or friend.
See Step 11 above on loving our neighbor as ourself. If we properly value our relationships with others, and make a sincere effort to love and respect each person (and the Divine soul that each person contains – Step 69), then we will find it easier to yield to others. Instead of unhappily saying that “I lost the argument”, we will happily say we preserved a relationship with someone who is dear and important to us.
Regarding disputes over financial matters (small ones), the Chofetz Chaim suggests that each year a person should budget a certain amount of peace money. This is money that a person is willing to give up for the sake of peace. For example, this will solve potential disputes over taxi fares. (See Step 29 regarding peace money.)
At times, the issues are such that one cannot yield. This applies to issues of halacha and health, and sometimes with major life decision. In these special situations where yielding is not an appropriate option, one should seek out a third party to arbitrate the issue. In issues of halacha, this means going to a posek. For health issues this may mean consulting a medical specialist. For major life decision, it may mean consulting with a Rav or Shalom Bayis counselor.
Step 25. View angering situations as positive opportunities.
When an upsetting situation arises, assume that it has been crafted for our benefit and sent to us by Hashem. How can we benefit?
(a) It might be a test of our midda of anger. By refraining from getting angry, we can earn tremendous spiritual merit/zechus.
For example, the mother of Rav Elyashev had been childless a long time. One day, after spending all day doing the laundry by hand, someone caused all the hanging laundry to fall into the dirt on the ground. The mother did not say a word in response when she saw her clean clothes fall into the dirt. For this restraint, she was rewarded with a child who became Gadol HaDor.
We see from this story that every time we get angry, it is like taking a million dollar check and tearing it up. Conversely, every time we avoid getting angry, or avoid expressing anger, we profit greatly in spiritual terms. We also earn for ourselves peace and happiness by avoiding the significant negative consequences of anger.
(b) An upsetting situation might be a “roadblock” by Hashem to keep us out of trouble. A traffic jam or closed road may be Hashem’s way of protecting us from danger.
(c) The upsetting situation might be a “wake-up call” to force us to make needed changes in life.
This idea of looking for the positive in a potentially angering situation was codified by Rabbi Akiva in the dictum: Everything that Hashem does is for the good. Alternatively, gam zu le-tov גם זו לטוב – Also this is for the good, by Nachum Ish Gamzu. (See Shulchan Arukh Orech Chaim 230:5 and Berachos 60b.)
(d) An upsetting situation might be a kappara (atonement) for sin (i.e., a spiritual cleansing – see Berachos 5b).
(e) An upsetting situation might be suffering imposed from Above out of love איסורים מאהבה – to give us a chance for added spiritual merit. (See Berachos 5b.)
In summary, every upsetting situation should be viewed as a kindness from Hashem – an opportunity- as it is a chance for us to benefit spiritually.
Furthermore, referring back to Step 6, by carefully and objectively evaluating the seriousness of an upsetting situation, we will realize that the vast majority of upsetting situations are really very trivial and insignificant. They are but very minor tests. This is an occasion to feel happiness for having been given tests and suffering of such minor magnitude, and for having been spared more serious and intense suffering. Instead of feeling upset, we should feel happy and grateful to Hashem for having been given minor situations instead of major ones.
See Step 7 – importance of having emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) in Hashem.
Step 26. A happy disposition is an effective barrier to anger.
A person who is happy with life will tend to not get angry when difficult, upsetting situations arise. A person in a happy mood is more likely to correctly assess the objective significance of an event or situation (Step 6), such as having to wait in a long line, or seeing someone jump ahead into a line. A person who is happy with his situation in life and happy with himself will tend not to over-react to the relatively minor annoyances of life. He realizes that in the grand scale of things, seeing someone jump the line is truly trivial compared with the fact that a person has good health, peace in his life, and prosperity.
How does a person maintain a happy disposition? Numerous books have been written on this topic. One resource is Gateways to Happiness by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. Many baalei mussar cite a mishna from Pirkei Avos in the name of Ben Zoma: “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” Or as expressed in the pithy statement: “Happiness isn’t having what you want, but rather wanting what you have.” This answer also applies to “Who is Happy?” He who appreciates what he has in life and is satisfied with what he has tends to be happy.
We can be happy if we can acknowledge that everything that Hashem does is for the good, and that ultimately Hashem determines all events. We should feel constant appreciation of the wonders of the human body – being able to see, to hear, to taste, to smell, to feel, to walk, to stand, to sit, to think, to remember, to speak, to listen and to understand the speech of others. We must also appreciate how good it is to have family, relatives, friends, teachers, food, clothing, shelter, etc. If we can be aware throughout the day of all the wonderful things of true value and worth that we possess, then when upsetting situations arise, we can take it in stride, putting it in proper perspective – particularly for the many trivial, minor issues that can occur with frequency.
In order to fully appreciate our blessings sometimes requires creativity. For example, how wealthy are we? Is there a store where one can buy eyesight, or buy hearing, or buy a vital organ, or to buy limbs that walk and move? There is no such store. You can offer all the money in the world, but you will not be able to buy these abilities. They are priceless, and simply not available except as a gift from Hashem.
One educator showed his students that he was the richest man in his city. He pointed out to the students that if he was offered the entire fortune of the biggest tycoon in the city, he would not give up Shabbos. That means that the teacher’s Shabbos was more valuable than the fortune of the biggest tycoon in any city. That means that someone who keeps Shabbos, or who observes kashrus, or who keeps any other mitzvah, is wealthier than the richest man in the world. That’s something to be happy about!
Another way to measure our sense of well-being in concrete terms is to imagine that one morning we wake up and find $10,000 on the table. The next morning we find another identical sum. The next day again the same sum appears. And this daily gift continues indefinitely, every day a massive sum of money. Most people would be in a pretty good mood of this happened to them. In truth, this theoretical situation is in fact the reality for all of us. When we go to bed at night, we would gladly give $10,000 (or any sum) if we were told that was the price for waking up in the morning. The reality is that we wake up in the morning without having to write a check. Hashem gives us another day of life as an act of grace. Our only challenge is how to use each day fully, and how to fully appreciate each day of life that Hashem gives us. Each of us has immense wealth in time, in abilities and talents, in relationships, and in other endowments. If we can appreciate the immensity of our wealth, and use it to the maximum, surely we will have an elevated sense of well-being.
Note that counting one’s blessings is an integral part of formal davening (prayer). The daily Siddur (prayerbook) contains a collection of the many blessings that most of us enjoy on a daily basis. In private moments of informal meditation one can also reflect on the many blessings in his life, for example, when arising in the morning, or before falling asleep at night, or at some other quiet time and place during the day. (See Step 78.)
Even more powerful than reflecting on the blessings in one’s own life, one can also reflect on the blessings in the lives of others – this can be an endless source of joy, of simcha. (See related Step 37 – Bless everyone!)
One potential pitfall in the search for happiness is jealousy – wanting what others have. One of the Ten Commandments is לא תחמד Do not covet. One of the problems of wanting what others have, is that we feel a lack, and therefore it upsets us. One sees this so clearly with children. A child wants to play with the toy belonging to another child. If the child does not get his way, he can get angry and cry and be very upset. Unfortunately, we adults can do this also. Sadly, when heads of state covet the lands and possessions of other countries, all of a sudden jealously gets elevated to the level of respectable national policy, and then war can result.
The Torah approach is to acknowledge that Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, knows exactly what each person needs in life, and thus endows each person with what that person needs (see Step 7). To covet what others possess is to want something that we do not need, indeed to desire something that probably is not good for us. It is challenge enough in life to fully utilize all the gifts and abilities and opportunities that Hashem gives to each of us.
There is no benefit to be derived for looking for other things if we have not fully utilized what we already have.
Another pitfall regarding happiness is worry and stress. Dovid HaMelech advises us to cast our burdens upon Hashem (Tehillim 55:23). Hashem’s shoulders are broader than ours, and His powers are infinite. And His love for us is also infinite. He constantly waits for us to turn to Him for help in dealing with life’s problems, big and small. We need to daven to Hashem for all our needs and concerns, big and small (Steps 8, 39, 78). We have to strengthen our emunah and bitachon (Step 7). For practical tips on stress control see W.H.A.T.: Words Habits Actions Thoughts Can Relieve Stress (Roiza Weinreich, Art Scroll/Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY 1998).
Judicious use of visualization techniques (Step 23) can also help us deal with worry and stress – one can visualize through oral statements the solution that one seeks. For example, saying:
- Hashem will help me solve this problem.
- Hashem can handle this problem and every other problem.
- I am calm and relaxed knowing that Hashem will provide me everything that I need.
- Hashem knows exactly what I need, and so he will take care of my concerns.
– Another approach: Simply make a decision to be happy! There is a wonderful story told in a taped lecture on simcha (happiness) and the month of Adar: An elderly lady who is legally blind is moving from her home to an assisted living residence. The manager of the residence offers to describe to her what her new place looks like. She replies that she does not need to hear how the new place is laid out. She has already made up her mind that she will be delighted with the new place. She states that happiness is not based on how we arrange the furniture, but rather on how we arrange our mind.
Another simple but effective approach to be in a happy mood is to immerse in music (Step 41). This is readily within the control of everyone.
Another way to attain a mood of happiness is to engage in creative activities: music, writing, drawing, painting, building, organizing, designing, cooking, baking, sewing, repairing, etc.
Another source of happiness is to have a goal, or sense of purpose, a dream. To have a goal to strive for is energizing. Integral to this happiness of having a purpose is the underlying hope and conviction that I am capable of attaining the desired goal with Hashem’s help. To bring true happiness, our goals must reflect the ratzon/will of Hashem (see Pirkei Avos 2:4).
Another source of happiness and well-being is to give to others, to do acts of kindness for others, including volunteering. In general, we cannot control what others give and do for us. But we can control what we give and do for them. We can always give more and do more for others, and thus promote not only the well-being of others, but also our own happiness. Rav Eliyahu Dessler has written at length on how giving leads to love of others (Strive for Truth, Volume I, pages 119-133, Feldheim Publishers). Thus our giving to others builds our relationships with others. These relationships enhance our happiness and sense of well-being.
Rav Dessler points out that the ultimate giving and ultimate relationship is when we give to Hashem, i.e., build our love of Hashem. How does one give to Hashem, Who needs nothing? Our giving to Hashem is through the performance of mitzvas, particularly if we perform them exclusively for the sake of Heaven. Our love for Hashem can be further developed by studying the wondrous world which Hashem, has created, and reflecting on all the good that Hashem does for us. (See Rambam’s Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, Chapter 2, Halacha 2. Also see Chovos HaLevovos/Duties of the Heart, Gate of Reflection by Rabbeinu Bachye Ibn Pekuda.) When we build our relationship with Hashem, this becomes a solid, reliable source of happiness in our life. Material possessions and material gifts can be lost – they are but temporary, and we have at best limited control over them. However, our relationship with Hashem can be enduring and forever, and we have immense control over this.
A further method to build our relationship with Hashem is by studying His Torah. This helps in two ways. First, the written Torah (Chumash) is the communication from Hashem to man, to guide man on how to live the best possible life. Hashem has given us His Torah in love (see morning prayers before the Shema), and so when we labor to study His Torah (and fulfill its mitzvas), we in effect reciprocate that love, building our relationship with Hashem. Second, in the process of studying the written Torah and oral Torah and various Rabbinic teachings, we find ourselves turning to Hashem for help to understand what we are studying. This turning to Hashem builds our relationship with Hashem.
Another source of happiness is to engage in other spiritual activities, including performing mitzvas, making brachas, and saying amen to brachas. As with Torah study, the mitzvas and brachas and amens connect us to Hashem, helping to build our relationship with Him. To be effective, they need to be done in a quality way, and with proper kavanna. A further benefit of the mitzvas, brachas, and amens is that it helps our neshama/soul to grow and develop, i.e., we grow spiritually. And of course there is an intangible spiritual reward to each mitzvah and bracha and amen. That reward comes not only to us individually, but it also benefits all of Klal Yisrael – every individual spiritual advance (aliyah) necessarily results in an aliyah for all Klal Yisrael (because Klal Yisrael is the sum total of all Jews).
For further suggestions see The Power of the Positive (Joshua Mark, PhD, Targum Press, Southfield, MI 2007).
One can conclude this discussion of Torah sources for happiness with a posuk from Mishlei/Proverbs 15:15 – וטוב לב משתה תמיד A good heart [someone satisfied with his lot always experiences simcha/joy as if life was] a constant banquet (Rashi).
Step 27. Smile!
A smile is a type of visualization technique (see Step 23) and so too Step 4 above, to speak gently and softly. Someone who smiles causes himself to feel in a better mood, just as someone who speaks gently and softly will cause himself to feel calmer and less prone to react with anger. Furthermore, a smile puts the recipient of the smile into a better mood and friendlier mood; it is less likely that the recipient will get angry. A classic source for the prescription to smile is found in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers), where Shammai counsels us to greet all people with a kind, smiling face. (Avos 1:15 והוי מקבל את כל אדם בסבר פנים יפות ).
Step 28. Adopt the 13 attributes of Divine Mercy
After Hashem forgives Klal Yisrael in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf, Hashem teaches Moshe the 13 attributes of Divine mercy (Shemos/Exodus 34:5). We learn from Gemara Rosh Hashanna 17b that the 13 attributes of mercy are to be recited by the people when they are in need of forgiveness in the future. Rabbi Yochanan teaches there (in the Gemara) that the power of the 13 attributes of mercy to attain forgiveness lies in our performing them. Per commentators, this means to emulate them (Art Scroll Selichos, Introduction). Several of the Middos are relevant to the topic of anger:
- Long-forbearing in anger ארך אפים
- Abundant in kindness רב חסד
- Forgiving wrongdoing נושא עון
See Tomer Devorah/The Palm Tree of Devorah (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, trans by Rabbi Moshe Miller, Targum Press, Southfield, MI 1993).
Step 29 Set aside peace money.
The Chofetz Chaim counsels that one should budget a certain amount of peace money each year. This is money that a person willingly gives up in order to preserve peace in minor financial disputes. This could be a dispute over a taxi fare, or a dispute over the cost or quality of a minor household repair. Although we are in the right, we yield a modest amount of money in order to preserve peace.
Step 30. Love thyself!
Before we can love others, we must first love ourself. Conversely, if we are down on our self and angry at ourself, we are likely to be down on others and angry with others. In other words, how we relate to others depends to a degree on how we relate to ourselves. How to develop stronger self-love and self-esteem is a complex topic beyond the scope of these guidelines. Some of the books that deal with this topic are listed below. In some cases, professional counseling is the solution.
The visualization techniques discussed above, Step 23, can be very helpful to develop self-love. One can recite the following type of ego-boosting statements:
- I love myself.
- Just as I am commanded to love others, despite their weaknesses and failings, so to I must love myself freely, despite my weaknesses and failings.
- I have a holy, Divine soul worthy of love.
- My parents love me, Hashem loves me, others love me, and so to it is proper that I love myself.
- My value as a person is unconditional – it is not dependent on anything – my soul has infinite value.
- I am special!
- I love myself.
See Step 72 – avoiding anger against oneself. See Step 87, to recognize that each of us is beloved by Hashem, as a child is beloved by a parent.
For further ideas see:
Self Esteem (Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, Shalheves, Monsey, NY 1992)
Let Us Make Man (Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Traditional Press, Brooklyn, NY 1987)
Angels Don’t Leave Footprints: Discovering What’s Right About Yourself (Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Shaar Press, 2001)
Life’s Too Short…Turn on the Power of Self-Esteem (Rabbi Abraham Twerski, St. Martin’s Press, New York 1995)
Step 31. Relax!
People who are tense are more sensitive to disturbances and thus more likely to get angry. People who are calm and relaxed are more tolerant of disturbances and thus less likely to get angry.
Relaxation techniques are based on deep breathing, i.e., taking a series of slow, deep breaths. Consult your physician or medical health service for guidance on relaxation techniques.
Passiflora products (teas, tablets, beverages) and chamomile tea can help induce relaxation and promote tolerance of disturbances. Pharmacists or health food stores might be able to suggest other products that will induce relaxation. Also see Step 22. One should always consult one’s doctor before using any such relaxation agent in case there might be an allergic reaction or other side effect. Although many might benefit from relaxation agents, specific individuals could be affected adversely. Hence it is very important to receive approval of a physician before using such agents.
Step 32. Diffuse anger by engaging in an enjoyable activity.
Once a person has gotten angry, it is important to diffuse the anger as quickly as possible. One can do this by immersing himself in an engaging, enjoyable activity. This will vary by person. Possible activities are: reading, eating, walking, exercising, listening to music, talking with a friend, engaging in a hobby, etc.
Step 33. Avoid pride and haughtiness. Stay humble.
People with haughtiness and excessive pride tend to be overly protective of their pride and dignity and honor. As a result, they often react sharply, with anger, when their honor or dignity is infringed upon. See Step 24 on the need to be a yielder. See Step 6 on objectively assessing the seriousness of an upsetting situation.
Numerous mussar books discuss the importance of humility and give advice on how to develop humility. One classic is Orcho Tzadikim/The Ways of the Righteous. The first chapter gives advice on how to overcome pride.
Some useful perspectives to promote humility are as follows:
- Everything I have, and all my abilities are a gift from Hashem. I deserve zero credit for what I have and for all that I do. Hashem deserves all the credit.
- I am here to serve Hashem and my fellow man (and not myself).
- Regardless of what I may have accomplished, I could have accomplished more.
The above statements can be recited as a visualization technique (see Step 23) in order to re-program the sub-conscious with the trait of humility. See Step 54 for a sample visualization to develop humility.
The SMAG, a classic compendium of the 613 mitzvas of the Torah, reports that in a dream it was communicated to the author that he had left out the most important mitzvah of the Torah, which is: “Be careful, lest you forget Hashem your G-d” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 8:11). In other words, someone lacking humility will tend to give himself credit for all the good in his life, and fail to realize that Hashem is really the source for everything in his life.
There are many sources in Mishlei/Proverbs and mussar books on how avoid pride, and how to develop humility. For example, see the chapters on humility in Messilas Yesharim/The Path of the Just of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. See the chapters on humility in Orchos Tzadikim/Ways of the Righteous.
Also see Step 54 on getting the ego under control.
Step 34 Special Rules for Handling Children or Problem Students
Children, problem students, and similar situations are a major source of anger. Special rules apply here.
Anger often results when children or students display a lack of discipline. It is beyond the scope of this article to counsel on how to promote discipline. Many excellent books, articles, lectures/CD’s and seminars are available on the subject.
A few general points will be mentioned:
*Acting out by children or students is often a sign that they are seeking attention and love. Getting angry does nothing to address these root causes. Creative and positive approaches are required. For example, one can give children more quality time. Or one can give students more interesting material or projects. Giving praise and recognition to children and students can be very powerful.
*Problem behavior by children or students is often due to their being tired, or due to their being subjected to difficult situations in life. Again, getting angry does nothing to address the root causes.
*It is essential to focus on Step 17 to avoid damaging a child’s self-esteem: Focus on the problem rather than on the person causing the problem.
*Use of humor (Step 14) can be an effective positive approach to handling problems that arise.
*Praise of proper behavior can be used to correct inappropriate behavior. See Step 82.
*At times a display of anger is needed to get kids under control, or to establish an environment of discipline, or to protect a child from dangerous situations. In such cases, the anger must only be an act. Inside, one must strive to be calm and under control, and should be motivated by love and concern exclusively.
For further ideas see:
- Positive Parenting (Rabbi Abraham Twersky and U. Schwartz, Ph.D., Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY 1996) – Chapter 19 “What About Anger?”
- Raising Roses Among the Thorns (Rabbi Noach Orlowek, Feldheim, Jerusalem 2002)
- The Miriam Adahan Handbook: The Family Connection (Miriam Adahan, Targum Press/Feldheim, Southfield, Michigan, 1995)
- The Miriam Adahan Handbook: Living With Kids (Miriam Adahan, Targum Press/Feldheim, Southfield, Michigan, 1994)
- Criticizing Children: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children (Avi Shulman, Feldheim, Jerusalem/Spring Valley, NY, 1984)
- Effective Jewish Parenting (Miriam Levi, Feldheim, Jerusalem, 1986)
Step 35 Regarding Spouses
Anger between spouses is an area of special concern. When two unrelated people get angry at each other, they have an option to avoid each other or to curtail the relationship in some way. Neither of these options is desirable for spouses.
Anger between spouses can be generated by two types of situations. One type of situation is a general breakdown or weakening of the strength of the marriage. It is clear that in such cases, one needs to address root causes, and not just treat symptoms such as anger. There is a vast literature of books and articles on the topic of improving or saving marriages. Seminars, workshops, and professional counselors are available to address the root causes.
A second type of situation is where anger arises in a marriage which is basically a good marriage, where there is a healthy relationship between the spouses. For these situations, the guidelines in this article can be useful.
It should be noted that the guidelines in this article can be very helpful even in the case of weak marriages. Indeed, the effective use of these guidelines can give spouses the opportunity to “buy time” to work on identifying and fixing the root causes. However, root causes are typically so complex or deep that mere cosmetic changes in behavior will not provide a lasting solution. Fundamental adjustments are needed, and this often requires the assistance of professional counselors.
Some useful insights will be presented here:
- 1.A rabbi conducting a marriage in
several years ago gave the following advice to the couple under the chuppah: During the week of Shevah Berachos, the husband is treated like a king and the wife like a queen. After the week of Shevah Berachos, the husband must return to seeing himself as just a commoner; but he must continue treating his wife as a queen, every day of their marriage. The wife must return to seeing herself as just a commoner; but she must continue treating her husband as a king, every day of their marriage. (See Step 24 on yielding.) Jerusalem
2. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler has written extensively on the importance of giving to others to build strong relationships of love. He warns spouses that as soon as giving decreases or ceases, marital problems begin. (See Strive for Truth, Volume I, pages 131-133, Feldheim Press, Jerusalem 1978.) Rabbi Dessler points out that we come to love those to whom we give. The more we give, the more we love them.
Rabbi Dessler further teaches a fundamental insight on the commandment to love one’s fellow man as oneself (Strive for Truth, Vol I, Page 130). He teaches that we need to see the other person (or spouse) as truly an aspect of oneself. This attitude is facilitated when we give to others. He points out that we need to see ourselves as part of a social unity with others (and certainly this applies to one’s spouse!). The analogy is that of two hands: If one hand accidentally cuts the other hand with a knife, one hand should not lash out at the other – it makes no sense. Both hands are part of a larger whole. So too, spouses should see each other like two hands which are part of a whole, or like two fingers on the same hand. It should make no sense at all for one spouse to get angry at the other spouse. Instead of anger, there needs to be a constant out-pouring of love (giving) and understanding. With such an attitude, whenever real problems arise, the spouses can solve them in a loving, positive, constructive way.
For further ideas see:
Fulfillment in Marriage (Rabbi Shmuel Eisenblatt, Ma’ayan HaOsher Institute, Jerusalem 5748)
The Challenge of Marriage (Sima Basry, HaKtav Institute, Jerusalem 1982)
To Become One (Rav Ezriel Tauber, Shalheves, Monsey, NY 1990)
Step 36. Immerse in a mikva.
Mussar books teach that by immersing in a mikva with the kavanna/intent to extinguish the fire of anger, a person will be better able to control his anger.
Step 37. Bless everyone!
This might sound unrealistic or beyond the level of the average man. The reality is that most people do just that every day. Every time that we say good morning or good evening we are blessing someone. Have a good day! Have a good one! These are all blessings.
And yet we still get angry. What is the solution? We need to raise the quantity and quality of our blessings for others. Instead of blessing them once a day, first thing in the morning, we can try to have this in mind throughout the day. Instead of blessing/greeting them in a formalistic, perfunctory manner, we can put our heart into it.
As an experiment, go outside for a few minutes and start blessing everyone that you see, total strangers. Bless them that they should be happy, successful, healthy, productive, financially secure, at peace, all the desires of their hearts should be fulfilled for good – as much as you can think of. How does it feel to do this? Are these people still total strangers? Would it be easy to get angry at these people that you just blessed up to the high heavens? Let the next experiment be with those who are closer to you: family members, co-workers, fellow students, neighbors, etc.
See Step 80 – Daven/pray for everyone.
Step 38. Recognize that we are all connected.
Every person is descended from Adam Rishon (the first man) and from Noah. We are literally all related, all distant cousins. We are truly part of the family of man. This point is taught eloquently by Rabbi Eli Munk in his commentary on the Torah on the verse about the generations of Adam/man (Bereishis/Genesis 5:1).
Beyond our unified physical descent, we are also connected spiritually by the infinite spirit of Hashem, much like fingers are connected by a hand. Perhaps this explains the phenomenon of mental telepathy, the ability to be on the same mental wavelength as others.
Once we recognize our connectedness to others, both physically and spiritually, we are no longer total strangers. We all have a connection. We all have a reason to be concerned about each other, and to care about each other. The ability to do this is proven by the staff of hospitals, who are able to give their all to each patient.
If we can live our lives with this awareness of being related and connected to everyone else, it is much less likely that we will get angry at people.
See the related Steps 37 and 11.
Step 39 Pray!
Prayer has a special power.
The reason is simple: Hashem (G-d) is all-powerful, all-loving. He brought the entire universe into existence, brought each of us into existence, and even more important, maintains the entire universe in existence every second, and maintains each of us in life every second. Without His awesome power, all life would cease immediately, and every particle in the universe would vanish into nothingness. Given these facts, it follows quite logically that if we want to be successful in life and attain our goals, we better enlist the support of Hashem. And that is what prayer does. It allows each of us, bound and limited by our limited physical and mental abilities, to have access to the Power that created and maintains the universe, Who created and maintains all life.
Most people would admit that overcoming anger on a consistent basis is a daunting challenge. However, if we turn to the Awesome Power that runs the universe, we gain access to awesome powers of self-improvement. What might have seemed difficult for us to achieve on our own all of a sudden becomes much more achievable with the backing and guidance of the One who runs the universe.
Collective prayer is even more effective than individual prayer. We can ask others to pray for us that we should be able to overcome anger, or to improve a situation that upsets us. Similarly, we can daven for others that they should overcome their anger, or see improvement in a situation that causes upset.
See related comments in Step 8 and Step 78.
Step 40. Have a can-do attitude.
Incredible strides have been made in technology in the last two centuries, and even the last hundred years. Telephones, cars, airplanes, helicopters, rockets, satellites, super-telescopes, atom-smashers, computers, wonder drugs, artificial organs, electricity, including electric lights and electric motors, plastics, etc. The list is long and impressive. The advances in computer technology since just 1970 is staggering. All of this happened in part because people had a can-do attitude. If we can apply this can-do attitude to the matter of overcoming anger, we shall surely see success.
This can-do attitude applies not only to avoiding anger. It also applies to dealing with difficult situations that come up in life. If we calmly persist in looking for a solution for each situation that bothers us, we are likely to find a solution.
This can-do attitude should properly be linked to davening to Hashem (see Step 39 above). We have limited power to accomplish things acting alone. However, Hashem has unlimited power to assist us and make things happen.
Step 41. Immerse in Music
This step is an adjunct to Step 36 regarding maintaining a happy disposition. People who feel happy are less likely to get angry.
It is no secret that many people gravitate to music instinctively. Music has a special effect on the soul, to elevate it. Many say that music is the language of the soul. Similarly, music has the ability to lift a person’s emotions. Many people listen to music to lift their spirits. A person who is uplifted emotionally by music is less likely to get angry than someone not influenced by music.
There are numerous ways to inject music into one’s life: Humming or thinking a melody. Singing a song or zemiros. Playing a musical CD or MP3. Playing an instrument.
Step 42. Immerse in Torah study.
A person who stays immersed in Torah study is less likely to get angry.
Study of Torah can provide a strong preventive measure to help a person avoid anger. In Step 5 it talked about studying mussar on the topic of controlling anger. But Torah learning in general can be an effective barrier against anger. A person who acquires Torah is by definition acquiring wisdom, and wise people know the importance of controlling anger.
See related Steps 76 and 77.
Step 43. Buy off the anger.
Imagine that if you avoid getting angry you will receive 100 dollars. If 100 dollars is insufficient incentive, then raise the reward to the level that will convince you to relinquish the anger.
This technique works as follows: If, say, for $100 a person is willing to give up his anger, this proves that he can give up the anger. He simply needs a strong enough incentive. For most of us, money is such an incentive. Once a person realizes that for a certain sum of money (such as $100 or $1000) he is willing to give up the anger, he does not have to actually receive that money. The very fact that he is willing to forego the anger in exchange for a certain sum of money is sufficient for the person to cease being angry. In other words, the angry person now realizes that he really can let go of the anger. I.e., he realizes that if $100 is worth more than being angry, then he really can control that anger and let go of it, even without actually receiving the $100!
[Note: This technique is hinted at in the Talmud. In Baba Kama 90a,b it discusses the compensation to be paid for pain and embarrassment. Compensation is pegged at the amount of money for which the person would be willing to undergo the pain or embarrassment.]
This technique is highly effective for dealing with difficult habits, like getting angry. However, the practical benefits will more likely be achieved if a person practices the technique several times a day, for several days, until it becomes “programmed” into his behavior and attitudes. Experience shows that without practice, a person is not likely to think about this technique when a difficult situation arises. However, if a person practices this technique several times daily and for many days, he will be more likely be able to implement the technique when the need arises.
A problem with this technique is that the anger is very real, but the monetary buy-out of the anger is only theoretical. A person must train himself properly to use this technique so that it will work consistently. The essential aspect is to prove to the person he really has the ability to let go of his anger – it is simply a matter of wanting in a deep way to let go.
[This can be applied to avoiding any bad habit or improper conduct. For example, to stop smoking, one can imagine that he will receive $100 if he avoids smoking when he has the urge to smoke. In other words, the person really can stop smoking, as long as he has sufficient incentive. If 100 dollars is insufficient incentive, then let the person select a larger sum, such as 1000 dollars. Every person has a price for which he will give up his smoking habit, or any other bad habit. Once the person realizes that he really can give up the smoking, if it is worth it to him, then he does not need to receive the payment. The mere realization that the habit can be overcome, if there is sufficient financial incentive, is enough to allow the person to stop smoking.]
[This technique can also be applied to dealing with procrastination. If a person has been avoiding a difficult task or difficult issue, he can buy out his avoidance, his hesitation. For $100 will he jump into the task? For $1000? Then he CAN begin the task now, or deal with the difficult issue now.]
Step 44. Cooperation
When people are working at cross-purposes, or if they are simply not getting along over whatever issue, then cooperation – working together on a joint task – might be the solution. Instead of focusing on the difficult situation, let the people involved all work together on some task.
Step 45. Looking at tzitzis
Looking at tzitzis can help a person to control anger (or any other improper behavior). The tzitzis reminds us that it is Hashem’s will that we not get angry (and that we avoid improper behavior). (Source: Shulchan Arukh Orech Chaim 24:3, MB-6, Dirshu 7.)
Step 46. Avoid situations that cause anger.
Often we can anticipate that a certain situation or certain person will cause us to be angry. For example, if it upsets us that people push in front of us in a line (e.g., at the bank or post office), then let someone else take care of the task. (I.e., let someone else go to the bank or post office on our behalf.) If talking to a certain person often upsets us, we should minimize the times we speak with that person.
If an upsetting situation comes upon us, despite our best efforts to avoid it, we should walk away from the situation, if possible.
Step 47. Find a role model.
Find a good role model for controlling anger. This role model is a person who stays calm and is always under control, even when confronted with upsetting situations. Notice in particular how the role model stays calm in situations that would make us angry. See “Model and Morph” in Step 23.
Step 48. Help others to control anger.
When we help others to control anger, then it helps us to control our own anger. Teaching anything generally impacts the teacher even more than the student.
Step 49. Make a formal commitment to change. Prepare a plan/strategy. Implement the plan.
- Make a firm, formal commitment to getting anger under control. (Avoid halachic problems of vows/oaths by saying: “This is what a desire/want to do”.)
- Develop an action plan. There is no way to keep one’s commitment to getting anger under control (or to change any other midda) without a formal plan/strategy. Choose from the various steps in this set of guidelines to develop the plan. Ideally, work closely with a chevrusa/partner (step 55) or consult with a Rav/mentor/friend/relative in developing the plan (step 50). The plan has to include realistic milestones and timetables/deadlines.
- Implement the plan. There has to be daily effort in order to expect to achieve changes in anger (or in any other midda).
- Monitor and evaluate the implementation at regular intervals. Are we on target for achieving our goals? If not, what needs to be done? Closer adherence to the action plan? Revision of the action plan?
- Revise the action plan periodically.
Note that the success of the plan and strategy to change is heavily dependent on one’s motivation. A high degree of motivation is necessary for full success. Ideally, one should be enthusiastic about the prospect of getting his anger under control. One should visualize all the good that will come to him and all the good that will come to others by virtue of his getting his anger under control. (See Step 23 on visualization.)
[Orech Apayim, Chapter 3, emphasizes that breaking a bad habit like anger requires constant effort: Daily sessions (minimum half hour) to analyze one’s episodes of anger and to devise corrective measures; plus visual reminders throughout the day on note cards, plus constant maintenance of a notebook of incidents of anger (See Step 1). One must constantly monitor his behavior and devise strategies for solving lapses in behavior (i.e., anger). Orech Apayim points out further that Heavenly Assistance is needed to break a bad habit like anger. So, constant informal and formal davening is needed (see Steps 8 and 39).]
(Note that this is a formal, practical approach to doing teshuva.)
Step 50. Ask a Rav/mentor for advice/bracha.
Ask a Rav/Rabbi/mentor/friend/relative for advice on how to control anger. A person with wisdom can be very helpful, particularly if he knows us personally. This can be applied towards control of anger in general, or to a specific situation that is upsetting us.
Also ask for a bracha/blessing to be successful in controlling anger.
Consultation is also valuable to gain advice on how to help others to control anger, and on how to deal with people who are prone to anger.
Step 51. Participate in workshops/seminars.
Participate in workshops to control anger. Do role-playing.
contact a friend or friends and design your own workshop. Use some of the techniques presented in this article.
See Step 19 – joining/forming a support group.
Step 52. 24 Hour Plan/Commitment
Commit to getting anger under control for just the next 24 hours – without fail. Do whatever is necessary to accomplish this 24 hour goal. (Review all the techniques in this article.)
After completing the 24 hours successfully, commit to another 24 hours. Then commit to another 24 hours. Then another 24 hours. Etc. If the 24 hours is not entirely successful, figure out what went wrong, correct it, and commit to another 24 hours.
Step 53. Do not become too attached to material things.
The source of much upset in life is when we become too attached to materials things: to money, to objects, etc. What happens is that we can associate our ego and sense of well-being to closely with material things. If the material things get lost or damaged or diminished, then our ego – being connected to them – suffers accordingly. Anger often results.
The reality is that we do not have absolute control over the material things in our life. Our financial status is based on continuation of our job or the stability of the stock market or the stability of the foreign currency markets. These are all variables that we cannot control. Our financial status is also based on our expenses. Large expenses are often out of our control. If the car or fridge or water heater suddenly stop working, we suffer financially to replace them. Perhaps the the roof needs replacing. Medical conditions and consequent medical bills can appear from nowhere.
If we base our well-being on spiritual things, then we will be somewhat insulated from sudden changes in our material status. For the most part, spiritual things are under our control. Spiritual things include our relationships: Our relationship to Hashem, our relationship to ourself, our relationship to others (when based on giving). Our charity/tzedaka and other mitzvas are spiritual things that we can control. Once charity has been given, once mitzvas have been performed, they cannot be taken away from us. They are permanent spiritual assets. (See Pirkei Avos 6:9.)
(See Pirkei Avos 3:8 – Everything belongs to Hashem; we are but custodians.)
Step 54. Get the ego under control.
So much of anger is due to an ego out of control. It is human nature to see ourselves as the center of the world. When we come into to world as infants, that is the reality: nothing exists for us except our ego. As we grow and mature, we realize that there are others in the world, each with a soul/neshama as precious as mine. Each other person has rights like myself. Each other person is entitled to dignity and honor and consideration like myself.
Just as we should not be too attached to material things, we should not be too attached to honor/kavod. We should rather be attached to spiritual values. See Step 53 above for details.
When we are overly-focused on our ego to the exclusion of others, we make a kind of idolatry out of ourselves. In a sense we make a god of ourselves, thinking we are the ultimate value of the universe. That our rights come before all others categorically. That everyone must agree with us and believe in us. Indeed, it is taught by the Sages/Chazal that a person who becomes angry is like one who worships idols (Gemara Shabbos 105b). Part of the reason for this is that when a person gets angry he is failing to recognize that Hashem is the only real power in the universe. He thinks that as an ego, he is an independent power. Any power independent of Hashem can be viewed as an idol – a false god, false power.
The solution to getting the ego under control is quite complex. A primary strategy is to focus on developing humility.
Humility can be strengthened by reciting the following statements at least once a day as a visualization:
- Hashem is the only true power in the universe.
- All my abilities and possessions have come from Hashem.
- All my abilities and possessions have been given to me to serve Hashem, to accomplish the tasks for which I was brought into this world.
- I came into the world with nothing and will eventually leave this world with nothing (except for my spiritual attainments).
- Whatever I have accomplished, it was really the accomplishment of Hashem, Who gives me all my abilities.
- Whatever I have accomplished, I could have accomplished more.
- Each person has a Divine soul, is created in the Divine image, and thus is worthy of the utmost respect and consideration.
The more we can feel humility, the less we will get angry. And our anger will be less severe.
See Step 33 for additional comments on avoiding pride and haughtiness. See Step 23 for related comments on visualization techniques.
Step 55. Work with another person as a partner to control anger.
Find a partner (chevrusa/study partner, friend, spouse) to study the guidelines (various steps) presented here for controlling anger. Jointly develop and implement an action plan. This is in effect a mini-support group.
The reality is that to change a habit or character trait is not simple. By working with another person as a partner for change, one’s chances for success will be improved considerably. Particularly if there is a well thought-out action plan with deadlines for implementation, and a partner to hold one accountable to implement the action plan, then it is more likely that one will take the necessary steps to control anger. See Step 49 regarding making an action plan.
Step 56. Reward yourself for controlling anger.
Each time you succeed in controlling anger, reward yourself. This will reinforce your being in control.
Step 57. Reflect on the damage done by anger.
Anger can be damaging in a variety of ways:
* It of course causes emotional hurt to the recipient of the anger. Furthermore, it can trigger an angry response from others, fueling an escalation of anger. Repeated displays of anger can teach others, especially children, the wrong message: that anger is OK. In effect, the angry person can be a negative role model for those around him – his family, his work associates, etc.
* Anger, being a form of stress, causes harm to the body. It also causes spiritual damage to the one who feels and expresses the anger.
*Anger also causes damage to society in general and to Klal Yisrael. The damage to society is because anger weakens or severs social bonds. Anger can lead to the end of marriages, the end of friendships, and the end of business associations. Anger can also cause rifts between parents and children and rifts between brothers and sisters. Even worse, uncontrolled anger can lead to violence against individuals or groups (racial or ethnic). At an extreme, anger can lead to war.
The book Orech Apayim has a lengthy discussion of the damage caused by anger, including leading people to violate halacha (e.g., not telling a spouse that there is chometz in a certain cooked dish due to fear of an angry reaction). The Chofetz Chaim has written at length on how anger can lead to violation of the halachas of shemiras ha-lashon (proper speech). Anger is closely bound up with the sinas chinam (hatred) that led to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile of our people.
Step 58. Reframe negative situations into positive situations.
Anger is often fed by a negative outlook on events. If we can reframe negative experiences or situations into something positive, then there is less likelihood of anger being generated.
For example, instead of yelling at someone to stop doing something, one can reframe the comment into something positive, with a calm, encouraging tone of voice. For example, instead of criticizing a child for having a messy room, the parent can say in a positive tone that it makes the parent happy when the child straightens up his room; it shows that the child is responsible and interested in doing things properly. The parent can offer a reward to the child if he will straighten up his room. The parent can openly praise another child in the family who does keep his room orderly.
Another example: Instead of getting angry at people for smoking, offer to daven for them that they can stop smoking. Most smokers react enthusiastically to this, as most smokers would like to stop smoking.
Step 59. Observe the halachas of shimras ha-lashon (proper speech)
The Chofetz Chaim wrote extensively on the importance of avoiding lashon ha-rah (negative speech) and compiled the halachic guidelines for proper speech. By complying with the halachos of proper speech, one mitigates the negative effects of anger, reducing its influence. By studying the mussar writings of the Chofetz Chaim, one will learn to avoid getting angry. This applies to other mussar books on the control of speech.
Step 60. Talk out anger to diffuse it.
Sometimes it helps to express anger to an outside party (a friend, a spouse, a fellow worker, etc.) to get it off one’s chest. This diffuses the anger so that it does not get directed to other involved parties, where the anger can cause reciprocal anger in others, with attendant escalation.
Step 61. Pursue peace.
One should follow the guidance from Avos 1:12 (Ethics of the Fathers):
“ Hillel says: Be like the students of Aharon – Love peace and pursue peace….”
The Sages/Chazal cite the example that Aharon the Kohen would search out couples having marital strife, and would actively work to make peace between them, telling each party that the other wished to make peace.
If one sees people involved in an angry dispute, he could intervene, if appropriate, to make peace. Or one observing such a dispute could simply daven (pray) that the dispute be settled quickly and amicably. The idea here is to be an activist – to look for opportunities to make peace among others. It would of course also apply to one’s own relationships.
In addition to helping bring peace to others, the peace-maker improves his chances of having peace in his own life.
Step 62. Midda keneged midda – Measure for measure
It is a principle of spiritual physics that what we do to others is then done to us measure for measure (Mishna Sota 1:7). If we do good to others, so too good will be done to us. If we do ill to others, then in the same measure ill will be done to us.
Thus, if conduct ourselves with anger towards others, we will see others direct anger towards us. So we see that a double harm is done by anger: It harms the recipient of the anger, and it also ends up harming the one who expresses the anger. Better we should always do good to others, and that only good should be done to us.
Step 63. Consult therapist for chronic anger
If a person is experiencing constant anger (chronic), it might be appropriate to consult with a therapist. See also Step 22 regarding medical consultation.
Step 64. Don’t argue
Arguments are destructive. They are verbal conflict. Avoid them. What little good they might accomplish is far out-weighed by the damage they cause. Instead of arguing, use positive speech as described in Steps 66 and 58. (Source: Proverbs 17:1)
Step 65. Learn to say “I was wrong”.
By admitting one’s fault, instead of arguing or making excuses, one quickly diffuses conflictual situations. Sometimes, in order to preserve peace, we need to say we are wrong even in situations when we are right. (Source: Rabbi Yosef Farhi, weekly parsha sheets).
Step 66. Use positive, constructive speech.
Positive, constructive speech can be used to accomplish all the following:
- To create a positive social environment, strong relationships. Anger is less likely to surface in such an environment.
- To defuse a conflict that is already underway.
- To avoid a conflict that could be triggered by inappropriate negative speech.
An example of building a positive social environment is to praise and compliment people and to thank them. This should be done with sincerity (i.e., not mere flattery), and on an on-going basis.
An example of avoiding or triggering a conflict is:
Let’s say someone is playing a radio or CD/MP3 player too loud. One can say: “I appreciate it when you have kept the radio/CD/MP3 player to a pleasant level.” Or paradoxically, one can praise the person, with a sincere cheerful voice: “I appreciate your keeping the radio/CD/MP3 player to a quiet level.” This latter technique is truly disarming. It will likely elicit a positive response, i.e., without saying anything, the other person will likely turn down the radio/CD/MP3 player.
An example of defusing a conflict already underway is to say with sincerity:
- I agree with you.
- You are right.
- I was wrong.
- I appreciate your bringing this problem to my attention. I will fix it (or correct it) as soon as possible.
- I apologize for upsetting you.
See related steps 4, 16, 17, 58, 65.
Step 67. Learn to compromise, to negotiate.
In many disputes (such as over using things) compromises can be effective:
- Taking turns.
- Flipping a coin.
- Submitting a dispute to an arbitrator.
- Calmly negotiating a fair resolution of differences.
One should strive to achieve a win/win solution, where each party to the dispute feels he is gaining something. (Source: Proverbs 18:18.) See Step 15 on patching up quarrels and resolving conflicts.
Step 68. Give gifts to defuse anger.
Giving gifts can defuse a state of anger or conflict between parties. The gift is a demonstrative statement that one party wants to make peace with the other party. An example is Yaakov Avinu giving gifts to Esav (Bereishis 32:14ff).
(Source: Proverbs 21:14).
Step 69. See the Divine soul in each person.
Each person has a Divine soul. Each person is created in the Divine image. Each person is a child of Hashem. That means that each person is entitled to the utmost respect and dignity – always! Having this constant awareness with everyone will help us to avoid getting angry.
See Step 11 (loving your fellow man).
Step 70. Visualize the correction of upsetting behaviors of others.
Step 23 discussed how visualization techniques can be used to correct our tendency to get angry. Visualization techniques can also be used to help correct the behaviors of others. Examples:
- If we see 2 people arguing, we can visualize that they be at peace.
- If a child is impatient, we can visualize that he be patient.
In truth, this visualization approach is a form of prayer.
Step. 71. Penalize yourself to control anger.
One can impose on himself a monetary fine or other type of penalty for getting angry. For example, a person pays a $100 fine to charity for each time he gets angry. Or, a person fasts one meal or one day for each time he gets angry. (Note: One must be careful not to make a formal halachic vow or oath.)
Step 72. Avoid anger against oneself.
We tend to treat others the way we treat ourselves. If we are good to ourselves, we will tend to be good to others. Conversely, if we are angry with ourselves, we will tend to be angry with others.
Avoiding anger against oneself is a complex topic, heavily dependent on each person’s individual situation.
See the other guidelines that deal with this:
- Step 30. How to love oneself.
- Step 66. Use positive, constructive speech with oneself.
- Step 69. See the Divine soul in oneself.
- Step 63. Consult with a therapist for chronic anger against oneself.
- Step 58. Reframe negative situations in one’s life into positive situations.
- Step 52. 24 hour control plan for oneself to constructively control anger towards oneself.
- Step 50. Ask a Rav for advice and a bracha for controlling anger against oneself.
- Step 2. Have more realistic expectations about oneself.
- Step 8. Pray for being more patient, less demanding with oneself.
- Step 9. Judge oneself favorably.
- Step 17. Focus on the troublesome behavior but not on oneself.
- Step 19. Join a support group.
Step 73. Welcome criticism as a chance to improve.
Welcome criticism, and even seek it out – in order to improve. By our being open to criticism, it will dull or eliminate its sting. And indeed we will have a better chance of improving.
See Step 5 (Study Mussar – teachings on character improvement). See Step 1 (Maintain log of incidents of anger – analyze – and follow up with corrections.)
See Shaarei Teshuva/Gates of Repentance (Rabbeinu Yona of Gerona).
Step 74. Act kindly to patch up a quarrel or broken relationship.
A kind act or kind word can patch up a quarrel or broken relationship. Also, giving a gift (see Step 68) or using constructive, positive speech (see Step 66). See Step 15 on resolving conflicts.
Step 75. Learn creative silence.
Silence can have several benefits:
- We are less likely to get angry if we remain silent.
- By remaining silent and not reacting at all, there is less chance of damage being caused to others.
- If others are angry at us, our silence will tend to defuse the situation.
- When faced with the anger of others, or a situation that might lead to anger, remain silent and creatively think of a peaceful solution.
Rav Pesach Krohn noted in a taped lecture on peace and harmony that the word “creation” has the same letters as the word “reaction”.
(Source: Pirkei Avos 1:17.)
Step 76. Engage in Torah study with others to bring the Shechina.
Torah study with others brings the Divine Presence (Shechina). In the presence of the Divine we are less likely to get angry.
(Source: Pirkei Avos 3:3, 3:7)
Step 77. Go to the Beis Midrash (engage in Torah study) to avoid or control anger.
Gemara Shabbos (105b) teaches that a person experiencing severe anger is in the clutches of the Yetzer HaRah (Evil Inclination). Gemara Kiddushin 30b teaches that the way to overcome the Evil Inclination is to drag it into the Beis Midrash and to study Torah. This can be both a preventive strategy (to avoid anger) and also a means to get anger under control.
Step 78 Use davening and meditation to connect to Hashem.
By davening (praying) in a meditative way, or engaging in meditation of hisboddedus we can connect to Hashem. Hisboddedus (literally isolation) means going off to a quiet place, all alone, and talking to Hashem In a state of spiritual elevation, connected to Hashem, we are less likely to get angry, for several reasons:
- Our trust (bitachon) in Hashem will be elevated. (See Step 7.)
- Because of our focus and absorption with Hashem, we will be less reactive, less bothered by things that go wrong.
- We will see more clearly (be more aware) of the Divine spark in each person, and thus will be more respectful of each person and more accepting of their lapses and faults. (See Step 69.)
(See the book Jewish Meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.)
Step 79. Promote Shabbos peace.
The traditional Shabbos greeting is Shabbat Shalom! – Sabbath peace! A Shabbos which is properly observed brings peace into one’s home. In such an atmosphere, anger is less likely to occur among members of the household.
Ideally, there will be a “spill-over effect” after Shabbos. The atmosphere of Shabbos will ideally bring residual harmony to the rest of the week, lessening the incidence of anger.
Conversely, Erev Shabbos, the day before Shabbos, can be fraught with tension and even anger due to the stress of preparing for Shabbos. Special precautions need to be taken to preserve peace and harmony, even amidst the intensive and hectic preparations for Shabbos. Each household needs to do this planning to minimize the stress of Shabbos preparations.
Suggestions for a smooth, peaceful pre-Shabbos include:
- Spread out preparations over the week – allocate something to each day.
- Leave for Friday only those activities that cannot be done earlier in the week.
- Delegate tasks to family members (children, etc.) as much as possible. Or hire help where appropriate (cleaning, shopping).
- Use a check-off list to ensure everything is on schedule. Set deadlines for each activity to stay on schedule.
- Avoid taking on unnecessary tasks or unnecessary meal preparations.
- Be realistic in inviting guests – not to take on more than what one can handle. Be sensitive to the limits of the spouse and children as to what they can reasonably handle.
- Be the guests of others occasionally to have respite from Shabbos preparations.
- Actively promote a cheerful atmosphere on Erev Shabbos. For example, by playing music, singing, giving a family pep-talk, using kind and supportive words and gestures to promote harmony.
- Have a post-Shabbos review session to review the previous Shabbos preparations to come up with suggestions to improve preparations for the coming Shabbos.
[Note that these guidelines for a peaceful pre-Shabbos can be adapted and applied to maintaining peace during preparations for Pesach.]
Step 80. Daven for everyone. Desire good for everyone.
In our formal and informal davening (prayers), we can seek out good for everyone – good health, shalom bayis (household peace), simcha (joy and happiness), hatzlacha (success) in work and in raising and educating children and in all other activities, proper parnassa (livelihood), having children, shidduchim (finding a mate), being able to appreciate all the good in one’s life (and in the lives of others), having a sense of purpose (goals), safety/security, peace, etc. If we are focused on desiring good for everyone, we are much less likely to get angry at them.
See step 37 (Bless everyone!).
Step 81. Recite Tehillim (Psalms).
The recitation of Tehillim/Psalms can connect us to Hashem (G-d). It can help defuse an angry situation. It can also promote an atmosphere of anger avoidance.
See steps 8 and 39 regarding praying.
Step 82. Correct the upsetting behavior by praising proper behavior.
By praising proper behavior we reinforce it. (This is especially important with children.)
For example, if a child straightens up his room, he can be praised thoroughly to communicate the importance of his good behavior. Or the parent himself can straighten up the room and then express praise of the room itself, to teach the child the importance of this behavior. Alternatively, parents can discuss among themselves the importance of a certain behavior within hearing range of the child so that the child can learn the importance of the desired behavior.
Step 83. Employ segulas.
Certain segulas can help achieve certain desired ends. Examples of segulas are the recitation of Perek Shira 40 days in a row, recitation of Shir HaShirim 40 days in a row, davening at the Kosel 40 days in a row, davening at Kivrei Tzaddikim, reciting all of Sefer Tehillim (or a portion), giving a significant amount of charity/tzedakah, etc. One performs the segula with the intent of achieving a certain goal.
For example, one can have in mind the desire to control one’s tendency to get angry. Or one can have in mind that the upsetting behavior of someone else should be brought under control.
One should avoid treating segulas as mere gimmicks or as a quick fix. Instead, we should treat segulas as an opportunity to establish a closer relationship with Hashem, and to make us more worthy of Divine assistance. This can also be viewed as a form of tefilla/prayer – an expression of one’s deep desire to get anger under control. And it can also be viewed as a form of spiritual hishtadlus/effort.
Step 84. Be a good listener.
Being a good listener is often an effective approach for dealing with the anger of others. Sometimes people are very upset about something and need to get it off their chest. The understanding listener helps the angry person to emote and get the matter off their chest.
Being a good listener is an art. Books have been written on the subject. The main idea is to show the angry individual that you are concerned and want to help address the grievance if possible. One should show that he understands the feelings and concerns of the persons who is upset. This can be done by reflecting back to others the feelings and statements that they express to us.
Step 85. Say nicely “The next time…..” to soften criticism.
Criticism (rebuke) is generally hurtful, and can easily engender an angry reaction. Criticism can be softened by expressing it regarding future behavior, using the words “The next time….”, meaning: The next time, please do such-and-such or please avoid doing such-and-such. If said in a calm, kind manner, the recipient of the remark is more likely to accept the comment and react in a positive manner.
For example, if a person was late for something, we can say in a kind voice: “The next time I hope you can be on time.” This communicates unhappiness with a person’s lateness without provoking an angry response [ as opposed to saying: “Why were you late!?”].
Step 86. Calmly look for solutions to troublesome situations.
Instead of reacting to a troublesome situation with anger, calmly look for a solution. In the face of difficult problems, maintain a positive can-do attitude (see step 40). Also, avoid personalizing the problem (see step 17).
Step 87. We are all children of Hashem.
We are all Hashem’s children (Devarim 14:1). Each of us is precious in the eyes of Hashem, as a child is precious in the eyes of his parents. Hashem is the Father of each us. Before getting angry at someone, we should think: How will Hashem react to my getting angry at one of His precious children?
The guidelines/steps presented above provide a variety of tools and techniques for controlling anger. Some will work in certain situations and some will work in other situations. By practicing these various guidelines you will learn how and when to apply them.
The best way to change a behavior or character trait is to begin with small, concrete steps, and then to continue, with daily, sustained efforts.
The reader is encouraged to share these guidelines/steps with others. The reader has permission to make copies of these guidelines/steps in any form (print or electronic) to share them with others. Such sharing is encouraged.
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