Regaining Self-Control When Stress Leaks Out


I’ve had people ask me, “How can I stop yelling at and nagging my husband and kids?”

If your frustration level is high and you’re trying to contain it rather than share it, your effort at self-control will only last so long. Sooner or later, those emotions you’re dealing with on your own will leak into your family life.

The key is to abandon your strategy of managing your frustrated feelings alone.

Ever wondered at how Canadian geese fly in V formation?  In our rural part of Ontario, it’s such a familiar sight that we forget to wonder about it.  Why do they do it?  Apparently, for a couple of reasons.  One, it reduces the energy each member of the V expends, so they can travel further before stopping to rest.  Second, it assists the group with communication.  Flying in this formation makes it easier for them to keep track of others to make sure they haven’t lost anyone[1].

You may have heard me say that it takes a village to raise a marriage.  In other words, the Born- to-Run-esque idea that you and me together, we can take on the world is great, as long as you don’t take it too literally.  One couple on their own, alone, is not an enduring strategy. To adequately deal with the frustrations and complexities of a life in our modern world, you also need others who care that you’re still there.

Your grievances have to go somewhere.  I hope you’re working on how to air the wrongs of the past and present with your spouse. Process them and let them go.  But know that your husband or wife can’t bear the weight of being the only one you have weighty conversations with.

Who can you turn to, to help process and carry burdens so that you show up calmer and more self-controlled at home? God’s word points us to the following:

1. Vent to God

Jesus said to pray for our enemies, so I think sometimes those who follow him feel that being honest with God about how we really feel is out of bounds. But being real is the only way to find freedom for your soul.

If you’re frustrated with someone who jilted you out of a contract payment, and you vent to God that it’s unfair, it’s theft and “make his business fail, he deserves it”, you are being honest.  It can prevent you from retaliating, making matters worse, or taking out your frustration out on your family.

King David practiced this form of honest communication with God and you can too.  See, for example, a slew of curses David had for his enemy.  They’re recorded in Psalm 109: 13: “May his descendants be cut off…”, and so on.

Ultimately, you will want to move toward a heart posture of sincere forgiveness, enabling you to pray for this person’s well-being, but perhaps not now. Depending on the circumstances, that may have to wait for later. You need to process your hot, distressing feelings now. And I believe the Lord invites you to do just that with complete honesty.

2. Vent to a close friend

When something has seriously upset you, yes, you should try to process it with your husband or wife. But don’t stop there.  We’re not designed to shoulder all of the burdens of life inside marriage as if it’s an iron-clad vault.  To relieve and process that internal pressure, you need the comfort and wise counsel of others around you.

Share your frustration with a close friend who’s proven to be trustworthy.

What type of friend?  To answer that question, let me ask you this: “Who in your close circle would these sayings be true of?”:

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.”

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses…”[2]

A friend whose love for you is un-self-concerned will push back in “rebuke” rather than doing the less loving thing:  allowing you to continue with beliefs or actions that may come back to bite you.

Turn to a friend who’s brave enough to say something that, yes, may sting but you know it comes from a place of love.  The sting of an astute warning that keeps you from making a mistake is far more loving than outward displays of affection (“…an enemy multiplies kisses”) from someone who simply doesn’t care enough to take the chance of offending you for the sake of helping you.

You can spill your frustrations – and trust your friend to push back when you’ve gone too far.

3. Do the hard work to free your soul

In other words, do the work of forgiving.

When you’ve been wronged, holding onto the offense, along with your anger, bitterness and resentment keeps a part of your soul in captivity.

It’s never easy to bring yourself to a place where you truly forgive.  You have to re-tell the story of how you were wronged, and  notice and feel your unmasked emotions. You may have to reach over your internal resistance to process it with a spouse, friend or counsellor (or all of the above).  And once you’ve reconstructed the event, moved through your real feelings and have decided to forgive, then you do what Jesus did when he was insulted and gravely mistreated: you hand over your grievance into the hands of the only One who judges justly[3].

As fury of a trapped furnace crumbles, his Spirit will stoke warm flames of passion in its place.  Your heart will glow alive again.

If yelling has become a problem in your home, see it as a red flag that your level of frustration is trying to tell you something.  Be determined not only to find calmer ways to communicate, but to become free of whatever is beneath it.




[2] Proverbs 27: 5-6 New International Version

[3] 1 Peter 2: 23 “Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”

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