by Annette Bridges. ©2006. All rights reserved.
“You have your daddy’s temper,” I was told growing up. After my dad passed on when I was 10 years old, I remember my mom saying, “I think he spent most of his life mad about something.”
I didn’t want to get angry so easily, but for years I couldn’t help myself. A sociologist might say I was trapped in a cycle of temper and abuse—a behavior learned from my family environment. I recall many a time when I screamed such horrible words I would be filled with regret afterwards. I also slammed doors, stormed off, or threw whatever was in my reach. Again and again after such uncontrollable outbursts, I felt sorry and ashamed.
Those words, “You have your daddy’s temper,” replayed in my head every time I got mad. I had accepted those five words as part of my identity. And because of this, I felt I had an excuse for my uncontrollable temper.
Around the same time as my dad’s passing, I was introduced to the Christian Science Weekly Bible Lesson that led me to find the book, Science and Health. (You can find the Internet version of the lesson on this Web site. See link below.) Over the course of the next 30 years, I became aware of how spirituality shapes my life. Studying and pondering spiritual ideas slowly transformed my self-concept. I gained an improved understanding of my heritage and parentage. I learned of the infinite power of God. And I learned I could turn to God for help with any situation.
I no longer felt helpless, fearful or hopeless when confronted with challenges. I gained confidence in spiritual answers and developed an expectancy of positive, healing results.
But with all I was learning, with all I had overcome and witnessed, I still couldn’t control my temper. Although the abusive nature of my angry outbursts did diminish over these years, it still plagued me occasionally. Actually, I think I was still accepting temper as a response in which I had no choice. There were other feelings that also fueled my temper—feelings of aggravation, impatience and frustration.
I didn’t want to be a willful person.
Not long ago, a friend gave me a definition of frustration that has stayed with me. She defined frustration as, “unsatisfied self-will.” Since there were many things causing me frustration (or so I thought), it was disturbing to think I was perhaps being willful. I felt justified when my anger was a result of being frustrated by the behavior of someone else. The idea of being willful was putting responsibility on my own shoulders. I didn’t want to be a willful person. My love for God was such that I truly wanted to follow His will and not my own.
I found in my study of Science and Health that Mary Baker Eddy warns of the misleading human will. I began to wonder if my view of people or perception of situations as frustrating and annoying was confusing my ability to behave appropriately.
Eddy speaks of freedom of choice in how we think and act, and instructs us how to make decisions that lead to good results. She reminds us we have responsibility for our thoughts and actions. And she helps us see how our thoughts determine our actions. I love, in Science and Health, her analogy about a sculptor. Eddy writes, “The sculptor turns from the marble to his model in order to perfect his conception. We are all sculptors, working at various forms, moulding and chiseling thought. What is the model before mortal mind? Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering? Have you accepted the mortal model? Are you reproducing it
I had to choose a new model.
Well, yes! I had certainly accepted a model of abusive and uncontrollable temper for myself and was reproducing it again and again in my life.
In recent years, I have become determined to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions and no longer allow uncontrollable outbursts or reactions to disrupt the harmony of my life and those around me. To do this, I had to choose a new model—the woman God created. One who is poised, full of grace, patient, composed, just, gentle and loving. And I’ve been pretty successful, for the first time in my life, at controlling my temper. Sound too easy?
Honestly, it’s been easier than I imagined it could be or thought possible. It has required pausing before every action for a prayerful examination of thoughts and motives. It’s been amazing to see the powerful effect of these momentary prayers. I can’t say that I never forget to take these prayerful pauses and never ever get angry about anything. But I can’t even remember when I lost my temper in an uncontrollable rage. In fact, it truly feels impossible for that to happen now.
The cycle of abusive temper has been broken.
Asking God for direction on every thought and action doesn’t require a lot of time. In fact, the answer comes as quickly as I pause.
My husband, John, and I just celebrated our 23rd anniversary. And I don’t think that would have happened if I had not chosen a new model of behavior for my life. In the early years of our marriage, it would not have been unusual for me to completely and irrationally lose my temper, often throwing something or being quite abusive in my speech. And back then, it didn’t take much to make me mad. Now those days are truly gone. It’s actually really difficult for me to even feel uncontrollable anger. And if I am confronted with a hint of those feelings, a “prayer pause” gets my thoughts clearly and accurately focused on the issue at hand and a temper fit is never the appropriate response.
Speaking about this with a friend, John said, “Annette has truly taken control of her temper. Her lack of control in our early years of marriage is gone. I believe her change came as a result of realizing the damaging effects of her actions. Also, in motherhood she saw the need to raise our child in a calm atmosphere, or else the negative would perpetuate itself.” He also attributed my change to what he refers to as a “fresh commitment to the study of Science and Health.”
The cycle of abusive temper has been broken. It has become easier and easier to make the right and appropriate choices of behavior. God doesn’t leave us at the mercy of evil to confuse and misguide us in our behavior and actions. God is always with us at every moment to guide us down the right path.