Dr. Ray Guarendi’s Tactical Primer to Quell Fury and Embrace Forgiveness
BOOK PICK: ‘Living Calm: Mastering Anger and Frustration’
Mastering Anger and Frustration
By Dr. Ray Guarendi
EWTN Publishing, 2022
160 pages, $17.95
To order: ewtnrc.com
With the increasing divisiveness in our society today, one need not look far to encounter anger. Whether it’s talking heads arguing on TV or faceless avatars trading barbs on Twitter, we are awash in invective. Of course, we do not only encounter anger in media. We most often encounter it in ourselves. And unlike that which we see on Twitter or TV, our own anger we can actually do something about.
In Living Calm: Mastering Anger and Frustration, Ray Guarendi, a Catholic psychologist known from his EWTN TV show, Living Right With Dr. Ray, and his EWTN radio show, The Doctor Is In, (as well as several books), guides readers on how to wrestle with the problem of anger in their lives — and how to deal with it.
Guarendi opens by noting that complex psychological jargon has become common in everyday language, without granting us any greater understanding of the issues involved. Rather than focusing on whether or not behaviors could be labeled “disorders,” we ought, he suggests, focus on the behaviors themselves: whether they are appropriate and what we can do to change them.
“Good intervention focuses on what’s going on with the person rather than the name of what’s going on,” he writes. Counseling can be helpful, he says, but whether or not it is sought, no change can happen without our own willingness to change.
Throughout the book, Guarendi guides the reader in understanding the various factors that contribute to anger in our lives and how we can address it. He begins by noting a fact long intuited by most yet confirmed by scientific research in more recent decades: People are different. Some seem predisposed to outbursts, while others are more naturally stoic or unflappable. He also identifies different manifestations of anger, from the eruptive, who shout and scream; to the silent, who stew and simmer.
Another key insight is that anger is less a personality trait than it is a state, a reaction to a situation. While some may be naturally more reactive (or have been conditioned that way as a result of trauma or life circumstances), most people struggle with anger in particular situations. Thus, to deal with anger, the question is not, “Why are you an angry person?” but rather, “When do you get angry?” Asking such questions may help us to realize that “I may not have an anger trait so much as too many anger states.”
We often struggle the most with anger toward those with whom we are the closest. This is because we have more opportunities with them for anger-inducing situations: We are emotionally vulnerable with them; we are more likely to think their words or actions are directed at us; and we expect them to treat us well, especially when we feel we have treated them well. As Guarendi summarizes it: “The more invested my love, the stronger I react to its being ignored or mishandled.”
Guarendi offers several key tactics for dealing with anger: considering whether we are contributing to the situation that makes us angry; asking ourselves whether our anger is justified; being willing to accept our expectations or desires not being met; and stopping ourselves from venting our anger and agitating ourselves further. The trait common to all of these, he says, is in the will: We must decide to deal with our anger differently.
The most central tactic, though, is forgiveness. Aristotle defined anger as the desire for retaliation against those who have harmed us or our loved ones. We often carry anger because we are unwilling to let it go. We must choose to move beyond it. “Forgiveness is not a feeling,” Guarendi writes. “Forgiveness is an act — more specifically, an act of the will. I decide to forgive. I push myself past the feeling that commands, ‘Hold on to that injustice.’”
Anger is an emotion, a natural part of us, and is not wrong in itself. At times, anger can be warranted. It can be an ally when we use that energy to right a wrong or to motivate us to correct something in ourselves. But “anger resists moderation,” which is why it can be so hard to control — and why, so often, it can control us.
Anger is a tool, and like any tool, it can be destructive when used improperly. Guarendi’s book is a short and accessible guide to learning how to moderate this powerful emotion.
Nicholas Senz writes from Fishers, Indiana.