Waking up in the morning in a bad mood, coming home from work tired and cranky, or feeling irritable because of a difficulty we’re dealing with are all fairly common situations. Unfortunately, they can end up affecting the people we love most—our family—because they’re the people closest to us and get caught in the crossfire.
When we’re with our spouse, our children, our parents, or our siblings, we feel secure and free to express ourselves. We know they love us for who we are and that we don’t have to keep up appearances for them. While this is generally a good thing, it can lead us to be a little too careless about our actions.
If we’re in a bad mood, we might indulge in certain words or gestures that we’d hold in if we were in a different environment, such as at work or with friends, and this can hurt the people we love.
What can we do if we tend to vent our bad mood during breakfast with our family, or if we argue about things we later realize weren’t really important? What can we do to avoid being a difficult person who, instead of creating a calm home environment, loses his or her temper at the slightest provocation?
Here are some ideas that can help us in those or similar situations:
1. Recognize that being temperamental isn’t a good thing.
If we think that having an explosive temper is a characteristic of important people who achieve great things, such as Blackbeard, Attila the Hun, Caligula, or (as some people have suggested) Steve Jobs, then we’ll never work to improve our character. Before anything else, we need to stop making excuses for ourselves and recognize (at least internally) that having an uncontrolled temper is incompatible with being the best version of ourselves.
2. Decide to work to control your irritability
Once we’ve recognized that having a bad temper is a defect, not a virtue, we need to make the active decision to try to change. We can’t just throw up our hands in resignation and say, “That’s just the way I am.” We won’t be able to change overnight, but we can certainly make progress little by little.
3. Identify key moments of vulnerability
Once we’ve decided to change, we need to identify the moments when we are weakest and more likely to act out on a bad mood or feeling of irritation. For example, we may be more likely to lash out before mealtimes when we’re hungry, or on the day of the week when we have the greatest burden of work and consequent stress, or when the bills are due and we’re trying to figure out how to make ends meet.
4. Define concrete ways to put into practice the decision to change
The time to make a plan to deal with irritability is when we’re at peace. We need to take a moment when we’re calm and cool-headed to establish specifically what we will do to control our actions when we’re in a bad mood or irritated. For example, when we’re angry at our children, we might leave the room and let a few minutes pass so we can get our temper under control. Another useful action is to start a routine of doing some exercise daily or weekly to reduce our levels of stress. If we start to raise our voice when talking to our spouse, we can go to the bathroom and splash our face with cold water while reminding ourselves that our spouse is the person we love most in the whole world.
5. Ask forgiveness
A way to show real love is to ask forgiveness when we’ve been irritable and have hurt or offended our loved ones with our words or actions. If we recognize that we were wrong and sincerely ask forgiveness, promising to try to do better in the future, we can help heal emotional damage we’ve caused.
It’s best if we resolve to ask forgiveness that very day—at the latest before going to bed—for anything we’ve done that day, so we and the people we love can rest with a peaceful heart, seeing that love prevails in our household.
6. Make your own “emergency kit”
Fill your heart and mind with good things, so that when you’re upset or in a bad mood, you can change your focus and turn things around. Good memories can help, such as moments of love and tenderness, funny situations, and loved ones who have died but who continue to inspire us with their example of love and family life. We can also keep handy some photos that cheer us up, whether as printed copies or as “favorites” on our cell phone.
7. Don’t forget our purpose in life
Never forget the meaning of our existence. Our spouse and our children are part of God’s plan for our salvation and eternal happiness.
Our family is a treasure we need to take care of, and we need to ask God’s help to do it well. He who put those people in our life will surely keep taking care of us and them, as long as we cooperate.
Try this neat anger management trick the next time someone makes you mad
How to stop a negative mood spiral