A brief lesson about emotions. Stuff I learned in grad school. (Or at least during grad school -- my professors may not have been the actual source of this knowledge.)
Our emotions are almost completely physical responses. They are our bodies' reactions to the thoughts we think. We think a thought, and our bodies respond. Consider sadness. What do we physically feel when we are sad? Heaviness, sluggishness. Our bodies slow down all their major processes to force us to take the time to deal with the loss our brains are registering -- because sadness is always a reaction to some kind of loss.
Similarly, anger is the fight end of the fight-or-flight response. It is our bodies' reaction to a threat. Something is challenging our sense of security, in some way, and we gear up to fight it. Heart rate increases, muscles tense, senses and mental energy become focused on the object of concern -- anger is primarily physical. And like many physical responses, it is automatic. It's difficult to stop once triggered.
The key, then, is to eliminate the trigger. Not the person or the event -- we rarely have that kind of control over our circumstances. I mean, change the thoughts that start the physical response. Because truth be told, much of the stuff we get angry about is not actually any legitimate threat to us.
In Springfield, I worked with a friend named Belinda -- a black woman living in a rather racially-charged part of the country. She had many stories of the prejudice she and her family and friends had encountered over the years, stories that made my blood boil. I asked her once how she was able to deal with it all with such calm. Her answer was illuminating.
"I'm a child of God. I know who I am. What they think I am doesn't change who I really am."
In other words, their hatred wasn't a threat to her. The fight response didn't have a trigger.
I was reminded of all this last night during a discussion in our small group. And furthermore, I was convicted of my failure to put this knowledge into practice in my relationship with my daughter. The dangers of being too intellectual . . . a stockpile of knowledge is useless if it is not applied.