Anger is Not Like Flatulence: Keeping Anger Under Control

Here’s a little gem I wrote when my kids were much younger that never made it to the blog. Hope this life lesson brings a smile to your face today and gives you pause to ponder keeping anger under control, as well.

Anger is not like Flatulence
We have a problem at the dinner table. One of our adorable, angelic daughters has a habit of emitting flatulent gas audibly during meals
. In other words, she farts. Loudly. Loud enough to cause her and her sister to convulse into fits of laughter, which usually results in more gas being emitted and at least one daughter falling out of her chair.
We have tried to explain to this daughter that silent-but-deadly farts are actually more polite than loud ones, but to no avail.

When you’ve got to get it out, she says, you’ve got to get it out.

While we were busy confronting this problem, I overheard a radio program on a similar theme. Anger, most people believe, needs to be released or it, too, will bubble up inside you until you explode. And once you release it, supposedly you will feel better. In other words, anger must be like farting. But I don’t believe anger works that way. When we’re angry, if we let it out all at once, we may not get rid of it. In fact, venting anger can actually make us angrier, unless we do it carefully.

When we’re angry, we often use harsher words than we really mean.

And “reckless words pierce like a sword”.  Proverbs 12:18a

Those words can hurt the other person horribly, making them angry, too. 

My kids get along wonderfully 95% of the time. But when they get angry, the house is filled with wails of, “you never want to play with me!”, or “you’re such a mean sister!”, until finally you hear, “I don’t want to play with you ever again!”, and a door slams somewhere. When such words are said, both girls invariably end up in indignant tears.

Thankfully, though, our house is now becoming more peaceful thanks to an object lesson I have recently tried. Here’s what you do: take two paper plates, two tubes of toothpaste, two popsicle sticks and a $10 bill. Tell the kids to empty their tubes of toothpaste onto the paper plates, and then tell them whoever gets the toothpaste back in the tube first can have the $10. Don’t worry; you won’t be out any money. The task simply can’t be done.

Toothpaste, like words, can’t be put back in. Once it’s out, it’s out.

We adults need this lesson, too. After all, if our relationships with our family members are the most precious things to us, then we should make sure we’re treating them with tender care. Running a steamroller over our beloveds as we list all their real and imaginary faults isn’t exactly protecting those relationships.

We’ve had to learn this the hard way, since my husband and I are both very stubborn and hotheaded. It’s one reason I’ve never spanked my kids; I’m afraid if I let myself I’d do it in anger. Instead, when I’m really mad, I usually tell the kids to go anywhere, as long as they’re not near me, until I have a chance to calm down and sort out an appropriate response. This usually makes them very penitent, as they both hate having to be alone, and so defuses the situation for all of us.

Sometimes everyone needs a time-out.

Perhaps you need to put that colicky baby into a playpen and take some deep breaths, or to tell that wayward teenager who walked in at 2:30 in the morning that you’ll discuss it tomorrow, when you’ve all had a chance to calm down. Or maybe, when your husband arrives home late from work again, it’s time to go for coffee with a girlfriend to give your white-hot wrath a chance to simmer down so you can discuss the issue later constructively.

The last time my kids had a fight I explained this concept to them.

Anger is not like farting. You can’t just blow up at each other; you need to identify the real problem and talk about only that.

I don’t know if they completely understand, but they’ve really caught on to the slogan. Let’s all treat our most precious relationships with the care they deserve. Maybe there are things that need changing, but don’t just attack someone you love. You can never put that toothpaste back in the tube.


  1. Thank you!
    We’ve got one kid in particular who is prone to angry outbursts, and who also is very particular about how the toothpaste gets used.
    This is absolutely perfect. :)

  2. What a creative analogy! I love the toothpaste idea too.

    And I think you’re 100% correct. Venting seems to solidify anger and make it more real somehow, besides what it does to the other person. But what about all that talk of the danger of repressing your anger?
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    • I don’t think Sheila is suggesting we just ignore problems or conflict, but that exploding in anger isn’t the answer. We need to separate the anger from the problem – that’s why she suggested things like setting the colicky baby down in the play pen and taking a breather, not dealing with the teen at 2:30am, etc. Sometimes we need to postpone dealing with a problem/conflict until we’ve got our emotions under control. Anger breeds more anger, but a soft answer turns away wrath.

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  3. This is a tough one for me; as someone who walks every day for exercise, I often attract unwanted attention from people who apparently like to yell something out of their cars or make some snide/rude comment(s) about you…just because you’re there. I’ve lost my temper (and dishonored God) on more than one occasion because I don’t like being a target for someone else’s jollies. Not sure I have a good answer for how to keep from lashing back at those…people. :-[

    FWIW, a tongue-in-cheek quote I heard sometime ago in regards to anger: “If you can’t be nice, at least be vague.”

    • Alchemist says:

      Get your ipod and listen to music. Then you can’t hear them.

      I walk for exercise very often too. I used to live in a much more populated area where guys would do that (wolf-whistle ect.) But I usually don’t notice unless my sister/ boyfriend points it out to me. Bf was in stitches one time because a guy yelled something at me/ us and I was all like What are you laughing at all of a sudden?

      You could also try and get a route with less traffic or walk on a treadmill.

  4. (…and since you brought it up…girls/women pass gas? I have yet to catch one in the act. Guys, on the other hand…)

  5. Anger is dealt with in one of the following ways spew, leak, or stuff. The book: Overcoming Emotions That Destroy by Chip Ingram has helped me learn how to deal with anger.

  6. Thank you! This is exactly what I need to read today. I’m a very hot-tempered person and know I’ve “flown off the handle” often. It’s never healthy. It also hurts the speaker as much as the listener—-we feel ashamed and worry about maintaining those relationships. I taught the toothpaste trick as a children’s sermon once. The kids loved it and really got it :)
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  7. Stanley says:

    Good article Sheila. I don’t lose my temper very often – and when I do it is usually talking to bureaucrats over the phone! :(
    As for getting toothpaste back in the tube – that is tedious, but possible. I have done it with both metal and plastic tubes – as long as the tube was not crushed or mangled, it would be possible to get the paste beck in a bit at a time.
    Note that I did not fill an empty tube, but I got enough toothpaste back in (from various states of “fullness”) to convince myself that it could be done.

  8. “Toothpaste, like words, can’t be put back in. Once it’s out, it’s out.”
    This is why what ever you say you better mean and be willing to stick by it forever. None of this “I was angry and didn’t mean it” BS. If you say it you better stick by it forever, or not say it at all.

  9. Laughing out loud about the farts! I come from a family that does that freely, but I find it unladylike…it’s just rude to do that unless you can’t help it due to a health issue or something. I don’t mind loud farts but the silent ones often smell horrible and that, to me, has no place anywhere except the bathroom. My stepfather did that repeatedly in the living room the other day when I was visiting my mother and I was beyond disgusted…not only by the smell but by the rudeness.

    Anyway, I agree on the subject of anger. Repressed anger is very unhealthy…your method of dealing with it is very creative. I often had to repress my emotions growing up and when my anger did come out, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

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