How Not to Cough Up a Human Hair Ball

This week I learned about a rare disorder called trichophagia. Well, “learned about” might be stretching it.

I was watching a BBC drama series about a doctor in a small village and one of the characters presented with symptoms that turned out to be trichophagia. The doctor only made his diagnosis after his patient dramatically coughed up a portion of a hairball.

That’s right. Trichophagia is what it’s called when someone chews on and eventually eats their own hair. The hair cannot be digested so it can form hairballs that humans, unlike cats, can’t normally “cough up” on their own. Usually they require surgery because the human body wasn’t designed to digest hair.

Got me thinking. Well, not about hair. About anger.

I don’t think the human soul was designed to digest anger.

We like to pretend we have few choices about anger. It’s a feeling. It “flares up.” It’s “hard to control.” And we usually blame others for our anger “He made me so angry.” “I couldn’t help it because she set me off.”

God doesn’t see anger the way we do.

Sure, anger can register on our emotional dashboard but as soon as it does, it’s really up to us how to respond.

Some of us like to chew on it, ingest it and try to force it through the belly of a soul that was not designed to feed on anger. And when we do this often enough, the anger collects and forms a giant hairball in our spirit that can’t be coughed up but must be removed by the most skilled of surgeons, the Holy Spirit, before it kills us from the inside out.

When any of us are tempted to nurture our anger, we can find plenty of support from those around us. These days, self-control is not valued as highly as assertiveness. Forgiveness and long-suffering are poor second-cousins to aggressively going after what we want and deserve.

It takes a great deal of faith to refrain from anger when its proponents seem so justified, so certain, and so positive that it’s the only way to reach a desired end. But God says different in James 1:19-20. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

The writer of the Psalms agreed with James (well, before James existed to be agreed with)”Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32(ESV) and ”Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11ESV
I believe in honesty in relationships. Straight talk. Limit setting. But anger is a different animal. God tells us that He is slow to anger and if our goal is to become like Him, then slow to anger is what we must aim to emulate.

Anger certainly seems more powerful than patience, long-suffering, forgiveness, or calm assertiveness but there is no one more powerful than He is and it is not His go-to emotion!

As I work to manage my own emotional storehouse, I know that from now on, I will picture this poor guy clutching his stomach in agony and then, violently (and disgustingly) coughing up a portion of a hairball just before the rescue arrives to take him to hospital. Ewww.

We weren’t designed to digest a steady diet of anger, either. Best not to chew on it or ingest it in the first place than to let it kill us from the inside out. Wouldn’t you agree?

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  1. Karin says:

    Great advice! I distinctly remember the boss coming to me, beet red, veins bulging, in his anger towards my co-worker, and instructing me to do something about what he perceived as an infraction. Because I had been raised with a 0-90 in a split second angry father, I knew how to act. I lowered my voice and quietly, but very respectfully told the boss that if he had issues with my coworker, then he was the one who needed to talk with him.
    To this day I think the Lord for holding my tongue and my tears back – because I was shaking in my heart!
    The boss – after having vented his anger to me – came back with a decent apology! 2 years later the boss died and I have wondered whether all his angry feelings triggered the chemicals that were the cause of his brain tumor or whether a growing brain tumor triggered his angry outbursts.

    Interesting post again!

  2. Oh gag me. I’ll never be able to enjoy my own angry party again! Hairballs!

  3. Yes, the imagery had that affect on me, as well. 🙂