Offspring of impulsivity are usually regret, irreparable loss

Patricia Holbrook

Patricia Holbrook

A couple rushes to the altar after a short-term courtship. A spouse gives in to lust and commits adultery. A wife spouts off insults against her husband. A mother lashes out at her children, with no regard for the damage thoughtless words will cause.

Impulsivity is perhaps one of the most primal instincts known to men, and most everyone is guilty of acting impulsively at least once in their lifetime. A common mark of youth, lack of self-control and restraint often bears consequences which can irreparably impact a young person’s future.

Unfortunately, many individuals never outgrow this trait, struggling with self-control throughout their adult life. This type of behavior is known in psychology as “dysfunctional impulsivity,” and the name translates it perfectly. People who constantly act on impulse come across as out of control, erratic, stable, angry, often allowing desires, fear or anger to steer them down a path of destruction and isolation.

The offspring of impulsivity are usually regret and loss. For certain people, impulsive acts are just that: actions preceded by no regard for consequence. For others, however, impulsivity has broader roots, and their actions are a consequence of deep-set fear, insecurities or jealousy.

In my recent study of the book of Psalms, I came across a number of songs written by David when hiding from King Saul, who sought to kill the young man when feeling threatened by his growing popularity among the Jews. As we read the parallel passages in the book of 1 Samuel, we find Saul’s insecurities growing in the same rate as David’s accomplishments. When David entered Jerusalem after slaying Goliath and ending Israel’s war against the Philistines, women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with dancing and singing. While dancing, they sang a song that spurred Saul into a jealousy fit: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

Saul’s proud smile disappeared. The song infuriated him. His anger bore a new giant within his heart, a threat mightier than the 9-foot slain Philistine: burning jealousy.

The Hebrew word used in this passage for the kind of anger Saul experienced, is revealing. It is “charah,” which according to the Hebrew Lexicon, means “to burn, be kindled, be incensed, glow with anger, grow indignant; to act zealously.” Charah is not just any type of anger. Its deeper meaning conveys the fire of anger that burns right after it is ignited. In other words, it conveys the type of anger followed by an impulsive response. Charah portrays Saul exploding with anger –a reaction before any sense of self-control or restrain could be processed.

I understand King Saul too well. When I was younger, fear and insecurity brought about many impulsive actions and decisions. As I’ve grown older, however, self-awareness and God’s wisdom in Scriptures have helped me strike the right balance between not acting at all and acting impulsively, repeatedly.

But how can we master our impulses? I don’t believe we can do it on our own. We can start by asking God to reveal what triggers our responses and help us heal. We must also seek to know ourselves better, thus developing awareness of what generates our anger, lust, fear or pride, and deliberately deal with it. That means we turn from whatever tempts us or seek to find our heart’s motives behind our anger.

I have also learned to take self-imposed time outs … and pray before acting. When something or someone angers me, I silence, sometimes leave the room, and postpone the discussion. I then ask God for his wisdom and grace. It’s not that I never say anything in anger anymore; however, thankfully, moderation and self-control have become more prevalent than impulsive, regretful words or actions.

Saul had been chosen by God to be king, but we will never know the greatness destined to his reign because of bad decisions and reckless responses resulting from pride, insecurity and fear. Instead of a beacon of light to follow, Israel’s first king bore a series of character flaws to be avoided.

May it be a lesson for us all, lest we allow our passions, fear and pride to become the very instruments that forge our shackles … and ruin our future.