Managing Anger: An Essential Skill for Missionaries
Anger management skills are definitely tested when serving a mission. Part of the problem, of course, is the tight living quarters and the requirement to stay within sight and sound of one or more companions at all times. Even in marriage, spouses have less intense involvement with one another and much more relief from the idiosyncrasies of their partners. Whatever its source, if not handled properly, the stress and strain of missionary service can increase irritability beyond normal limits. Happily, most missionaries handle these stresses with only occasional and relatively minor anger management problems. On the other hand, some missionaries find themselves becoming verbally and even physically abusive.
Then too, even occasional and more mundane missionary anger problems can be troubling. Mismanaged anger, even when it falls short of verbal or physical abuse, is still a good way to drive away the Spirit. It can create trust and other relationship issues; not to mention the negative impact persistent anger has on stress levels and general health. Anything missionaries can do to increase their ability to manage anger will pay large dividends while on their mission; and as they go through life
There are a number of anger management strategies that can help control our anger. Among these, some of the best involve making good choices in how we think. The fact is that we can choose what we think, but not how we feel. If we want to manage anger, we will have to manage the thoughts that cause anger. We can’t just wish or even pray anger away. It will be there, and likely grow, as long as we continue to think in ways that cause or reinforce the emotion. The quicker we can get to positive, or at least neutral thinking, the quicker anger will resolve. Anything we can find that will distract us away from obsessing about the offense will help; as will avoiding thoughts that induce, grow or maintain anger. Such thoughts come in many forms. Some of the more common ones generally fall into the following categories:
1. Thinking how unfair our situation is. “Poor me” thoughts provide excellent fuel for anger.
2. Thinking how unnecessary our suffering is. Dwelling on how whatever offended us never should have happened will encourage anger. So will thinking how easily the problem could have been avoided if so and so (or I) had just done things a little differently.
3. Dwelling on the weaknesses and shortcomings of whoever offended us. Dwelling on how careless, stupid, insensitive, unforgiving, or just outright evil the person who offended us is also results in growing and maintaining anger. This is most likely one of the reasons why so much in scripture warns against judging others.
4. Thinking in absolutes is a problem. Thinking in terms of “always”, “never”, “can’t” and “have to” maintain anger. “He always does this”. “She will never change”. “I can’t let him get away with this”. “I have to get even”.
5. Rehearsing what you would like to say to the offender and/or imagining what you would like to see happen to him. When offended, it’s common to rehearse the speech you want to give to the offender and/or day dream about some form of retaliation. Doing so is an excellent way to grow and foster anger.
6. Thinking unforgiving thoughts. “I will never forgive him for what he did.” “I won’t let him get away with this.” Having an unforgiving attitude or thinking unforgiving thoughts will feed anger.
7. Believing that your anger is inevitable or justified. We sometimes excuse ourselves by blaming someone or something for our anger. “He made me angry” or “I couldn’t help it.” Managing anger as the scriptures direct must begin with accepting responsibility for what we are feeling and realizing that it is the natural consequence of what we choose to think.
8. Refusing to let the other person get away with offending us. When we think we must stand up to an offender for whatever reason--to see justice done, to uphold our honor, to uphold the honor of someone else, or to defend something we believe in—our angry feelings will definitely grow. This also happens when we refuse to take the high road out of fear that forgiving another will appear to condone their behavior. Defending the people and things we believe in is, of course, a good idea generally; but not when we go to the point of insisting, or forcing our opinion on someone else.
9. Denying that we are angry. Another problem that will keep anger alive and well is to deny that we are angry in the first place. We must recognize and own the emotion before we will have much luck managing it. This can be a particular problem with passive aggressive responses. A missionary may not recognize an anger problem because he or she doesn’t yell, scream, or hit walls. Withdrawn, sullen, or manipulative behavior can still push away the Spirit and cause interpersonal and health problems.
When any of these thought patterns are recognized, or when you feel anger building for any reason, you will find it a bit difficult to do; but so worthwhile, when you change your thoughts to those more conducive to the Spirit. And remember not to give up when this simple solution proves to be difficult. It’s not easy to change habits of thought. Repeated effort is often required. As the old expression goes, “If at first you don’t succeed (at least with something this important), try, try again”.
Dr. Gary G. Taylor