The Secret to Managing Anger
As virtually all returned missionaries will confirm, full-time missionary service can be frustrating. Slammed doors, enduring angry and often vulgar comments, companions that won’t cooperate; and any number of other common frustrations are all, at times, a part of the experience. Frustration typically leads to anger; which means that missionaries will need to learn to manage anger if they are to be successful—a skill obviously also critical to success in family life, at work, and in all other aspects of our life.
Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy has identified a necessary understanding in managing this powerful emotion.
“A cunning part of his (Satan’s) strategy is to dissociate anger from agency, making us believe that we are victims of an emotion that we cannot control. We hear, ‘I lost my temper.’ Losing one’s temper is an interesting choice of words that has become a widely used idiom. To ‘lose something’ implies ‘not meaning to,’ ‘accidental,’ ‘involuntary,’ ‘not responsible’—careless perhaps but not responsible.’
“He made me mad.” This is another phrase we hear, also implying lack of control or agency. This is a myth that must be debunked. No one makes us mad. Others don’t make us angry. There is no force involved. Becoming angry is a conscious choice, a decision; therefore, we can make the choice not to become angry. We choose!” ((in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 105; or Ensign, May 1998, 80).
This is an important truth, but many can’t believe that they choose to be angry because often anger is an unwanted emotion; not something we would choose to feel. The emotion seems to appear in us without a lot of conscious control. Perhaps the deeper truth—and here is the secret--is that we have a choice in what we think; which then controls what we feel. In this sense, the emotion of anger is indeed a choice, but an indirect one. No matter how we want to feel, we will be angry as long as we choose to think angry thoughts. We will continue to be angry as long as we choose to think the thoughts that cause and reinforce that anger.
When provoked, if we think things like, ‘That’s so unfair,’ ‘I’m not going to let him get away with this,’ our anger will continue and grow. Likewise, if we rehearse what we would like to say or do to the offender, the anger we feel will escalate. On the other hand, if we choose to think things like, ‘That doesn’t matter in the long run’, or ‘I’m not going to upset myself over this,’ the anger is likely to dissipate. The trick is to think these kinds of anger reducing thoughts and then to change the subject in our head. Continuing to think about the insult, even if we are trying not to be angry, is still thinking about it. Sooner or later dwelling on the subject will reinforce angry feelings. The quicker we can quit thinking about the incident all together, and focus on any of the many positives in our life, anger will melt away.
How to Know When We Have Successfully Forgiven an Offense
Essentially, anger management amounts to forgiving those who offend us. This happens when we consciously decide to let the offender off the hook and let the offense not matter to us. It may matter to God or others; but we decide to let it go. It no longer matters to us. At this point, all anger related to the offense will naturally resolve. Of course, forgiving an offense is often easier said than done. It’s also true that we may think we have forgiven someone when, in fact, we still carry a grudge. We may not have an emotional response to the offense when the event is out of mind and sight; but it comes back when we think about the issue for some reason; or come in contact with the person who offended us. The goal is to forgive completely; which we know we have done when the following applies:
1. When we no longer are tempted to harm or get even with someone who has offended us. For example, gossiping about someone who has offended us, treating them rudely, or undermining them in any way.
2. When we feel at ease thinking about, or when in the presence of someone who has offended us. It’s an unnecessary complication in our life when our emotions are under the control of someone else. If we can’t be at peace when we think about someone who has offended us, or if we can’t be comfortable in their presence. they are in effect, controlling our emotions—which is solid evidence that we have still not completely forgiven them.
3. When we can look past offensive behavior and are no longer concerned that forgiving the incident is, in effect, reinforcing or condoning it. As suggested earlier, doing the right thing may appear to let other people get away with bad behavior. According to the Lord, it is still in everyone’s best interest if we do the right thing, no matter the apparent consequences.
4. When we no longer require justice or demand fairness. We can seek for fairness and justice by confronting an offender privately in the case of more minor offenses and through outside authorities in the case of serious matters. But we will likely frustrate ourselves and make everything worse if we demand justice and fairness. In other words, it’s reasonable to seek justice, but a problem if we need it. After basic and reasonable effort on our part to secure justice, justice needs to be left in the hands of the Lord. Forgiveness needs to be with absolutely no strings attached on our part.
Dr. Gary G. Taylor