Do cross-cultural workers ever get angry? You know we do. In fact, unresolved anger has driven people away from their work and sent them home with their tails between their legs.
Actually, it is unrealistic to think we would never get angry. But it is realistic to learn what to do with that anger, and how to prevent explosions.
Anger has many causes, some unique to our cross-cultural context. But we may not find the help we need when we live and work overseas. After all, aren’t we supposed to be the strong ones?
I am indebted to a book called, She’s Gonna Blow! by Julie Ann Barnhill for this discussion.
Julie’s book is subtitled, ‘Real help for moms dealing with anger.’ Though she wrote the book with anger towards our children as the focus, much of what she discusses has real life applications for whatever stirs our wrath.
Anger is an emotion that can really affect families, co-workers, and nationals. It is not an emotion that can be ignored.
Julie compares our anger to a volcano. A mountain can look beautiful, peaceful, and fertile while the magma is boiling and coming slowly to the surface. Finally, one day it spews forth poisonous gases, liquid magma or lava as the volcano erupts. We can look lovely, calm, and productive on the outside while anger boils and slowly rises to the surface. When the volcano of our anger erupts a lot of damage occurs.
We know the signs of our own boiling anger: the stresses that jolt us to annoyance responses; unkind words that slip out before our emotional governor can stop them; and then physical signs (like a red face, breathing hard, or grimaces). Casual acquaintances may not notice, but those closest to us know the volcano is about to erupt.
Some underlying conditions make us prone to eruptions.
- Personality traits that make us more prone to react to stresses we face.
- Family background and experiences growing up can make us react rather than respond to life’s surprises.
- Childhood traumas and abuse never dealt with will continue to affect our reactions.
- Discontentment from unfulfilled dreams will flavor our outlook on life.
- Some of us run our lives on ‘shoulds.’ These are the things we think we should do or what we think others expect of us. Never meeting up to the goal frustrates us and adds to the frequency or severity of the eruptions.
Keeping Things Cool
I want to take the rest of this letter to mention some of the tactics Julie suggests that can help to minimize the harm we might do with anger. These are ideas from the chapter, Keeping Things Cool.
Stay in the Word. Keep Bibles in several convenient places around your home to take advantage of spare moments throughout your day to read. Memorize verses that are particularly important to you. (My husband’s favorite is 2Timothy 2.24, ‘the Lord’s servant must not strive . . .’) And start your day with some praise music.
Take good care of yourself. Have a checkup if it has been a while. Find ways that work for you to relax. Get some exercise–burn some calories and frustration. If you experience PMS, reduce your salt intake and limit your caffeine.
Don’t isolate. Find someone you can talk to about your past or present struggles. Start a support group–you’ll be surprised who will join and be helped by this.
Feeling angry isn’t wrong. Expressing it in unproductive and hurtful ways is!
Learn to defuse anger with relaxing deep-breathing techniques and pleasant thoughts.
Speak softly and slowly–it’s difficult to explode when your speech is restrained.
Use positive words, not sarcastic or caustic words.
Give yourself a time-out. Stop and give yourself time to respond in a more productive way.
Forgive. Forgive those who have hurt you and forgive yourself for hurting others with your anger.
Plan ahead. Plan some strategies for dealing with anger-producing situations. Find ways to avoid constant frustrations.
Simplify. Only try to work on one or two areas of conflict at a time. Choose what is really most important first. Don’t sweat the other stuff. Give yourself a break.
Child Trigger Tamers
Now here are a few suggestions when your child is the trigger and the object of your anger:
Teach your children boundaries within which they can express their anger. Practice what you preach.
Understand your child. For every weakness you see in your child, find a way to express how it can be a strength. Examples: “Strong-willed” can be “tenacious;” “oversensitive” becomes “compassionate.” Take the time to learn what to expect at your child’s developmental stage.
Record your ‘table talk.’ You’ll be more aware of the way you are speaking to your child and listening to it later will help you choose some things you may want to change yourself. Rehearse some good calm, positive responses you can use in stressful situations. For every negative or hurtful thing you say, find an encouraging, positive replacement.
Some of you have never had an anger explosion. You’ve been blessed with a personality that doesn’t make you so prone to them, and learned ways to defuse the frustrations you experience in life. Your co-worker or spouse may not have been so blessed. Pray for them, and see if you can’t find some practical help for them so they can defuse before they blow.
If you saw yourself in what I’ve shared, you are not alone. If you need help working on this area of your life, I would encourage you to buy Julie’s book. She shares with humor from her own experience. The book is available both in paper and Kindle from Amazon. (By the way, you can download the Kindle reader to your computer to read Kindle books. This saves problems having the paper book shipped to you overseas.)