These questions seem to lurk around every corner lately, as I have been forced to interact with an assortment of angry people at work. The interactions have been so regular and so unpleasant that they have really rattled me. At times I have thought, "My mom is a social worker; my dad's a therapist; I've done church and youth ministry, and that's where you expect this kind of chaos. Not at a law office!"
But then I have come to realize that a law office is the perfect place to find this kind of garbage. People don't call their attorneys when things are going well. They get an attorney because things have taken a very, very bad turn. And that's where I come in. As the secretary I am the first line of defense to shield the attorneys from all sorts of colorful characters and their emotional tantrums. Enduring people's bad attitudes can be difficult, and I find myself welling with anger as people start verbally swinging at me.
Thank the Lord for boundaries, and His teaching me about them.
My job has given me wonderful opportunities to learn about setting boundaries. As a people please by nature, my gut reaction to the anger of others is to blame myself, as if I am responsible for their anger and for abating it.
But you know what? I'm not. Really. And this simple, simple lesson has really hit home for me in the past two months. It is NOT my job to please angry people or to accept blame for what has made them angry. Often when confronted with a disgruntled caller I actually have to tell myself, "This is not my fault. This person is choosing to be angry, and I am choosing not to let it bother me." The idea of choosing to not let something bother me never occurred to me until a few months ago. But it has revolutionized the way I deal with difficult people. It's still hard to hear when someone insults me or calls me a liar (it has happened), but it gives me the courage to let someone else know their behavior is not ok.
You choose how you will respond to other people. I choose how I will respond to other people. And I can choose to change how I respond. Understanding this gives me the freedom to not internalize other people's emotions as my own.
And then I can spend more time being the person I was created to be and less time trying to please other people.