One of the challenges some chaplains face, myself included, is the need to be liked and avoid conflict. We want people to feel good and comforted, and this is what often leads us into the profession. We’re the Rogerians in the room: providing that unconditional positive regard to all comers. Trouble is that when conflict takes place, it can feel like failure. So when conflict is on the horizon we dodge it. I can talk myself into twists trying to avoid or minimize whatever the problem is. Which tends to make the problem worse. Then when that conflict does erupt I tend to look at myself as the cause of it, as if conflict and anger are wrong and my fault. In doing so I take responsibility for their feelings and reactions, which isn’t healthy or logical.
One of the harder parts of my own development as a chaplain is raising that emotional boundary between myself and others. It’s easy in the caring professions to open one’s self up too much and to care too much for the other person, which neglects ourselves. This isn’t just chaplains but nurses, social workers, and on down the line. Sometimes this self-neglect takes the form of taking on what the other person needs to do – the “fix-it” or “savior” mentality, an outward focus that neglects the self’s boundaries. However I also see that this self-neglect can be inward focused as well, where I don’t try to fix the other person as much as make their problem my own – their problem is a bad reflection on me, so I take it personally. This can happen a lot with handling anger. This still avoids the problem though, and all I end up doing is taking their anger and internalizing it because it’s directed at me.
What I fail to do though is see that even though it’s directed at me it is still their anger, their emotion. How they choose to express it is their issue, not mine.