A while back I attended a training to volunteer at my local Pregnancy Resource Center, and what I learned completely revolutionized my way of thinking about emotions. I realized that people in general (myself included) are afraid of big emotions like shame, grief, and anger.
It made me wonder: why so much fear? I think we’re afraid of emotions because we don’t know how to fix them. If we give way to the feelings, will we be overcome? If we allow ourselves to crack a little, will we completely crumble?
Not only do I think emotions are important, but I also think they can destroy our lives and those around us if they are not handled properly. So today I’d like to look at three different ways we can learn to cope with our emotions in a healthy manner. Next week I will look at how we can be better friends and listeners to those who are hurting.
The first step to accepting big emotions in others is allowing them in yourself. Emotions are not a bad thing! God created us to have them. We were made to have feelings and to react to things not just physically, but emotionally as well. In fact, God Himself shows some pretty big emotions in Scripture. After seeing his friend Mary weep for her dead brother, John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.”
Jesus wept? Jesus already knew the outcome. He knew Lazarus wouldn’t always be dead. Yet Jesus didn’t consider it below Himself to share in the overwhelming grief around Him.
In Matthew 21:12, Jesus actually, “entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”
Overturning tables? That’s a pretty intense emotion!
For myself, at least, I have a pretty hard time allowing emotions. I always think, They don’t solve anything, so what’s the point? I definitely have the outlook that if I let myself give way a little, I might cave. But verses like the one above make me wonder.
Jesus was a man’s man. He worked with His hands and wasn’t afraid to get dirty. Yet, even as a man, He publicly cried. If even God allowed emotion in His own life, then what am I doing avoiding it all costs?
In controlled doses, emotions can actually be very beneficial and healing. But how do we tell between what’s healthy and unhealthy? Well, that leads me to the next step:
2) Limit your emotional intake.
It’s okay to have emotions. But you cannot dwell on a certain emotion, or you risk it taking over your life. There are healthy emotions, which help you grow and heal, and then there are unhealthy emotions which pull you down and hold you back. Like a piece of fruit, emotions can start out great and quickly turn rotten.
Here is a quick checklist to help you decide if your emotion is still in the healthy stage, or if it has progressed to being unhealthy:
A healthy emotion will:
- Help you grow and change
- Help you to heal
- Help you move on
Healthy emotions are ones that do not disrupt your life on a continual basis. They’re temporary. They draw you to God, and not away from Him. People are more receptive to hearing about your emotion because you’re not constantly dwelling on it.
An unhealthy emotion will:
- Keep you stuck
- Draw you away from God
- Keep you self-centered
Unhealthy emotions are hard to get away from. They keep you in the same mood for a prolonged amount of time, with little to no change. People around you may want to avoid you because the only thing you can focus on is that emotion.
Sometimes venting can be the first step towards healing, because we’re accepting the emotion and trying to make sense of it. It is so, so important to both allow the emotion, and then have a friend whom you can talk to about it.
Don’t share your emotions with someone whom you know has not reacted well to them in the past. The verbal telling of your emotion is critical in being able to move past it, and you need someone who is going to take the information you give them and hug you. Not someone who is going to look down on you, help you wallow in the same emotion forever, or gossip about you.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a stereotype about Christians and emotions. Do you know which one I’m talking about? There’s a deep sense of guilt when Christians struggle with depression or exhaustion or anxiety, because “everything works toward the good of those who love him.” That’s true, but if we’re not careful, we can use it in a judgmental sort of way.
It is possible to be a Christian and be depressed. Don’t add guilt to your already weighty emotion of depression. If you’re clinically depressed, you have absolutely no way of controlling that emotion. Just as a diabetic needs insulin, so you might just need an antidepressant.
You don’t have to be guilty of any emotion. By allowing it, you’re allowing yourself to move on and heal. It’s dangerous to dwell on it, but it’s even more dangerous to keep it inside; if you do, you’ll never find the healing you need and risk being cut through from within.
Emotions can either help you on your journey to healing, or they can hinder. Work with your emotions rather than against them. Like the sensors in your hand that tell you when something is hot, so, too, are emotions. They warn you about something in your life you should be paying attention to.
Emotions can be like plants. I once thought the idea was to obliterate them and keep them from growing. I have since learned the idea is to let them grow while keeping them contained so they can blossom into something entirely new and beautiful. If we can learn to do that, anger can become forgiveness; sorrow, joy; and despair, hope.
Weep. Gnash your teeth. Throw your hands into the air. Feel your emotion. Only then can you experience what it feels like to be free.