What I'm Learning About My Emotions

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It was late last year when I started coming to the understanding that I was bitter about something. Several friends pointed out that on more than one occasion I had become angry and verbally aggressive. As I started to see my behavior through their eyes, I realized it was true. This realization led me to start studying the ideas of contentment and emotions biblically. Two book were very helpful in this pursuit. The first has already been mentioned on this blog, Chasing Contentmen by Erik Raymond. The other was Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith. I started with these because they were either recommended to me or someone I knew online had picked them up.

When I started reading Untangling Emotions I quickly realized why I needed to read this book. Simply put, I don’t like to feel the extremes of emotions; I much comfortable being in the middle, being even keel. When I do start moving away from center, I typically do the worst thing possible, I bury it. This book help me see the dangers of doing that and what to do about it. Here is what I’ve learned and am processing through.

Lesson #1 - Emotions don’t come in single file

This is the chapter title for chapter 3. It was revolutionary for me to comprehend. I had always assumed I only feeling one thing at a time. I should have known better, it’s not like I haven’t seen the Pixar movie Inside Out ... yet there I was. Life is way more complicated than to be labeled by a single emotion most of the time. It possible and right to be feel more than one thing at at time. The authors say it this way, “The more we know about what’s going on in the swish and swirl of our feelings, the better we’ll be able to understand what is going on in our hearts and our loves.” (Pg. 50) The author go on to say later in the book to say, “Even the most problematic emotions are never the true problem. The true problem is the collection of warped loves of our hearts and the shattering of God’s good creation.” (Pg. 91) This helped me understand that is wasn’t my emotions that were the problem, it was my idols. By burying my emotions I wasn’t dealing with they were trying to communicate to me. They were warning signs that I idolized and valued something, and that idolization was caused me react in a way to protect that idol. Once I saw the truth of these statements, I quickly realized the next problem: what do I do about it?

Lesson #2 - How to deal with emotions

Luckily, the authors get very practical with second half of the book, they wrote chapter 8 entitled “Engage: A Better Option”. They provided a 4 step process of how engage your emotions into order to properly see what was going on. The key word is engage, something most of us don’t want to do. The first step in engaging emotions is identify it. Just being aware that it’s there and put a label to it. The second step is examine it. Once its identified, look at at in order to learn about it. Don’t worry so much about if it’s good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, just look at it to figure out what’s going on. Thirdly, evaluate it. Instead of jumping to acting on it (which most of us tend to do) evaluate it. Figure out which parts are godly and helpful, and which parts are selfish and destructive. It’s only through evaluation that you will know the proper way to respond to what you’re feeling. Finally, with all the other work done it is time to act. We are either going to nourish those things that are good, or starve those things that are bad. By doing these 4 steps, we are in a much better place to respond to the emotions we are feeling in a healthier way.

While this book has been helpful to help me process through what I’m feeling, I know the real work is ahead of me. This book has put a framework around the essentials required accurately and confidently step into the mess of my emotions, and come out the other side healthier, happier, and hopefully in a better place to help others do the same.

If you are anything like me and don’t like dealing with emotions, get this book. You can get it here.

Crying Out to the Lord

Quote from JC Ryle on Happiness