Saturday, July 2, 2016

Horrible, Helpful Emotions

There are all sorts of views out there on emotions.  From 'Let your emotions be your guide' to 'Ignore your emotions and focus only on your thoughts', with a whole heap of other ideas in between.

I'm discovering a few things about myself, when it comes to working out what to do with my own emotions. 

As a mentioned last time, there are a lot of emotions that I don't feel deeply.

However, I've noticed that paying attention to difficult feelings can be extremely helpful: My feelings often are an indication that I need to straighten out my thinking, or make positive changes in my life.  At other times, feelings just are there, to be lived with until they fade.

My difficult emotions seem to fall roughly into three categories:

A) Feelings That Help Me Identify My Idols

By 'Idol' I mean anything, or anyone, who has become more important to me than God.  If I'm seeking after something or someone else at the expense of seeking after God, then I consider it an idol.

*If I'm crushed after a conversation with someone because I wasn't affirmed by them, then for me that's a sign that I care too much what they think.  Their positive opinion of me matters more to me than anything else, and has become an idol. 

*Sometimes my plans are my idols.  Whether it's staying in a location or a role that I love, taking part in a certain event, or even my family size.  When these desires more important to me than following God on the journey through life, wherever it might lead, my plans have become idols.

*When 'wanting to be helpful' goes from being a healthy desire to being an unhealthy 'need', then I'll notice it in my feelings.  If losing an opportunity to help someone brings out extreme emotions in me, then I can tell that this desire to be helpful has become an idol for me.

*If the thought of pressing 'send' on an email fills me with dread because of my fear of making a mistake, then I know that my desire to get things right has become too important to me.

(To stop this post from getting even longer, I started a new blog post to describe how I attempt to confront these idols!)

Please note: I'm not saying that every feeling is an indication of an unhealthy desire!!  Often, our emotions are just natural, healthy responses to things that are going on around or within us.  Which leads me on to:

B) Feelings That Are Normal Responses To Life Events:

*I remember when a close friend left on home assignment.  I found myself all tearful shortly afterwards and realised I must be feeling sad about the separation.  The tears were a healthy reaction (even if non-emotional-me did take a while to realise what was happening!).

*I feel sad when we say goodbye to our parents, knowing that they may not see their grandchildren again for a few years.

*Sometimes I feel sad and/or angry over an injustice.  I might even cry or weep.  This seems like a natural, healthy reaction to a undesirable situation.   This normal, healthy reaction can be helpful in leading me into positive action such as fervent prayer, or doing something practical about a situation.

*I might feel uncomfortable if I've just said 'no' to someone.  This feeling of discomfort can be the price we pay for making healthy decisions.  (Not that I always make the best decisions; but sometimes it's the wisest decisions that leave us feeling most uncomfortable!)

*There are times when I'll be in a bad mood for no discernible reason, or because of hormones.  It might be helpful to consider whether I can do anything to improve the issues (eg taking better care of my body).   But usually I just need to remind myself that it will pass, distract myself as much as possible, and try to focus on being kind with my words at a time when it isn't easy to do so!

The last category is for times when my feelings are important in telling me that something is wrong, and that change is needed in order for me to stay healthy:

 C) Feelings That Show Me I Need To Do Something Differently

*If I find myself flooded with negative emotions and thoughts, it can be a sign I need to get more sleep.  Of course I can't guarantee that I'll be able to sleep well, or that I won't be woken up in the night, but I can at least put myself to bed at a sensible time, and have an evening routine that is conducive to good sleep.

*Sometimes a difficult feeling (eg guilt, shame, jealousy) is because of an issue that still needs to be worked through, or needs to be worked through yet again. 

*Occasionally a situation just feels 'wrong'.  That doesn't necessarily mean we need to jump to immediate conclusions based on our feelings.  But if we ignore the feeling and don't stop to think (and perhaps talk) about what's actually going on, we may find ourselves sinking deeper into messy situations or relationships.

*Although many feelings are normal responses to difficult situations and just need to be felt, sometimes we get a bit stuck when dealing with them and need further help (eg from a friend, a professional or a book).

So to sum up, I try to deal with difficult emotions by asking myself:

1) Is there an idol in my life that I need to surrender?
2) Is this just a normal reaction to a difficult situation?
3) Is there something I need to do or work through differently?

These are great topics for me to bring up in prayer!

And this is real life, so the answer is likely to fall into more than one category :-)

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