Emotions are automatic, instinctive reactions within us to circumstances and relationships with others. The television news channel may stir negative feelings within you. Your spouse may inspire positive responses upon your return home. Perhaps you react to the misbehavior of a child, or the warmth of a phone call from a distant friend. Emotions are triggered deep in our limbic system resulting in a wide range of feelings.
Our brain develops habits and patterns of responding to different situations resulting in our feelings. When they are stuck in a negative state, such as anxiety, depression, shame, or anger, reactions seem to take over, often in an overwhelming manner. We feel like we have no control over the emotions we are experiencing.
Reflect on the emotions of each person in: Genesis 42:1 – 46:34; I Kings3:16-28; II Peter 2:12-15; Luke 22:39-62 & Matthew 27:1-5
From a Biblical perspective, our emotions are a part of our inner life, or the heart. Apart from Christ, we seem like simply a “higher order” animal, as evolutionary theory postulates. In Christ, however, our true identity is discovered, made in the image of God, created for fellowship with Him and with purpose given to us by Him. Either way, our emotions are part of our normal human experience, with both positive feelings like joy or excitement, and negative feelings such as scared, sad or angry.
“The heart knows its own bitterness,
And a stranger does not share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10
“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face,
But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 15:13
Reflect on John 14:27; 16:6; Psalm 69:20; 73:21-22; 84:2; II Peter 2:12-15
While each emotion we experience can be managed through more specific strategies, there are general principles which are helpful to understand as you seek self-mastery over negative emotional states.
Non-judgmental self-acceptance. Tune in to emotions and accept what you feel. Reacting negatively to your feelings will only lead to more emotional turmoil within you. Awareness is necessary. Not judging yourself for feeling angry, anxious, or depressed, is a starting point foundational to the change strategies noted in the rest of this article.
“Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:8-10
Reflect on John 1:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:26-27; Romans 1:7; 3:24
Challenge your thinking. If you have developed ways of thinking that are judgmental or if you tend to magnify negative events and minimize positive experiences, learn to challenge these unhealthy thought patterns. The same applies if you are overly critical of yourself or see everything as a threat to you. Many other negative thought patterns can be identified and thus can be changed.
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matt. 7:1-5
Reflect on II Cor. 10:3-5; I Peter 1:6-9, 13-16
Distract yourself. When you find yourself ruminating about something upsetting, a distraction technique can help. You can redirect your mind to something more positive and rewarding. An example might be learning to give thanks or to focus on what you are grateful for in general.
“ Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8
Reflect on Hebrews 11:32-12:4; II Corinthians 10:3-5; Psalm 19:1
Value love. Whether friendship or marriage, parent or child, an unselfish love is to be valued highly for the sake of one’s emotional health. Paradoxically, it is by tuning into others, not ourselves, that our own need for love becomes fulfilled. Love will motivate the repair of broken relationships and unity with others. It will also bring emotional balance to your life with the fruit of having other positive emotional experiences.
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
Reflect on I Corinthians 13:1-13; I John 4:7-21, Heb. 10:24-25; Eph.3:14-19, 4:11-16; John 13:34-35
Next week we will continue Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions.
Modified from article originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, October 2018.