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.
Reflect on:; Proverbs 14:10; 15:13; 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 (see other “Seeking Balance” articles), 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.
Reflect on: John 1:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:26-27; Romans 1:7; 3:24; II Corinthians 12:8-10
Accept responsibility for your emotions. Only then will you learn to face the reasons they were triggered and manage your responses to others. They may be influenced by hereditary factors and family dynamics or experiences beyond your control. Only you, however, can take responsibility for your ability to strategize and make changes in how you cope with your own emotional reactions.
Reflect on: I John 1:6-10;Revelation 3:19-20; Gal.6:4-5;Psalm 51
Monitor yourself. You have a tendency to resist in your partner what you suppress in yourself. In more intimate relationships, you may express anger at your spouse for being scared, depressed, or embarrassed. Use these times as opportunities to examine yourself for the same emotion you see in others that upsets you. Ask yourself “why am I feeling this way”?
Reflect on: I Corinthians 11:28;II Cor. 13:5; Ephesians 4:26-27
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.
Reflect on: Matt. 7:1-5; II Cor. 10:3-5; I Peter 1:6-9, 13-16
Respond, don’t react. This will be hard. Reactions are automatic; responses require thought. Think over the big picture and evaluate your best response. This gives time for your limbic system and its “fight or flight response” to settle down. It also engages the cortex of your brain, and you will be a better parent, spouse, or friend as a result. You will be able to refrain from saying things you would regret later. In other words, do not correct others or discuss important things while angry.
Reflect on: James1:19-20; Romans 12:2; Proverbs 12:16; 15:1,18; 21:23-24; Eph. 4:26
This article was originally published on the Hammonton Gazette, October 2018 and has been modified into a new format.