“The deepest pain I ever felt was denying my own feelings to make everyone else comfortable.” (Nicole Lyons)
There is great pain in rejecting your feelings, denying your needs, disowning your desires, eventually you starve yourself so much that you die inside. You no longer even know who you are, you feel so little and insignificant, you loose your voice, your power, your passion and everything that once defined you as an individual. At first glance one wouldn’t think that our emotions can be such a defining factor in who we are and how we are known. But the truth is that our emotions are a critical part of who we are and how we are designed. God gave you your emotions for a reason. You are created in His image and your emotions are a reflection of that image. When you deny your emotions you are denying a part of who God is and how he created you to function.
Let’s start by setting the record straight. Feelings are feelings. They are not good or bad. Some are certainly more pleasant to experience then others, but in and of themselves they are neither good nor bad. Feelings are designed to feel; not to think. We are to take the information provided by our feelings and couple that with facts in order to make a decision. If we were to allow our feelings to think for us we would only do what feels good and we would avoid everything that feels bad. This would certainly put us in a very bad situation in just a short amount of time.
There are three levels of emotions; primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary emotions are the body’s first reaction to something that has happened. These emotions come on almost immediately and are strong and transient. There are eight primary emotions; anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame. These basic emotions will be experienced in varying combinations and degrees of intensity which create the multitude of feelings one can actually experience.
Secondary emotions are much more complex because they often refer to the feelings you have about the primary emotion. For example if your child runs into the road you might initially feel fear, but you might also feel and express the secondary emotion of anger. Secondary emotions are our response to our understanding of the initial emotion. These emotions may intensify with time.
Tertiary emotions are even more complex then secondary emotions. Tertiary emotions are the layer of emotions that are on top of the secondary emotions and cover all of the other emotions.
When we allow our emotions to do what they are designed to do they can provide us with valuable information about our needs and our condition. Just like in our physical bodies we have nerve endings to alert us to danger or pleasure we have emotional nerve endings that alert us to things we need.
Here are some examples:
When we feel ANGER it let’s us know we need to create and protect our boundaries.
When we feel FEAR it let’s us know we need safety.
When we feel HAPPINESS it let’s us know we have a level of satisfaction.
When we feel SADNESS it let’s us know we need to grieve.
When we feel GUILT it let’s us know we need to correct something.
When we feel SHAME it let’s us know we need approval or acceptance.
When we feel HURT it let’s us know we need healing.
When we feel LONELY it let’s us know we need relationship.
It is not wrong to have feelings or needs. You have the right to experience all your feelings and to seek to get your needs met. Feelings are part of what make you unique and define you as a person. No one has the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t feel! Your feelings are yours and yours alone. You have the right to express your feelings through words and actions. However along with this right, there is also a responsibility to express your feelings in such a manner that it doesn’t infringe on the rights of other individuals. You have the responsibility manage your feelings. This is done by identifying, acknowledging, accepting and expressing your feelings. For some people these can be daunting tasks. Feelings can feel vulnerable, mushy and uncontrollable. Victims of long term abuse and trauma, may have chosen to cut themselves off from their ability to feel in an effort to protect their emotional safety. Other individuals may have a “quick trigger” when it comes to emotional flare ups and outbursts, this may also act as a protective factor to provide a sense of control and power.
For some individuals it is difficult to identify what emotions they are feeling. Sometimes it is simply due to not have a large “feeling” word vocabulary. You may find it helpful to search the internet for a list of feeling words so that you are better able to express your emotions. For other individuals, particularly for individuals who have cut themselves off from allowing themselves to feel or have needs, they may not be aware of what they are feeling and will need to take some time to be intentional in thinking about what they are feeling. This can be done by sitting and paying attention to what you are feeling without judging what emotions you think you should have. Instead just accept the emotions that you do have.
Sometimes emotions come on so strongly that an individual may worry that they will be completely overtaken by the emotion if they choose to allow themselves to experience it. In these instances it may help if you allow yourself to experience the emotion and think of, or visualize it as a wave. Allow yourself to experience the emotion, and remember that it will pass over you and you will again experience calm. Just like ocean waves will vary in frequency and intensity the same is true for emotions. Just remember that in time the overwhelming emotions will subside and there will again be peace.
Sometimes the physical, mental and emotional toll that is being experienced seems insurmountable and there is nothing that can be done to change the situation you are experiencing. In these instances it may be helpful to remember the serenity prayer as you learn to embrace with acceptance the “things you cannot change”. It may be helpful to have a list of self soothing things you can do to help you get through those challenging moments while you are waiting for the emotions to pass.
David is one of my favorite bible characters. He was always going to God with all kinds of emotions. He is filled with passion and that passion translates to life and energy. I can only imagine the delight on God’s face as David worships Him with his whole being. How painful it must have been as God watched David fall into the sins of adultery and murder. However, through it all God loved him, God did not punish him for having the emotions that he had, it was his actions that invoked the consequences, not the emotions. In fact, even after all of that God refers to David as a man after His own heart.
While we serve and unchanging and faithful God, we certainly do not serve a God that is non-emotional. In his word he talks about being loving, delighted, angry, jealous, passionate, joyful, sorrowful, and the list goes on and on. Since we are created in His image we also get to experience all of those emotions. He understands that we feel fear, desire, sorrow, despair, anger and a vast amount of other emotions. His heart breaks for those who are suffering. He sees you in your distress. He sees you struggling day in and day out. He sees you in your happy moments, and rejoices with you. You are not invisible to him. Your emotional pain is not invisible to him. He cares deeply about all that you are going through. He longs for you to come to him with all of your emotions and to freely express them to Him.
Just like David we all have emotions that are longing and needing to be experienced and expressed. If we are willing to take our all of our emotions to God, the challenging ones as well as the pleasant ones, we will be less likely to fall into temptation. God longs to be our comforter, our prince of peace, and our source of hope. You can confidently bring all your emotions into the presence of God knowing that He understands, accepts, and loves you.
You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent Lord my God I will praise you. (Psalm 30:11-12)
Cast your cares on t he Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22)
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed and a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
“I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:25)
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart? I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
You know that I sometimes feel like an emotional mess. You know that at times I can go from joyous to sobbing to furious to fearful in less then a minute. I admit that I don’t always appreciate being a hot mess of emotions. I admit that I often try to ignore my emotions just get through my day. Help me to appreciate the fact that I am created in your image and that part of that means that I am emotional. Give me the courage to experience and express my emotions in ways that will be glorifying to you. Help me to learn to understand your heart better as I seek to understand and accept my own heart. Help me to show others who I really am by being willing to be emotionally vulnerable with them. Keep my eyes open to the needs of others in their suffering just as you are open to me in my suffering. Thank you for the gift of emotions. Thank you for caring about how I feel.
In Jesus Name-Amen
REFLECTIONS: Where do you fall the continuum of being cut of from experiencing your emotions to being a raging hot bed full of emotional expression? What emotions seem to consume most of your days currently? How good are you at expressing your emotions, needs and desires to others in ways that are honoring to God? Which of the verses above resonate with you in this moment and why?
ACTIVITY OPTIONS: 1.) Keep a feelings diary. Write down one word that describes how you felt in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night. Journal about what prompted each of those feelings. 2.) Find a feelings word guide and practice expressing your feelings using feeling words with people in your life. For example “I felt happy when you…….” or “I felt hurt when you…..” 3.) Take some time during the day to acknowledge and experience what you feel in the moment without judging the feeling. 4.) Create a list of positive pleasurable things you can do when your feelings feel like they will overwhelm you. 5.) Read in the book of Psalms and find Psalms that connect with how you are feeling. Pray that Psalm back to God.