Whilst negative emotions may be inconvenient, they are actually part of the normal healthy workings of your amazing mind. And their job is to get your attention when something going on around you MATTERS (or might matter) - so just trying to ignore them doesn’t make them go away. In fact, doing this - or suppressing your emotions (pushing them down and trying not to feel them or let them show) - actually tends to make them grow, or bubble up to the surface at times when you least want them to - when you want to be feeling happy, or times when you are vulnerable, tired or on your own.
Psalm 139:14 says I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
This includes our emotions! It's SO important we get this - otherwise, we take what we’re already struggling with and add either guilt (I shouldn’t be feeling this way, I am a bad person) or fear (why am I feeling this way, is there something wrong with me?) - and that is never helpful.
So to understand HOW we should deal with them we need to understand the WHY of how God made them part of us.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Ok - a bit of background - did you know there are basically 3 parts to an emotional reaction?…
1 - A PHYSICAL CHANGE
This is something you can feel - your heart racing, that sick feeling in your stomach, feeling flat or low in energy.
This has two main purposes - firstly and most importantly you NOTICE IT - so it stops you in your tracks and makes sure you pay attention to whatever is going on.
Secondly, it sets you up in case you need to DO SOMETHING - so that’s:
2 - Being READY TO ACT/REACT
This is again related to the physical change prepping your body in case you need to run or fight or something else. But it also triggers changes in your brain focusing your attention, making you hyper aware of any little changes or signs it might be time to go.
3 - Emotions MAKE YOU THINK & ANALYSE - what IS going on?
We know that if we give you a medication that triggers the physical changes like the ones you associate with an emotion then people will immediately start to look around them and come up with reasons they are feeling that emotion - even if they know that they aren’t really, and it is all because of the medication! So emotions really grab our thinking mind and make sure we pay attention and work out what is going on that we might need to respond to.
Hopefully, this is a short-lived reaction - once you’ve decided whether you need to react, the emotion can die down. And that certainly works if it is a short term challenge - like a bear jumping out at you or you dropping your phone in the toilet (hey we’ve all been there).
The problem is a lot of life’s significant stuff is not like that - so you might experience emotions like anxiety in the long run-up to exams almost every day, or find yourself feeling something REALLY awkward like jealousy or anger EVERY time you think of a situation. So managing those kind of emotions is more tricky.
Of course you can’t ALWAYS act or react how you please. Needing to suppress or control your emotions is a part of healthy adult maturity (groan) - we can’t all have toddler style tantrums every time life doesn’t go our way. But we need to find appropriate ways to express and process our emotions too.
Did you know - Jesus was an AMAZING example when it comes to people - because he was FULLY human but also FULLY God - meaning he experienced the things we do as people but WITHOUT sin! So this was God actually LIVING in the brain and body he designed in the best possible way!! And … he experienced a whole range of emotions!!
These include sorrow and crying (eg John 11:35), joy (Luke 10:21, grief (Luke 23:28), anger (Mark 3:5), anguish and anxiety (Matthew 26:37), wonder (Luke 7:9), deep distress (Mark 3:5) and frustration (Luke 9:41).
About what your emotions ‘make’ you do …
Now - let’s be clear - the bible does not say that having an emotion is an excuse for acting in the wrong way. In fact, it is very clear that we must be careful about the consequences of our emotions and the things they might lead us to do.
Ephesians 4:26 makes it very clear: “Don’t let the passion of your emotions lead you to sin!” So the world might say that if you feel it you should do it - but that ISN’T what the bible says - we are advised to be slow to act/react and to take time to think/pray/reflect before we do.
In particular, sometimes difficult emotions make us more likely to do things that feel like they will help - but actually, in the long run, make things MUCH worse and MORE complex, not less. So many mental and emotional health struggles start when we’re facing emotions we don’t know what to do with. So if that’s you don’t feel bad but do find someone you can chat to.
Remember - emotional maturity is not the ABSENCE of difficult emotions but the ABILITY to manage them in a helpful and right way. Finding the right people and places to help us process what we’re feeling is really important.