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Navigating Your Emotions

“Emotions are a wonderful servant but a terrible master,” – Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart.

It’s accurate to say that I’ve spent most of my life trying to dress up my emotions in suits and important little hats and pass them off as intelligent sounding thoughts. I’m not sure if it’s how I was raised or if it’s a reflection of culture (or a mixture of both), but somewhere along the line I started valuing emotions less than thoughts. My family of origin was more intellectually driven and a strong opinion was always welcomed. Additionally, a social stigma exists for being “too emotional” and society really responds well to rational, logical people who don’t get upset by much. For these reasons and more, I can tend to overly rely on my logic.

Freedom in this area has come by embracing my emotions…rather than viewing them as thoughts that aren’t falling in line or facts that I can try to dispute. Humans were created as cognitive and emotional beings, and life is best lived when both are freely incorporated into who we are. Attempting to navigate life by only using your emotions or only using your thoughts is denying half of how God intended you to go through life. Instead of cutting off part of who God made me to be, health looks like making friends with my feelings on their own terms, so I can receive them for the gifts that they are.

We were given emotions to serve as guideposts and signs to us along the way to affirm how to proceed through life. Trying to navigate our way through life without freely experiencing emotions is like trying to travel across the country with only half a map. You’re making the whole trip a lot less enjoyable because you’re making it a lot harder than it’s meant to be.

Here are some typical ways that people try to sneak by without dealing with their emotions:

Rationalizing/Intellectualizing: this tactic focuses on why something makes rational sense, so therefore it shouldn’t be accompanied by much emotional response.

Minimizing/Joking: people who are awesome at this strategy will minimize the impact of the loss/event by saying something like “it could’ve been worse,” or making light of the event through humor.

Getting defensive: this scenario is the classic “puff up so no one notices how upset you are” routine.

Suppressing/Denial: similar to some of the above methods, this tactic is one where the person tries to effectively numb out their feelings by stuffing them down…out of sight and out of mind.

How often do you disengage from how your feeling by running to “strong” thoughts instead? (Ie., coming across as angry instead of expressing that your feelings are hurt.)

By staying in touch with how someone or something makes you FEEL (even especially in the “scarier” more vulnerable emotions), you are able to experience richer relationships with others and have much more clarity in decision making.

Here’s my challenge to you: don’t disengage from your feelings or discharge discomfort by picking an argument or standing behind strong logical points. Be kind to yourself. Don’t avoid your real emotions…even if they’re somewhat irrational for a while. Don’t rush or rationalize. Feeling through your emotions gives them the space to breath and arrive at the most honest conclusion. Only then will you be embracing your full humanity. And that sure sounds a lot like freedom.

As always, if this conversation brings anything up for you, please reach out and set up a time for counseling to come in and talk.