One of my favorite artists growing up was Mariah Carey (obviously). I thought I could sing just like her. (I couldn’t.) I wore her tapes out! Her second album…I would wail along to the title track in my bedroom, assured that I was matching her note for note. (I wasn’t.) Emotions: they sounded so awesome, to hear Mariah tell it. Energizing, empowering and eclipsing.
In reality, I’ve found emotions pretty daunting most of my life and am still in process of becoming a more integrated person as far as they are concerned.
Here are a few lessons on emotions that I’ve been reflecting on lately:
All of our emotions are created by God. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have them…they wouldn’t exist.
Therefore, there must be a way that each emotion can be experienced in a healthy and full way. The problem isn’t the existence of emotions. Problems arise when emotions are made too big or too little in our lives.
We don’t get to pick which emotions are felt when. If you’ve been taught how (and this is something we could discuss in counseling) you can “name it and claim it” and experience some diffusion of the emotion, but that’s about it in terms of emotional control. Unfortunately, we are not super humans, able to call each emotion into reality that we desire to experience…leaping over dark and ominous emotions in a single bound. We are just regular humans…a condition more frail than most of us had hoped for.
Our emotions arise within us as we go through life. (And aren’t we glad they do?! Because this process can be very helpful to guide and inform us if we let it. And it means we aren’t robots.) If you believe that you have the ability to control your emotions, this means you’re especially skilled at utilizing minimization, suppression, or intellectualism in an attempt to dress the emotion up or cram it into a closet in the back of your heart/mind. Rest assured…it will find its way out. I can be pretty awesome at those things and I’m trying to grow in this area, too. I’ve written more on this topic here.
Some people are scared by big positive emotions. These folks typically been overwhelmed by negative emotions in the past, and wish to avoid that happening again, so they squash the good stuff, like excitement, joy, love and hope.
Other people go the more classic route of attempting to squash negative emotions like disappointment, hurt, rejection or vulnerability. The motivation is the same: self-protection. To this end, we attempt to insulate ourselves. We try to convince ourselves that we don’t really want something, we try to cut disappointment off at the pass by disengaging from hope first, we try to see negative emotions coming from miles off and create a path around them. We think this is doing ourselves a favor and we high-five ourselves for being so wise. But the problem with self-protection is that in order to diminish your capacity to hurt, you also diminish your capacity to experience the best that life has to offer.
It’s honestly so hard being a human. It’s such a vulnerable condition. So much risk. So much potential hurt. And as it turns out, we are just regular humans. Not super humans, as we had hoped.
Here’s a teeny bit of good news. No healthy way exists to protect ourselves form negative emotions. But there are some perks to being “just a human.”
There’s a verse in the Old Testament of the Bible that states, “For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are from dust” (Psalm 103:14). This statement harkens back to the creation story when God created Adam out of the clay of the earth and breathed life into him. How beautiful it is to remember that God knows how frail and basic it is to be a human. We weren’t created to be gods, angles, superheroes or robots. We were created to be humans…from dust. And God knows that means we will need a lot of help.
So even in the midst of wanting to self-protect and shove our emotions down so we aren’t so vulnerable and at risk, there comes some assurance in the knowledge that part of being a human is to live with the full scope of human emotion: positive and negative. As we learn to navigate our way through this reality, we have the help of the creator of humans and the creator of emotions, So we don’t need to learn to control our emotions so much as experience them fully and to remember, like God does, that we are all from dust anyway. We can take it easy on ourselves and have proper expectations. Not superhero expectations.
You can borrow this line from my self-talk, “It’s ok…I’m just a regular human…not a super human. My emotions don’t always fall in line the way that I want. But it’s ok. I can stay engaged and not self-protect even without knowing the outcome because I’ve faced big emotions in the past and survived. It’s all just part of being a human.”
I’m not Mariah Carey. I’m not a robot. I’m just a human.
We are all “from dust,” but that reality points us back to the Creator, who is not from dust, and he can be trusted with our frail and vulnerable lives.