If we agree that it a normal, human experience to respond to life with various emotions, and if we also agree that emotions are powerful in shaping our actions, we should also agree that it is of utmost importance to deal with, manage, express, and (insert verb here) the myriad emotions we face in life.
I open my eyes and see my alarm clock. 8:30 AM. My mind groggily takes in the flashing snooze light and in an instant, like a sucker punch to the stomach, I realize the utter horror– I am supposed to fly out of Chicago Midway Airport at 9:00 AM. I jump out of bed and automatically the words that fly out of my mouth are “oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…” with ever increasing volume. I run around my previously quiet apartment like a madman, confused, still noticing the unpacked clothes that I had promised to pack when I woke up at 6 am the night before. In a frenzy, still muttering to myself, I throw clothes into my suitcase. I stop midway to run around my apartment, until I scream, AHHHHHH. And punch the wall with rage and fury. Errr, more like slap the wall in a hissy fit. But either way it hurt.
Anyways, long story short, i made the flight (thank God for Southwest’s 2 hour grace period and thank God for a nice and road ragey cab driver) but was perplexed at how strong of a reaction I had. Why did I hit the wall (I’ve never done anything even remotely like that before)? Why did I feel the need to mutter “O Crap” to myself multiple times? None of that actually did anything and perhaps was counter productive to my goal of getting on a plane (and not having a sore hand).
Kinda like this young man:
Which leads me to something that has come up in my men’s group which I’ve been processing this past year:
We must learn to express emotions in healthy, appropriate ways.
Most people either do not express emotions enough which leads us to express emotions in inappropriate ways.
Here are my inappropriate or at the very least unhelpful ways of expressing emotions:
- #1: passive aggressiveness. I am mad at someone for failing to meet my expectations. I have no idea how to express that anger except to do things to annoy him or indirectly express my disappointment. It kind of makes me feel better, especially when I jab him from afar, but it doesn’t make the situation better. It exacerbates it. I do this ALL the time. Inappropriate way
- #2: mocking people in my head. Does this sound weird? When I’m mad at you, I probably won’t say something, but I will mock the heck out of you in my mind. I’ll criticize you, insult you and think of lots of witty things to say against you, and its much better to keep that to myself than open myself up for attack. NG! NG!
- #3: doing stupid things like muttering to myself, screaming, singing. The best way that I can describe what happens is that I have so many feelings inside I have to just spout out nonsense words, songs or move around. I think this way is mostly reserved when I’ve done stupid things that make me respond emotionally against myself.
Have you ever done stupid things because you were unaware of your emotions? When I broke up with my girlfriend a few years ago, I was utterly confused. I did not know why I did it. I did not know what I felt. I did not even know what I wanted. I made a confused decision and remained confused for MONTHS upon MONTHS. I experienced a bizarre type of emotional paralysis. I was unable to determine what I wanted and make any type of decision because I was so tangled up and confused. In short, I got to a point where I was stripped of any personal sense of agency.
Here was I believe was my struggle at the core: I was unable to identify my emotions. There were so many strong and complex feelings that were mixing together, overlapping and causing me stress and anguish, I did not have the emotional ability to parse them out.
So I descended into depression and despair. I randomly cried during stupid movies and various unrelated situations, kinda like in that one scene of Dumb and Dumber.
I randomly got furious at myself, God, everyone. I had bizarre dreams. In the deepest darkest time, all I knew was that I did not want to be in this situation and found as many ways possible to escape. I did so by turning towards TV shows, Battlestar Galactica, to be specific.
What made this worse and worse was the fact that I was in full time ministry. I felt like I had to be “farther along” in my emotional maturity. So I settled for easy answers. Cliched Christian axioms. God is good, God is faithful, things will work out for the better. Truths, no doubt, but for me they were just bumper stickers.
I wanted to be over everything, so I convinced myself that I was in a much better place than I really was. I am, after all, an expert in appearing holy and mature. You might say even a professional! But at my core I was still hurt, bitter and above all confused. Deep in my soul there was a tiny voice that cried for answers, truth, light… and my inner pharisee refused to engage.
The turning point was through the help of prayer, friends, spiritual mentors I started to find clarity and was invited and challenged to take off all my fake masks and my feel free from the desire to appear OK and healed. I was able to own the fact that I was a broken man, which opened the door for real change. After a long long time, I began to identify and EMBRACE some few key emotions surrounding the breakup: I was scared of the idea of marriage. I was angry at God for allowing me to misunderstand him. I was sad, remorseful and most of all angry at myself for messing up a great relationship. And many others. But identifying and acknowledging the emotions was the key breakthrough in starting to move forward.
As I started to realize and own these emotions like dirty laundry, I realized their power over me, while still great, diminished tremendously. Just the fact that I could say to myself, to God and others that I Was angry at myself for what I had done, allowed me to feel a little bit more like I had a handle on the emotions that were controlling me.
I think there is more than just expressing emotions, but I feel like it has been the first and critical step in starting to offer my WHOLE self to God and for me to actually be conformed into the image of Christ from the inside out and not just behavior modification. I believe Christ wants my whole self, emotions (however confused and twisted they may be) and all.
Anyways, as I wrap this baby up, let me ask you, blogosphere:
- Do you have trouble expressing your emotions?
- Have you ever found yourself being controlled by emotions you were previously unaware of?
- Have you ever done something stupid because you were unaware of your emotions?