Did you know God designed our emotions to tell us specific things? Do you know what those things are? Emotional intelligence is much more important than many of us think, and learning what each emotion has to say can really increase you emotional IQ. The following article is an introduction to this important topic.
Emotions are unavoidable. As an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) type personality, I recognize that I have emotions, but for many years I only listened to the “happy” emotions, and even in church the negative emotions are nearly always classified as “BAD” emotions that are to be “avoided” (but should they really?) we might need to rethink this a bit.
For many years I completely ignored and sought to avoid a ton of “negative” emotions, hurts and traumas, because I did not know how to listen or rather hear or value what those emotions were designed to tell me. I didn’t know how or recognize the VALUE in these emotions or what they were trying to TELL ME or rather, WARN ME about. I did not understand that our emotions are another way God speaks to us and helps us recognize and handle situations appropriately in life as well as allows us to be sensitive to a move of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. My personality type further exacerbated the problem because it happens to be characterized by a low emotional intelligence. When you add to this natural bent the fact that our culture is very “stoic” in its approach to emotions and teaches us “stoicism” as a “virtue” today (i.e. stoicism is defined as “the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint” – Oxford Dictionary), it results in a culture largely devoid of emotional intelligence for the vast majority of people.
This combination of cultural training and natural bent eventually would come to a head when the Lord finally put me in a situation that would force me to begin to look at and deal with my emotions and my emotional intelligence. What is most interesting, is that most of us have strong empathic skills as children that we shut down through socialization as we get older, but these skills are so important and can have a significant impact on our overall mental, spiritual, and physical health.
God loves to push us where we least want to go, but he sent me to the “desert” (away from family, friends, and a community that we loved). This desert was both spiritual and literal (i.e. Phoenix, AZ), but it also forced me to deal with years of emotions, traumas, and betrayals that would for a season push me into further isolation and a loneliness that began to overwhelm me. At first, I did not know how to deal with these unresolved and seemingly un-resolvable traumas and the emotions that come with them (in part this was because my personality simply didn’t have the skills and did not know what to do). Typically, I just tried to stuff the emotions away (i.e. compartmentalize things) and so I ignored the negative emotions and tried to put my head down like a “good Marine” and just keep pushing forward. However, the one thing about stuffing one’s emotions that our culture does not tell you is that emotions are like water. Eventually the dam will get overrun and you will be forced to deal with the flood of emotions that at any moment could get unleashed, if those emotions are not properly directed down healthy “release” channels.
Add to this the fact that the stoicism of our culture is not biblical, nor Godly, and people today struggle and strain to be emotionless and “nonjudgmental” (i.e. what I mean by that is that our culture does not honor our emotions in a healthy way, nor do we often recognize what each type of emotion is DESIGNED to tell us about ourselves and others around us (including both the seen and unseen world). Often, we act as if we are “only to have” joy (the emotion) at all times, such that if anger, fear, or sadness, etc. rise up, this is viewed as “bad,” as if the emotion itself is “bad,” and must be avoided or rejected at all costs. But the Bible says otherwise.
Anger, for example is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It is a God given emotion that is trying to tell us a boundary has been crossed and needs to be re-established or restored (or addressed within ourselves if our perceptions were simply wrong in the situation).
When combined with other emotions, these emotional combinations should inform us of certain actions that need to be taken in order to DIRECT those emotions in a healthy, God honoring manner.
Childhood trauma and modern day “metaphysical views” today teach erroneously that emotions of a “negative kind” are signs of “imbalance,” of “incorrect thinking patterns,” of “insufficient detachment,” or of “improper spiritual development.” (McLaren, 20).
However, emotions are not “the root of all evil.” Emotions have very important things to tell us in order to build healthy relationships with God and others.
God’s Word says in Ephesians 4:26–27 states, “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity (or lit. a place).”
In other words, there is an imperative used here that says we are to “be angry” at times (else we give the devil an opportunity to exploit our avoidance of dealing with our anger appropriately, without sinning), because anger (and in this verse it refers to an initial irritation) helps us establish proper boundaries that are for our protection and privacy emotionally as well as physically.
Trauma removes our ability to feel and recognize proper boundaries, and anger normally RISES UP to try and tell us of our need to recognize and re-establish healthy and proper boundaries in our relationships.
Now if we keep reading in this passage, following the command to be angry but sin not, we note that there are two aspects to “NOT sinning WHILE angry” that are addressed. The first is physical and the second is with regard to our mouths.
Ephesians 4:28–30 continues saying:
“28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”
This first example uses theft. Theft generally occurs because someone has gotten angry at someone else because they have something that person wants, and the thief uses his anger to justify taking or stealing whatever it is he wants, i.e. his anger leads him to sin (i.e. theft). Thus, Paul notes that instead, the thief should work to earn what he wants and let his anger give him the energy to get a good job and sow good seeds so that through diligence and excellence he can receive what he desires and then be able to be generous toward others who are in need.
The second aspect goes on to discuss what we say when angry.
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
This second aspect of anger requires that we not allow our anger just fly directly out of our mouth, but instead, we are to hold our tongues back until we can say something edifying, according to the need of the situation. This does not mean what we say is always “positive” words (as they might need to include a firm but loving rebuke, with the heart and purpose of tough love that can restore broken relationships). But even when we need to confront someone on an issue, we still need to have the presence of mind to allow the fiery energy that the emotion of anger brings up to be properly directed at the ISSUE of the MOMENT and not against people in a manner that seeks to DESTROY THEM. Rather, the words, even if they are confrontational in nature, should carry the heart of GOD FOR RESTORING healthy boundaries within relationships and between people, guarding those relationships themselves.
30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
When we grieve the Holy Spirit, we have stopped the flow of LIVING WATER that is supposed to flow out of us in order to water our relationships with the love and truths of God and expressions of His good grace and abounding goodness toward us. When we fail to DIRECT our ANGER appropriately, we grieve the Holy Spirit and we STOP THE WATER FLOW, damming it up so that it is no longer a source of life and blessing to ourselves or others. In fact, water that stops flowing can get putrefied and bitter within our hearts, as envy or other types of offenses keep making the dam grow taller and stronger.
With that in mind, we need to recognize that our emotions, like WATER, carry different levels of ENERGY. Anger can rise up with POWERFUL energy that gives you the COURAGE to CONFRONT a broken boundary. When the powerful surges of energy that come forth with anger arises, we have to learn to direct it properly or it will damage others as well as ourselves, causing us to lose our witness. A tsunami of angry waves poured out in fits of rage on others results in an overwhelming sense of shame that can further break internal boundaries and trust within one’s own heart toward oneself. Rather than handle the situation intelligently, in a way that DIRECTS the emotion and does not attack a person but addresses the issues that need to be addressed either in ourselves, or with others, is the goal that every believer should strive to achieve. Knowing the simple principles behind what each emotion is “telling us,” allows believers to have greater insight and ability to create and maintain healthy relationships, which will enable us to better love God and our neighbor.
Remember, anger can bubble under the surface without recognition, particularly for those with trauma issues.
Therefore, the first step in gaining a proper perspective of and having healthy emotions is to start to pay attention to and RECOGNIZE, IDENTIFY, & NAME the emotion(s) one is having. Then ASK THE KEY QUESTIONS related to that emotion [more details will follow in future programs/blog posts]. And finally, TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTIONS to LISTEN TO the message BEHIND those emotions, in order to more effectively DEAL WITH, address, or otherwise handle and then DIRECT those emotions appropriately.
Thus, the basic approach is:
STEP 1: RECOGNIZE your emotional state
STEP 2: IDENTIFY what emotion you are having or feeling (or combination of emotions)
STEP 3: NAME IT (or them), ex. “I’m feeling angry and fearful”
STEP 4: ASK THE KEY QUESTIONS for that (those) emotion(s) [more details will be forthcoming]
STEP 5: TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTIONS to deal with and DIRECT that emotion(s) appropriately, without sinning against others in the process.
With this overview in mind, we will begin to go into greater depth and discussion related to each of the typical human emotions most of us deal with on a regular basis and what God designed each of these emotions to “tell us” that will help us develop greater overall emotional intelligence, especially for those of us who are deficient in this area of our personality!