Using Emotions As Effective Tools

I believe for many people, myself included, the jury is still out on the value of our feelings/emotions. I have sat with many individuals who have shared that their experiences with their feelings have been either avoided, de-valued, swept under the rug, or ignored. I have begun to wonder if society has done humanity a disservice when it comes to our relationship with our feelings. We have put feelings into categories of good or bad, comfortable or uncomfortable, positive or negative. We create a relationship with the good, comfortable or positive emotions and ignore, judge, and devalue the bad, negative or uncomfortable ones. 

Under this guise, good emotions tend to be happiness, excitement, joy, and elation; While bad emotions are sadness, fear, anxiousness, anger, frustration, disappointment, regret, and resentment. These are only a few of such an extensive list. Any feelings that do not connect with feeling happy are considered bad, and are pushed away and ignored. Our emotions and feelings drive our reactions and behaviours. If we are feeling confident, happy or calm about a situation, our reaction will be different than if we are feeling anxious, concerned or fearful of the same situation. 

What if we shifted our relationship with emotions from placing them in categories of good or bad to viewing them as tools to help us navigate and make sense of our experiences? God created us as intricate and complex beings WITH emotions. To ignore or devalue our emotions is to say they are not important. So now what? If we can change the relationship we have with our emotions and see them as valuable tools, we can approach them with curiosity and use them to assist us in healthy decision-making. 

Check out the following three steps to put this mind-shift into action. 

First, pay attention to the physiological response you have to an emotion. These physiological responses may include an increased heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, headache, etc. The physiological response you have to an emotion typically lasts 90 seconds. 90 seconds! After 90 seconds the sensation decreases or shifts. 

Second, take time to be curious about what emotion or feeling you are experiencing. Once you have identified the emotion, work to connect the dots between the emotion and the triggering situation or experience. Sometimes it may be obvious, other times it may not be, but it is OK to sit with the emotion as you figure it out. 

Third, work toward forward movement. 

Here is a personal example to bring clarity to this process.

In the summer, I was heading to work on a beautiful morning. My family was off from work and school for the summer and they had planned to do a new hike. I was thinking about the fun they were going to have together and I began to feel the stinging sensation in my nose – a signal tears were coming. At that moment, I decided to sit with the sensation and be curious about what was happening. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth, while paying attention to the stinging sensation. After a short time, I noticed the sensation change and slowly subside (step 1). 

Upon reflection, I realized I was feeling sad to miss out on the family fun. This connection made sense and I gave myself permission to feel sad (step 2). 

Once this feeling was validated, I experienced a desire to move forward. My feelings were real and had value, but I also wanted to move forward so I could enjoy my day and engage in the work ahead of me. To move forward, I reminded myself that my family would tell me all about it later that evening. I assured myself I could go with them another time. Then I took time to pray for them. Moving through this process helped me untangle myself from the feeling of sadness. I was able to go through my day in a better headspace than if I had stayed stuck in my sadness.

Initially working through our emotional processes can be difficult, but the more we learn to sit with our emotions the more intuitive our movement through them can become. When we allow ourselves to process with curiosity rather than judgement, we change the narrative. We communicate, “My emotions are valid, important and there is a lot I can learn from them.” From this narrative we begin to recognize that in order to heal, we need to first begin to feel. 

Ecclesiastes 3:4-6 says there is, “A time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance, a time to cast stones away, and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to seek, and a time to lose, a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” I believe this passage speaks to the benefit of learning how to sit with the vast array of emotions we experience. And when we embrace our emotions, it seems God begins to reveal Himself in new and wonderful ways through our emotional responses. 

Consider the story in John 20 in which Jesus revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene. 

“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

(John 20:11-16)

In Mary’s grief, Jesus met her and revealed Himself to her. The question, “why are you crying?” appears to be a gentle desire to connect with her in her grief rather than a stern rebuke. It was in her grief that He revealed Himself to her. What a beautiful extension of love from God to Mary. 

Have you ever had a similar experience in which God met you in a deep emotional space? Have there been times when He has revealed Himself to you through your grief, joy, anxiety, anger, or hurt? If so, I’m happy for you! 

Maybe for some of you, though, this is something you desire but struggle to experience firsthand? Interacting with God is sometimes an abstract, difficult to quantify experience. It is beautiful, yet can also seem allusive and frustrating. Raising emotional awareness can help, but if you feel stuck in your relationship with Him, perhaps consider booking an appointment to talk with one of our faith-integrative therapists. We’d love to walk with you as you seek deeper connection with Him.

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