Emotions are Guides
Befriending our emotions is essential to healthy relationships with ourselves and others. Allow me to explain. Emotions serve as guides to our inner landscape, leading us toward paths of connection and intimacy. However, we may view emotions as mere distractions to the spiritual/relational journey – instead of guides, emotions become like gnats to repel and frantically swat away. Truthfully, our emotions carry within them seeds of abundance, growth and healing, if we listen to what they have to say.
I want to look at four core emotions: joy, sadness, fear, and anger. They are “core emotions” because, though we experience many different emotions, most find rooting in one of these four.
- Joy is all about love, connection, and abundance. We experience joy when all seems right in the world.
- Sadness is about loss as well as connection. We experience sadness when we lose or anticipate losing what we love – joy is tied closely with sadness, and we rarely experience one without the other.
- Fear is about survival, and it is our internal alarm system (think fight, flight, or freeze). We experience fear when we or someone we love is in danger.
- Anger is all about protecting our boundaries, and we experience anger when those boundaries are crossed. Similar to joy and sadness, fear and anger are connected, and often when we experience fear we naturally experience anger.
Core Emotions in Scripture
Our emotions are an essential part of our humanity. Unfortunately, we often do not see them as companions for our journey, but as barriers to avoid or overcome. Certain scripture are used to support emotional avoidance. We learn:
- It’s okay to be angry as long as we do not sin (Eph. 4:26), which seems impossible, so we bottle up our anger.
- God does not give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), in fact God’s perfect love casts it out (1 John 4:18) – so we cast it out too.
- Our sorrow and pain can stay the night as long as they leave by morning (Psalm 30:5), but anyone who’s ever lost a loved one knows all too well the extended stay mourning requires.
Getting Stuck: Counter Emotions
What have your experiences with these verse been? I imagine they signal you to repress, stifle, and avoid hard emotions. Am I right? When we bypass emotions, we get stuck in counter emotions (a concept we explore at length in the Companioning Our Shadow course). If we evict our sadness, we evict our joy as well, and instead of feeling better we feel numb. When we “cast out” our fear we do not feel power, love, or self-control, but get stuck in anxious inner dialogue loops. And when we bottle up our anger we do the same to our boundaries until we inevitably explode on unsuspecting strangers and loved ones.
Counter emotions lead to further emotional defenses, where we attempt to counter our counter emotions. For example, if we are out of touch with our fear and tail-spinning in anxiety, we may try self-soothing with substances, mindless social media scrolling, or take up attitudes of self-loathing or self-righteousness. Emotional defenses are mindless, unconscious, and disembodied activities or thought-loops, the first step is becoming aware of the defense strategy/activity, and 2) do something embodied like exercise or breathing techniques.
How Do We Befriend Our Emotions?
The invitation is to see our emotions as guides, companions, and friends for our journey. This does not mean emotions are in control, but rather we begin cultivating a reciprocal relationship with them. Here are a few practical steps to consider.
First, emotions are not thoughts in our minds but feelings in our bodies. Where in your body do you feel anger, fear, sadness, joy? Can you locate it? Place your hands where you feel the emotion. Maybe you carry anger in your gut and arms and you carry fear in your back and shoulders. Identifying where your emotions live in your body is the first step in befriending them.
Next, what does the emotion need to say? We cannot think our way through emotions. We must feel emotions and listen to what they say. Our emotions carry messages from our inner depths, and they often come as simple statements of reality or groanings too deep for words. Often feeling our emotions requires us to embody them as well. There is a lot to explore here, but start by asking, “what do I need to do right now? Scream? Run? Punch the ground? Dance?”
Also, you may need to share your emotions with a friend or within a safe community. You could also imaginatively invite the Divine to meet your emotions. Imagine your emotion is a younger or child-like part of you, and allow your adult self to host a conversation with the Divine. I’ve found this technique allows emotions to speak more honestly.
Last, loving our emotions is a journey requiring us to locate, listen and feel them as often as needed. A friend of mine reminds me frequently, “Any emotion truly felt leads to other emotions.” Befriending our emotions is to welcome them as friends and inner companions, which guide us toward greater connection and intimacy in all our relationships.
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