6/5 Unhealthy Ways Emotions can Block Total Wholeness

We saw in our last posts that emotions are common to all humans. We emphasised that our emotions come from our thinking patterns – and can be changed if we change our thinking.  That’s why ‘re-newing the mind’ is so important. Without emotions, we would just be zombies or robots.  It is our emotions that make us truly human.

A machine (like a computer) can compare and contrast much quicker (and usually more accurately) than we can.  That doesn’t make it more human, but less.  In the science fiction series “Star Trek” human beings are always trying to get Spock to become emotional.  You see, he is not human, but Vulcan.

A.  How do we usually handle our Emotions?

As we have already said, the word ‘emotions’ is not a Biblical term.  However, we find general principles, such as “de-programming” the old patterns and re-learning new habits by ‘renewing the mind’, Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:24-25.  By learning to renew the mind, the emotions will also be affected

1.  People handle Emotions in a variety of ways.  Two main ways are:

Our emotional nature is God given.  We have the ability to ‘create’ emotions; once created, we need to deal with our emotions in a healthy way.

a.  ‘Gunny Sacking’ – This is a passive method of not expressing emotion.  When we are upset, we do not tell the other person of our (annoyance, anyer, frustration, etc.), but put it in our ‘gunny sack’ to fester.  Eventually the sack breaks (the straw that ….) and we dump our (anger) onto somebody.

This faulty method of dealing with emotions mainly hurts the ‘carrier of the sack’.  Many physical complaints arise out of this suppression of emotion.

b.  ‘Verbal Abuse’ – This method of dealing with our emotions is more active, but just as damaging, especially to others.

When we use angry words, we attack the other person, not the issue.  We try to inflict pain on them in retaliation.  We can damage people for a long time with unkind words. Both of these methods are faulty ways of dealing with our emotions, because we harm others and the problem itself has not been properly dealt with.

The first is burying and repression commonly known as denial. If asked what’s wrong the usual response will be “nothing” or “I’m alright.” Repression can be healthy as a short term solution to give a person time to come to terms with a situation that is potentially overwhelming, like the death of a loved one.

“It is not however healthy to repress or bury emotions indefinitely. A negative cycle begins. The more we experience negative emotions and fail to express them the more pressure builds inside us……….the result can be inner rage, fear or anxiety that boils just below the surface for years or decades.” (Don Colbert MD: ‘Deadly Emotions’)

The initial process of learning to repress emotions is usually conscious and over time becomes subconscious taking less effort, eventually becoming an instinctual response to a negative occurrence.

Riley’s story clearly demonstrates this.

It began as a four year old, who on a particular day played up once too often for his mother to handle. She was very angry with him and dragged him outside to a chopping block on which she slaughtered chickens.

She told him, as she pressed his head onto the block. “If he didn’t behave, I will do to you what we do to the chickens!”  Young as he was he decided at that point that emotions were a dangerous thing and that he wasn’t going to have any himself.

This key to his lack of emotion as an adult was given to him by God.  As an adult, his lack of emotional response influenced his wife and three daughters. To his credit he worked with God on his instinct to repress his emotions, received healing for that memory and is a much healthier person as a result as well as a better loving husband and father.

2.  Textbook unhealthy ways to deal with emotion:

The unhealthy ways we deal with our feelings are numerous. In fact, we all use the coping methods you’ll find in any psychology book:

 Analysing, attacking, avoiding, being smug, blaming others, complying, condemning, showing contempt for self or others.  Debating, defying God, denying, evading or dodging truth, explaining away the problem, generalising, grinning, intellectualising, interrogating others, intimidating, joking, judging, justifying, minimising, procrastination, projecting protecting, rationalising, sidetracking, silence and withdrawal.  Staring, spiritualising, acting superior, threatening, verbalising or talking too much.

3.  Another common (wrong) way we handle emotions:

The third unhealthy way is by getting busy believing we can avoid our emotions in a flurry of activity. Men are particularly prone to use this as a coping mechanism, working late is a great way to avoid feelings from difficulties at home.

The “busy, busy syndrome” is where emotions are stored away and buried under activity.  However, they are still ‘alive’ and ready for the slightest opportunity to re-emerge.

Feelings don’t go away with storage – we merely add more feelings with the next wave of trauma.

If we dismiss their messages, we have to hide behind masks.  Our personality can then become poisoned and creates a disturbance in some other area of life.  Physical problems can come from emotional distress.

4.  Another unhealthy way in which we handle our emotions is by indirect expression through sarcasm, gossip, silent treatment or withdrawal, punishing remarks, analysing, attacking and avoiding.

5.  Wanting to do away with ‘unhappy emotions’ and always feeling good is also dangerous to good mental health. 

Trying to manipulate feelings and circumstances to always be happy develops a false view of life.  We are told we will struggle and face change, 1 Peter 2:20-21.  Father God lovingly expands us beyond our comfort zones, stretching us onward.

B.  Indicators that describe people who have repressed their emotions:

    1. Perfectionism: these people believe that by keeping things perfect they will avoid experiencing criticism, rejection, and failure.
    2. A desire for control: By being in control no stray emotion has an opportunity to erupt or display itself.
    3. Self doubt and self-deprecation. Both these are indicative of low self-esteem      and self-worth.
    4. Promiscuity: This is the result of trying to please everyone and seeking expressions of affection in unhealthy ways.
    5. Cynicism and criticism which averts attention away from self onto others.
    6. Bursting or an explosion of emotion: This manifests as an exaggerated response to a seemingly small incident. There is often a ‘simmering’ before the      explosion.

C.  Overcoming patterns of unhealthy Emotional Expression

It’s best to learn how to handle our emotions in a healthy way since they cannot be eliminated.

(Right about now, the mind says “Oh rats!  I’ve been trying to get rid of them!”) 

The mind wants to play surgeon and cut them away, crush them, or close up the wounds too quickly for the emotions to heal properly.

This only adds another barrier to hear from the Lord as well.  Certainly our mental and emotional health is worth more than this.  Having a feeling is not the problem.  The problem is not accepting or dealing with them before moving on.

Whatever way you try, avoiding emotions is pointless as they will eventually surface either manifesting physically in our bodies or erupting at inconvenient moments.

We shall continue this discussion in our next post on “Handling Emotions in Healthy Ways to achieve Total Wholeness’.  Join us then, 

Susanne Fengler, Blog Author



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