4 Steps to Emotional Health

Tish Hedger, MA, PLPC
It is normal to want to avoid injury. In the same way our fingers flinch away from being smashed, our brain reflexively shrinks back from emotional pain. Our mind looks for the nearest emotional escape button. Here are some common examples of when we might want to avoid our emotion.

Fear

It can feel overwhelming to slow down to investigate exactly what we are feeling and why
We might think, ‘If I feel this distressed right now, I can only imagine what sitting down in that emotion would be like. I could be drowned.’ It can be scary to slow down to identify and acknowledge the truth of our emotion. 
 

Worrisome

It can be disturbing when we realize what we are feeling. 
It can be hard to admit when we are experiencing negative emotions. Just noticing anger and jealousy can feel wrong and make us want to avoid the presence of that emotion. But it’s what we do after we identify the emotion that matters. An example is when we are scrolling social media and feel the sting of jealousy. In that moment it’s a choice to embrace jealousy and then to fan the flames of those thoughts and emotion. Or, we can identify the jealousy and address it with truth, rerouting our thoughts. 
The immediate sting of the emotion may simply be a temptation, sometimes temptation feels sinful or wrong. But we can experience emotions like fear or anger and not sin. When we are watchful, our emotions are helpful indicators of the state of our heart and the focus of our mind. 

Embarrassment

It might seem to us that our feelings are silly and stupid. 
In this instance, we tell ourselves things like, ‘You shouldn’t feel that way.’ ‘You are stupid for being hurt in that way.’ ‘It’s silly to have that feeling, it’s completely illogical. Here we tell ourselves to “Stop it!” Before we can experience a change in our emotion we must first acknowledge the true state of where we are in the first place.

Shame

Perhaps your heart is in need of repentance in regards to sin harbored in your heart
God calls us to repent when we have sinned. Repentance is recognizing sinturning, and going the other direction. For those who call upon God and trust in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1). We are told to come boldly before the throne of God and that we will receive mercy and help in our times of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Emotional Health

Avoiding, minimizing, and denying emotion is not an effective way to cultivate a healthy and whole heart. I think we all wish that pushing our emotions away or stuffing them deep down would successfully evaporate them, causing them to exist no longer. But, God did not create emotions this way. They are meant to be identified, expressed, and then they can be released. Noticing our emotion gives us the opportunity to care for our self with truth, intention, and effectiveness.  Most importantly, accepting our emotions allows us to enjoy the healing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He teaches us what is true about ourselves and our circumstance.

Jesus: Our Perfect Example

Jesus modeled how to lean into our emotion in the Garden of Gethsemane while being anchored in the truth. He was fully God and fully man. Jesus Christ came to earth to ransom mankind back to God from their sin. He knew why He came and what would be required. Jesus would die on the cross and take on our sin and put on us His righteousness. He came to die so that we might have eternal life and life abundantly.
 
Jesus is and will always be the only sinless man, He was perfect. He knew what was required of Him. Jesus knew there was no other way to accomplish what He had been sent to do. He knew that He must die for the sins of the world. 
Yet, Jesus came to the Garden of Gethsemane in anguish the night before his Crucifixion with His closest friends. His soul was troubled and full of sorrow. In Matthew 26:38, Jesus tells his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” In Luke 22:44 it says He was in agony and that “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
 
He knew what must happen but the truth of His emotion was that He was afraid and His human feelings were that He wanted a different way. He prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Matthew 26:39 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” Luke 22:42.

Jesus Made Space To Identify His Emotion

This was the night before His crucifixion and death, yet Jesus took the time to get away and address His emotion. For us this looks like slowing down, taking the time, and creating the space so that we can identify what emotions are present for us. Very practically we must ask our self, ‘What emotions am I experiencing?’ 
Part of managing our emotion is giving our self the permission to be curious around what we are feeling. We cannot rightly apply truth to emotions that are vague or unspecified. 

Jesus Accepted His Emotion

Jesus did not ignore, stuff, or avoid. He accepted the reality of what He was feeling. For us, this looks like accepting the reality of our feelings. Accepting our emotion does not mean we are embracing the emotion as the truth. It simply means that we accept the reality of what emotions are present. Once we identify what emotions are present then we can do the hard work of addressing them with truth, repentance, and other strategies for change.
 

Jesus Expressed His Emotion In A Healthy Way

Jesus took His 12 disciples to the garden and then He took His three closest companions into a quiet place.  Then, a few feet away from there, He knelt down to pray. Jesus made it a priority to go before the Father with His needs. He leaned into His agony and poured it out to God through prayer
For us, this looks like letting our heart feel what we are experiencing and identifying what emotions are presentNot every emotion should be expressed in any given situation. But, it is appropriate to pour out any raw emotion before God. To experience comfort, strengthening, and change we must acknowledge and express our need.
 
Here, we see principles of Jesus leaning into his support system, his closest friends, and his Heavenly Father. 

Jesus Experienced Strengthening And Release From His Emotion

“Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42. 
 
Emotion gives us an indication of what needs we are experiencing. God is not offended by our limitations and needs because He created us. “For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:14
 
So, on your path to emotional health and healing slow down and take the time to identify your emotion, accept the reality of what you are experiencing, learn strategies of how to express your emotions in a healthy and helpful way, and experience the freedom and surrender that can come.

Take the first step towards a better tomorrow, today.

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