Emotions—we love the glad, excited, and loving ones. But the hurt, angry, and suspicious ones cause us trouble. Or do they? Are hurt feelings the source of our angst? Can unpleasant emotions become our friends?
God gave us emotions. Feelings really are assets—even unpleasant ones. Without physical pain we’d scald our skin and permanently damage ourselves. Without emotional pain we’d stay in unhealthy habits and relationships.
Our hearts become calloused if we don’t protect them. Other wounds make us over-sensitive. Like sunburned skin, we recoil from innocent interactions. A woman who was cheated on in one relationship may conclude her current boyfriend—who deletes his texts and emails—is cheating too. Her emotions have alerted her that something is going on. They have reminded her of her past, but they don’t know the future. Her boyfriend may be planning a surprise party.
Emotions should be listened to, but they must be tempered with wisdom and love. Feelings are great messengers but horrible managers. This week I witnessed the apt and inapt use of unpleasant emotions.
- A bitter letter did not solve the writer’s concern and possibly alienated her neighbors.
- Anger prompted a woman to productively consider the best way to address a policy she believes is wrong.
- Another person’s disappointment motivated her to face an unpleasant issue. Facing it protects her from future resentment. Tactfully sharing her wounded heart, instead of a lecture, provides an opportunity for deeper closeness and understanding.
- My dread over contacting someone reminded me of this person’s negative pattern of relating. You approach a soccer field and a field of land mines differently.
What are you dreading? What’s made you angry or hurt? Listen to the message of your emotions. Ask yourself:
- What are my emotions telling me?
- Does this remind me of an old injury?
- Do I need an attitude adjustment?
- How can I benefit from this message?
Processing our feelings protects us from lashing out and alienating others. Processing helps us identify the real problem and work on a solution. When we don’t recognize the pressure we’re under, we pass it on to others. When we don’t separate our previous injuries from our present situations, we over react. When we ignore our emotions we erupt or implode unexpectedly.
Your emotions are your friends if you use them as God intended. Unpleasant ones warn us against potential threats to what we value—including our peace of mind, energy, freedom, dreams, or relationships. Use them to live wisely.
Question: How do you view unpleasant emotions?
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Deborah W. Wilson
Photo by: Paul De Los Reyes