Hola! So the other day, I popped a post up about Mental Health Awareness Day – a day I was unaware of. #irony! (It was on my Facebook and Insta pages, so if you haven’t followed them – do that!) But in response to this, I’ve had some lovely contact and it got me thinking – there’s something we need to clear up.
I don’t know about anyone else, but something I’ve heard preached a lot is that you can’t trust your feelings – that they lie. But that’s not exactly true.
Its an important topic, because in my opinion modern Christianity can have a bit of a mixed-up relationship with human emotion. We can try to suppress so-called negative emotions and only focus on the good ones like ‘faith, hope and love’. Feelings like sadness, unease, grief or anger can be swept under the rug with a big broom called “Just trust God and move on.”
But is God really asking that of us? Everything God made was made for a reason. Even things I don’t like (like spiders, for example. They are actually there as an important part of a balanced ecosystem, even if they are a part of the ecosystem that makes me want to KILL IT WITH FIRE. *Sigh*)
Case in point: God made the limbic system and the other structures in the brain that govern human emotion.Therefore its good. It helps us manage life and interact with it. Shutting off emotion can shut off pleasure, stop us from processing pain, and even dull us to things we should feel strongly about. We can’t choose to shut of some emotion and not others. Thats unhealthy…(and maybe a bit weird if our emotional range is either “happy” or “disconnected.”)
All through scripture, we see human emotion. God never shied away from it or tried to shut it down.
- In Ephesians 4, we are told to be angry but sin not. This tells us there are some things we should feel righteous anger towards, and that anger is a completely normal part of a Christian’s range of emotion. Jesus himself showed anger when the temple had been turned into “a den of thieves” in His words.
- Jesus was moved with compassion multiple times in scripture. Compassion comes from sympathy, empathy and the desire to alleviate someone else’s suffering. But before we feel compassion we have to acknowledge suffering. We have to feel something about it.
- King David, prolific Psalmist, felt all the feels – anger, sadness, fear, grief, love, joy, etc etc etc. None of them were wrong. In fact, they got a pretty big chunk of the Bible dedicated to them. David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” That’s something. An emotional guy captured the heart of God in a unique way, a way that endeared him.
- Song of Solomon deals with another emotion – sexual desire, and erotic love. So thats an emotion too – one the church can be scared of, but not one God ever wanted us to shut down – keep in check, sure. But not shut down.
Here’s what I’ve learned from listening to and reading up on psychology and how the brain works: feelings don’t lie. Thoughts can be distorted, but feelings are feelings. They are what they are. They’re not lying. What matters is how (or that) we process them.
What do I mean? If you are feeling sad, then you are feeling sad. That’s not a lie. You aren’t actually feeling happy. That is true. It’s the same for whichever emotion you are feeling: anger, pride, joy, happiness, grief, whatever. Emotions don’t lie. They can look like other emotions within reason (ie. Grief can look like anger, or rather anger is part of grief) but for the most part, emotions are what they are.
The place where things can go awry is in the area of what we think. If we make decisions based on emotions, that is called emotional reasoning. If we see the world through the lens of emotion, that is emotional reasoning and that can be faulty. I.e. “I’m feeling like an outcast, so that person must hate me.” It might not be true. But its not the feeling that’s wrong, its the thought that’s distorted.
The other problem is when we feel an emotion but sweep it under the rug and don’t process it. Emotion is there for a reason, its there to help us interact with life and heal if something happens to us or a loved one that was unpleasant. If you don’t feel it, you can’t process it.
I’m so tired of the narrative that feelings are lying and can’t be trusted. No! Friend! Your feelings are there for a reason. Listen to them. Lean in to them. The only way out of grief/anger/sadness is through it. Avoiding it doesn’t help. It just bottles up and ferments until its ready to explode, or worse, cause you to self-destruct. Just feel the feels, friend.
Our thoughts are where we sometimes need help and there is no shame in that. Faulty thinking (cognitive distortion if you like the technical term) is a thing . But emotions never lie. They are what they are. There’s no harm in giving them the space they need. If you get stuck in a rut of sadness or grief that you can’t move out of, you might need a little help. But that is completely okay. Sometimes life is tough and we need to share that load. Sometimes life is great and we should be able to share that joy. Again – emotion – a good thing.
Here’s my approach these days: feel the feels then think the thoughts and make decisions. Emotions, thoughts and decisions are all part of the process of life and all equally as important. But don’t ignore your gut instinct. Not even if someone tells you to. Your gut instinct is often, so very often, right on the money.
But thats a whole other topic thats a whole lot more scientific than this blog will ever be!
Anyway! Thats todays thought bubble. If you want to read more on the brain, emotions and limbic system, check this out
If not, check back in next time to read my next piece that I’m a bit excited about.
Over and out