Some people are tuned into their emotions, while others never think about emotions or minimize their importance. If you were raised in a home where emotions were never spoken of or might have even been ridiculed, you likely minimize the role of emotions in your life. However, avoiding our emotions is detrimental to our well-being, given that our emotions can affect our blood pressure and nervous system.
In this blog, you will learn that emotions have value because they can inform us. Therefore, identifying our emotions and understanding what we need to know from them is beneficial to us and those around us.
Emotions have value because they can inform us.
Here is a foundational truth that must come first. Our emotions have value because they are one aspect of our being made in the image of God; we are image bearers of God. As a relational Person, God has emotions and, therefore, made us with emotions. God expresses compassion, joy, anger, and so on, all in their purest form without the tainting of sin or selfishness. We have a full array of emotions as well, though for us, our emotions have been tainted by sin.
As a relational Person, God has emotions and, therefore, made us with emotions.
Our focus is that our emotions have value because they inform us. Emotions are like the lights and read-outs on the instrument panel of our automobile. Like the panel’s lights and read-outs, emotions inform us of something we might not readily perceive. Just as the auto information makes us aware of the vehicle’s condition, so too can our emotions inform us, making us self-aware of our condition. With this information, we can make wise decisions and take healthy action.
Emotions inform us of something that we might not readily perceive, making us self-aware of our condition.
With this information, we can make wise decisions and take healthy action.
Let’s apply this idea to anger. Right now, identify something about which you feel angry. Your anger is telling you something. Like some people’s response to the “service engine soon” light on their vehicles, you might ignore your anger. However, some people around you don’t find your anger easy to ignore.
Like the “service engine soon” light, there is more than one possibility of what your anger is informing you of.
When anger rises, it informs us of conditions or perceived conditions that include injustice, fear, violation, unfairness, loss, or a combination of these. For example, you come home one night and discover your home has been ransacked and robbed. Indeed, an injustice has occurred and loss as well. The next day, after some initial shock has worn off, you begin to feel angry. Your anger is informing you of the injustice and loss.
When anger rises, it informs us of conditions or perceived conditions that include injustice, fear, violation, unfairness, loss, or a combination of these.
A person might feel angry after hearing a diagnosis of their terminal illness. The anger might be their response to their loss of health. However, in this case, anger can be confused with fear or being scared. Their anger might be informing them of their fear of what the future holds. We sometimes yield to the false sense of power that anger offers when facing the scarier feeling of being powerless, which is challenging. But if I heed the information my emotion provides, I can then find a way to be grounded in what is true in that situation and consider a better course of action.
If I heed the information my emotion offers, I can then find a way to be grounded in what is true in that situation and consider a better course of action.
Shame is another powerful emotion. You can find out more by going to the blogs and videos I’ve presented on shame.
As a final example, consider happiness. When you are feeling happy, ask yourself, “Why?” Perhaps you just came in from an enjoyable walk. Your happiness informs you that taking a walk contributed to your feelings. Therefore, a walk would be a wise action to repeat.
Here are four steps for maximizing the information you receive from your emotions.
1. Identify your emotions.
This is obvious but can be the most challenging step for some.
The color palette is a helpful tool that will enable you to identify your emotions. I highly recommend this $5 purchase that can then be posted on your refrigerator or work cubicle. There are similar tools available, but the palette is my favorite.
2. Name your emotion.
This second step is an easy follow-through from the first step. My counselor taught me the phrase, “If you name it, you tame it.”
When we name it, we move out of the unknown and are better able to discern a healthier course of action.
3. Follow through with decisions and actions based on the information you’ve received.
4. Our emotions are to inform, not to govern.
Here again, anger serves as an excellent example. In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner offered a vivid warning against our salivating over anger. He stated,
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.