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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day 20: What to Do with Emotions?

Emotions have always been a big part of my life, but I have not always known how to handle them well . . . and to this day, I, at times, struggle to control them.

In April of 2002 I began a journey to understand and manage my emotions. I wanted to find the balance between acting on truth rather than emotion while at the same time acknowledging that emotions are real, valid, and valuable.

From a letter on April 16, 2002:

I realized the other day that emotions are a huge distraction for me. I think emotions cause me to become unfocused more than any other one thing. I respond out of what I FEEL. 

I'm realizing that I've tried two extremes - denying my emotions or giving them too much control. I'm beginning to try to learn to do neither. I'm trying to learn to acknowledge their validity, identify them, and then express them positively.

I have emotions and at times they are overwhelming and seem bigger than I can handle. Sometimes, especially when they are overwhelming, I just don't know what to do with them.

I'm discovering that the first step is to identify them - to just say, "I feel angry," "I feel sad," "I feel ________" and be specific instead of saying I'm upset or overwhelmed or blue, rather to give the emotion a specific, descriptive name.

As I continued to process how to manage my emotions, I began a practice that was helpful to me. Not only did I need to identify what the emotion was, but I needed to discover why I felt that way. We have emotions so that we know what is going on in our inner being. Sensations of pain or pleasure tell us what is happening to our body. Emotions reveal whether our inner being is in a good or bad place. The practice I began was to write out a simple statement: "I FEEL _______________ BECAUSE _____________."

"I FEEL sad BECAUSE one of my students is leaving the school."

"I FEEL disappointed BECAUSE the plans I made fell through."

"I FEEL angry BECAUSE someone disrespected me."

"I FEEL hurt BECAUSE someone was rude to me."

As I began to identify not only how I felt, but also why I felt that way, I could move on to the next question. "What are my emotions telling me? What do I need to do to handle this?"

If I was hurt, sometimes a good cry or a venting session helped, at other times a conversation with the person who hurt me was necessary. If I felt sad, sometimes watching a sad movie and having a good cry or distracting myself with something funny helped. If I felt disappointed, finding something to do that I enjoyed might help.

As I practiced this exercise over and over, I became more aware of what I was feeling and why. Eventually I stopped writing it out and was able to identify it in my head and also much more quickly create a strategy to deal with difficult emotions. Over time, I gained the ability to manage my emotions and to use them to practice healthy self-care.

The most recent stage of understanding emotions has been that they can help me discern what God is directing me to do. The things I am excited about, the things I dread. The things I have peace about, the things that cause me to be unsettled. The things that bring joy or the things that bring discouragement. As I pay attention to what my inner being is telling me through my emotions, I begin to hear the heart of God as He speaks to me too.

What tips can you offer for managing one's emotions?

Picture Source: all faces from Microsoft Clip Art

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