Updated: Aug 12
Have you ever seen your emotions as a problem?
With mental health issues on the rise, more and more people are struggling with anxiety, depression, and anger. And, more and more people are attempting to tamp down their emotions as a means of regaining a sense of balance and normalcy in their lives. But numbing our emotional side isn't good.
When I had my breakdown at 42, I had the same desire and need to bring my emotional state back under control. I did get on anti-anxiety meds for a while. I needed to. I needed to take a break from my emotions for a few months just to survive. But my breakdown was God addressing how I had already been on a long-term journey of tamping down my emotional sensitivity. My breakdown was God increasing my emotional sensitivity, because emotional insensitivity isn't good.
Why is emotional sensitivity vital to the working of our personhood, and why did God choose to address that issue in me in such a drastic way?
We are a person with three parts; body, mind, and heart. The body is our physical self. The mind is the soul space which connects our physical self with our spiritual self. And the heart is our spiritual self. The thing about our body is that it's just a vessel we inhabit. It's part of who we are, but more like a car we're driving than a part of our true self. Our truest self is spirit. Our spirit side manifests through emotions and thoughts into the soul space. So, when we start to disassociate emotionally, we're actually cutting ourselves off from our truest self.
Feelings aren't just feelings. They connect us to a deeper part of ourselves, and a deeper part of truth and reality.
God is energy.
God is the energy of life.
The energy of God as the life of all things is powerful. It's what enlivens and sustains the entire created universe. That's very powerful energy. God is spirit. We sense the Spirit of God through our spirits. Our spirits are like the energy at the center of our personhood, just as God as Spirit is the energy at the center of the universe. We sense the Spirit of God through our spirits. What does that energy feel like? It feels like emotions. To cut ourselves off from our emotions to any degree, is to cut ourselves off from the source of life.
The Heart Knowing Center is rooted in emotion. We could say that the Heart Center is in charge of our emotional life. It is the organ of emotion. But remember, it is not the organ which produces emotion, but that which registers emotion, like the ear registers sound. Emotion comes from the energy behind it. Our emotions are registering something emotional from the energy of God, others, and ourselves. Emotions are not the energy. They are telling us something about the energy. When we can’t differentiate our emotional response from the emotional stimulus, the result is confusion and dysfunction.
Emotional response is simply data about reality.
It's not the substance of reality itself. As we begin to make this distinction, we begin to have space to view our emotions from a safer distance, which gives us greater ability to use them as the helpful tool they are, instead of always reacting mindlessly to them as if they were the essence of reality itself.
You are not your emotions.
The world is not always true to how you feel it. What you feel is telling you something about the world, but you have to be able to step back and view your emotions more subjectively in order to understand them.
I understand how hard it can be to gain perspective and distant from our emotions. Emotions can be very powerful. The energy they are reacting to is strong, and can feel overwhelming. Numbing is often how we cope with emotions we don't like. How do we learn to reverse the process of trying to protect ourselves from our emotions, in order to come back alive in them?
The process of tearing down these emotional barriers we've developed comes through suffering and death. There’s a reason why we feel the need to protect from the reality of an emotionally powerful world. The helpful caveat in all this is something Brene Brown (and others) have done a lot of work to uncover. When we numb to the negative, we also tune out the positive. We cannot desensitize the heart selectively. There’s only one volume knob for our emotions. When we turn down sadness, anger, and fear, we also turn down joy, passion, and love.
There is a goodness that comes in reengaging with our positive emotions, but there is also a purpose in reengaging with our “negative” emotions as well. There is no such thing as a good or bad emotion, there are only emotions we prefer and ones we don’t. The entire spectrum of our emotional range has been given to us by God for a good purpose. But the feeling of some emotions seems better to us than others, so we can naturally tend to embrace some emotions and shun others. But that is a relative perspective, and speaks to the need of looking deeper than the emotions themselves to the reality they are pointing to.
When we begin to face all our emotions, we can see that even the negatively felt emotions are pointing to something which, when dealt with, will point us back towards positively felt emotions. In the process we can also learn that our negative emotions can feel less oppressive when we learn what they mean, how to work with them, and how they can bring us to more positive ones.
Much of the work of getting healthier in our hearts is learning to sit with negatively felt emotions in order to see what they are trying to tell us. That’s why transformation can feel like suffering and dying, because we have to suffer through the pain of letting our negative emotions have space to be felt. That in turn helps us uncover the things they are pointing to that need our attention, in order to deal with and see those things healed.
Anger, fear, depression, anxiety, stress, doubt, loneliness, frustration, apathy and the life are all telling us a story about the reality of what’s going on in our world, both inside and outside of us.
Remember my three questions?
1. Where is this coming from
2. What does it mean
3. What should I do about it?
These can help us in approaching our emotions. When we can face our emotions long enough to ask and answer these three questions, we begin to see and experience the deeper energy of God in the world. Then we are able to hear the deeper song of the world, singing to our deepest part about a beauty that transcends and saturates all creation. That energy is the eternal goodness of a God who is renewing all things, even bringing life through the things we thought would kill us.
The goal of transformation in our heart space is learning to feel everything unfiltered. But we can't do that alone. To do that, we need the help of God. God enables us to handle powerful feelings in a more powerful way. The power we gain in this process actually comes through our weakness, in surrender to God’s ability to hold and help us.
Like the completion of an electrical circuit, God’s power can only flow into us as we allow it to flow out of us. It’s in the letting go that we get filled. It’s by opening up in vulnerable ways that we can become strong enough to handle such powerful emotions. Trying to control our emotional input (or output) is part of the problem. What we are numb to, we do not deal with, address, and let pass through us. It necessarily tends to stay in us, stagnate, and build a pressure that will eventually find a way out, one way or another.
When we are in the flow of this God energy, we will feel everything coming to us more clearly, and be able to sort through, understand, and let it all flow back out without getting trapped inside us. The reason we must give up our attempt to be in control of our emotional input and output, is that we are never truly in control of that energy to begin with.
Emotions are data coming to us from reality. We cannot control the data flow. We cannot control reality. We can only learn how to become more surrendered to God as our divine guide in the process of sorting through our emotions. To try and control the data is to shut down and close off again. That does not prevent the data flow, it just separates us from a conscious awareness of the data, and from the process of God helping us deal with it. The only choice we have is to increase or decrease our emotional awareness. To tamp down our emotions for the sake of comfort is to cut ourselves off from our truest self.