Emotions get a bad rap in many circles today. They’re vulnerable and get broken. They’re messy and don’t look right.

We prefer thinking, analysis, and three steps to a better life. “Believe and do what’s right,” is the typical message for how to grow spiritually. “Emotions are the caboose. They can’t be trusted.”

Yes, some people have the problem that they empower their feelings and desires and just do as they please. But mostly we do not see that problem in Christian leaders.

Often the feelers are kept out of spiritual leadership positions. The spokespersons for Christ in our pulpits, power seats, academies, executive halls, and elder board rooms usually elevate thinking and suppress emotion.

In our Soul Shepherding ministry we’ve seen this problem split churches and families. We’ve also seen these systems calcify with religious smugness and judgmentalism. Tender-hearted people and those who don’t look or act right, stay away from people and places like that. Or they sneak away to a therapist office or support group for a safe place.

Even spiritual directors and spiritual formation teachers need to be careful not to diminish emotion. If someone tells us they can’t feel God’s love we may be too quick to say, “Oh, you’re in a Dark Night of the Soul.” Maybe.

Or your heart’s feeler has become repressed, even calloused.

Here’s what people tell us:

  • “Numbing my emotions helped me cope with the abuse (or addiction, or emotional chaos) in my family.”
  • “Emotions get in the way of my performance. I need to be strong and quick thinking at work.” 
  • “I don’t like being sad — I just want to be happy.” 
  • “I never learned how to feel. We didn’t share our emotions in my family growing up.”

If you don’t want to feel sad, hurt, needy, afraid, anxious, insecure, confused, doubting, discouraged, lonely, frustrated, or angry, then your feeler will begin to numb. Then you’ll start losing the ability to experience the warm, deep, and life-giving relational experiences that foster love, joy, and peace.

Furthermore, when you repress your feelings, they’re prone to leak out in moodiness, crankiness, emotional reactions, addiction, or depression.

Many people don’t realize that when they deny their painful emotions they start losing pleasurable emotions. We call the first group “negative emotions” and the second group “positive emotions,” but there can be health and unhealth on both sides.

The cure for over-weighting thinking or feeling is to learn to keep them together. We like to refer to our inner state as “feeling-thoughts” because they’re a two-way street, even in our brain. We put feelings first because little children have emotions and desires before they have thoughts and logic.

Emotions are essential to being human. Without emotion, we become bored, inauthentic, and empty. Without emotion, we become disconnected from people and God, and our life becomes arid.

It’s with emotion that we read other people, access our intuition, and use creative thinking. E-motions can get us going in a good direction.

We can keep our feeling and thinking in balance if we “process” or verbalize our experiences with each other. In “love one another” relationships we can take turns listening and offering empathy and prayer. In prayers like Psalm 55 the Psalmist shows us how to be emotionally honest with the Lord and our community. 

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Listen to today’s SoulTalk: Self-awareness is a crucial piece in our ability to lead and love others. Repressing our emotions only leaves us with less energy. Seek a deeper understanding of how your emotions are affecting your relationships and watch your capacity to give and receive empathy grow. Bill and Kristi offer tangible and authentic help for growing in self-awareness so that you can experience more life and love in your relationships.