Have you ever tried to think your way out of a feeling? I remember feeling afraid at night as a child. I’d tell myself how safe I was and I didn’t have any reason to feel the way I was feeling. I’d argue with my feelings, but I’d still feel scared. When I had babies and felt sad, I scolded myself for being ungrateful. My dream had come true.
How could I be unhappy NOW? It just wasn’t appropriate.
What I’ve learned since is, rejecting our feelings doesn’t work. You can’t talk your way out of a feeling or win a debate against it. Feelings are information our body sends to let us know something is happening in us. Some of the most unpleasant feelings are like life-saving smoke signals.
Susan David gave a TED talk about how we classify feelings as good or bad and expect people to stop having or expressing the “bad” ones. She calls it a tyranny of positivity. The tragedy of rejecting uncomfortable emotions is, they get stronger. Like a child who hurt themselves and didn’t get a response when they first cried out, they look around, judge the distance to people who will care, and work up a louder cry. Feelings need to be acknowledged and learned from and only then, will they will move on. David suggests saying, “I’m noticing that I’m feeling ____,” and be as specific as you can. In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown suggests asking, “What story am I telling myself?” This question helps unlock the lessons a feeling has for you.
Jesus promised to replace our unfeeling, stone hearts, with hearts of flesh in Eze. 36:26. If you’re in the business of avoiding pain, this sounds like a downgrade. But feeling our difficult emotions is the only way to feel our happiness, satisfaction and closeness to others. I’m grateful to finally know my feelings are gifts to help me, even ones that feel terrible. There’s no need to argue them down. Jesus will help us name them and He’ll hold our hands while we let them teach us what we need to know.