How Can We Control Our Emotions?
I’ve always been a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. I feel things intensely, and I’m a passionate man. This has done a lot for me. My passion drives me. My ambition and focus enables me to move forward even when I thought I’d quit.
But is that the right thing?
For some time, I’ve been working on being in control of my emotions rather than letting those emotions drive me. This is especially difficult considering I’ve spent the majority of my life being driven by my passion rather than using my passion to do as I should.
I think it happens to everyone. Maybe you had a date set up, and your partner or friend changed it or asked to include someone. Did that make you feel jealous, asking yourself, “So does this person not want to hang out with me?”
Maybe you had this terrific idea on how a day with your child would go on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and then your child asks if he could go to a friend’s house? Is it possible you felt disappointed? Did you entertain the idea that your child is more invested in his and her friends than you?
I can’t really know you or your emotions, readers. What I know is there are some times when I feel disappointed, jealous, frustrated, or even betrayed or wronged. I might (and that’s a big might) be able to hide those feelings, but that’s not the same as dealing with them, and it’s not anything near to controlling them.
I hope I’m not alone in feeling like I’ve been in situations where I knew my emotions were in control.
How do I recognize this? For me, I know I’m struggling when I can’t let go of a thought or emotion. I know something’s off when I want to dwell in whatever emotion I’m feeling. Maybe you want to “vent” about that coworker who just gets on your nerves. Maybe you want to “vent” about how your spouse “always” or “never” does something. Maybe you want to complain in your car on the way home about how your boss “doesn’t” or “won’t” understand your point of view.
I’ve had to do every single one of those things, and none of them are righteous. None of them are healthy.
I think I do it because I want my feelings to be validated.
Maybe you just said, “Who doesn’t want their feelings to be validated?”
Are my feelings a person who should be included in my plans? Should others always make sure to set two places if they invite my feelings and me to dinner? Am I so important that before anyone does anything, they should consult me and my feelings on the matter?
Consideration is a wonderful thing. It really is. I’m grateful to anyone who asks me how I feel or what I want. Sure, if someone says something like, “I can really see how this might disappoint you, but this is my decision.”
However, to think that me and my feelings should always be considered are still self centered thoughts even if they’re true. A husband should always consult his wife and seek her wisdom. The authority may rest in him, but why not take advantage of a wife’s counsel before making a decision? If you do that, why not at least show your appreciation for her thoughts and opinions? Nevertheless, if my feelings and thoughts aren’t requested, I may feel sinned against. I may feel wronged. This particular chapter looks at how one handles those feelings before they fester into resentment or anger.
I think the first thing to do in a situation like that is to analyze myself. Philippians 4:8 has the guideline for where a person’s focus should be.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
“I feel like my husband cares more about his job than me.” That’s a very valid emotion. It may or may not be true. But to focus on the feeling then puts the emotions ahead of the truth. Why do you feel that way? What is happening that is fueling that emotion? Have you spoken to your husband about those things?
Let’s look at the other side of that coin.
“My wife never wants me to get any rest! I work all day, and then, when I come home, she just wants me to do more.” Those are also valid emotions.
You see, one person is seeking comfort in one way, presence and time spent together. Another is seeking comfort in another way, relaxation and quiet. One’s need is connection. The other’s is rest. We can choose to hypothesize about why a person is denying our need, but if we do that, we’re denying a person the right to speak about his or her reasons.
A person controlled by his or her emotions will do that. They’ll fix their thoughts on self-justification. “See!” a wife will say. “He’s gone all day and the first thing he wants is his television!”
“See!” a husband will say. “I just get in the door and all she wants to do is give me more to worry about!”
This is assuming the wife doesn’t work. Maybe she does, but I have to pick a scenario to work with, and this one works as well as any other. The point is the desire these people have is causing them to perceive the other as an obstacle rather than another human being with needs that may not be getting met.
But what is true?
That’s such a valuable question. But we try to avoid the truth by either holding a trial in our own mind, seeking evidence to support our judgment without ever letting the other person testify, or we try and entrap the other person, asking pointed questions that don’t leave the other person anywhere else to go but where you wanted to shove him or her in the first place.
The search for truth can’t be conducted in a vacuum.
One thing I’ve come to do is ask what I really feel is the most important question anyone can ask another. Just come right out with it: What do you want? Now, you can use a tone that implies you could give a flying fart about what that answer is, and that’s wrong. You’re emotions are in control. But if you ask, genuinely seeking that, you might learn what the other person is after. Then, you can respond in truth and love with what you’re after.
If you find yourself mentally or even verbally articulating why another person is “trying to stop you from” or “refusing to,” you’re being resentful. It’s not loving, and it’s not helping anything.
What is true? I don’t know, let me start by asking. What do you want? Are you really out to stop me from sitting down and thinking for five minutes? Are you really out to avoid me more? Asking those questions in that manner is a sure way to start an argument. But asking, “Hey, babe, what is it you want?” and being honest about understanding the answer will probably allow communication to start. Yes, tired working person who just got home, that means you might need to delay what you want long enough to talk to your wife, but then you’re showing love. You’re being patient and kind, and that glorifies God. Yes, person who has been apart from someone you so desperately want to be close to, that means you might need to explain what you want so that it can be given, but people aren’t God to know and read your heart.
That leads me to another example of when your emotions are in control. Have you ever thought, “She or He knows I … “ or “He or She isn’t thinking about what I … “ You’re making a lot of assumptions with statements like that.
But what is true? Is that person purposefully, intentionally trying to deny you something you want or need? More than likely that person is just trying to fill a need of his or her own. Is that selfish? Yeah, but aren’t you mad because you feel that other person is trying to deny you something you want or need? That is also thinking of yourself.
That doesn’t mean husbands shouldn’t love their wives or wives should’t respect their husbands or children shouldn’t honor their fathers and mothers (Ephesians 5). But those are commands from God, so they must be honorable and commendable things. However, forgiveness is also wonderful.
I get caught up in my emotions when I see my feelings as truth. We can’t know truth, let alone fix our thoughts on it, if we don’t even know what it is. This requires communication. If you’re not interested in hearing what that person has to say, aren’t you guilty of the same crime: Not being considerate?
We may find ourselves in a situation when our feelings are indeed true. I hate that there are husbands out there who really don’t love their wives. I hate that there are people out there who really do think less of any other people. It’s a sad truth in this broken, sin-cursed world, and that means sometimes our feelings are justified by truth.
Does that mean our feelings can now take control? No. Because there is still one truth that remains. God is judge. Vengeance is His (Romans 12:19). There isn’t enough time in this chapter to get into when it’s acceptable to divorce a person (there are times).
There are times when a person deserves justice, but it’s God’s right to determine when to deliver it. We have police and services we can report things to, and God provided those options. Through them, God can provide justice. In those extreme cases people should seek justice by reporting crimes and situations of abuse. We have to do this because if we don’t, we force ourselves to endure and feed our resentment and despair.
For those times that are less extreme, we have the options Jesus gave us, which we covered in previous chapters. We can forgive, which is always to the glory of God, or we can rebuke, wherein our goal is reconciliation.
What we should strive to do though is focus on the truth, which isn’t known in your mind and by your observation alone. If you do that, you’re making yourself God, proclaiming you know the hearts of man and his intentions.
For me, breaking that habit of venting or dwelling is easiest when I start thinking about that verse, and I share it with you for the same purpose.
For our panel: Why do people fall victim to their own emotions? What other verses can people turn to when they realize they’re struggling to look past their feelings? Is it a sin to succumb to emotions? Why would God give us emotions if they could cause us to sin? How do we live righteously even as we deal with such strong emotions?