How do you view emotions? Whatever your perspective may be about them and whatever other words we may use for them (feeling, reaction, response, sensation), they are part of our design and have been so from the beginning. Our experiences with them often cause us to label them as good or bad and what informs that choice tends to relate to what we experience of them in ourselves and in the home where we grew up. Why? Because it is in our family where we cry or laugh or express anger and someone uses a word to name what we are experiencing. How they describe it or label it and what they tell us about it impacts how we view emotions going forward until or unless we gain additional information.
If we are fortunate, we experience our developmental years with healthy emotional boundaries and learn to label our own emotions (as well as others) accurately and then how we can respond to them in effective ways for ourselves and those around us.
“Emotional boundaries set limits on what is safe and appropriate for us to feel. They limit what things we let in and let out that provoke feelings. They determine how we let people treat us, including the range of personal comments we will accept from others.
Emotional boundary violations occur when someone intrudes or distances himself or herself from an individual with emotions or lack thereof that are inappropriate to the relationship.”Mike O’Neil
Unfortunately, many of us do not get those messages and can have emotions flooding out sideways and in ways that can sometimes seem and feel out of control. Others of us feel it isn’t safe to express feelings and we keep them inside where they do a different but just as painful damage. Those unexpressed or repressed emotions that accumulate within us can provide fertile ground for depression and relational challenges over time.
“Shelved emotions are the rawest kind. They are not tempered by exposure and easily bruised on contact. So, contact becomes the enemy, and we cocoon in isolation. We limit the ability to use emotions for our own healing. Emotions are powerful. They can override thoughts, influence relationships, and transform our behavior. They empower us to understand ourselves and overcome challenges. Emotions are to be explored, encountered, and enjoyed. They were never meant to be bottled up.”Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
When we do not recognize the truth expressed by Dr. Dalton-Smith, they can also be projected on our relationship with God and we might project blame onto Him or consider Him untrustworthy, demanding, or unsafe.
All the while God is seeking to show us who He is and to offer us grace and hope to overcome our deficits and need for emotional rest and healing. Look at how John Eldredge describes this:
“God surrounds us; we swim in God like we swim in oxygen. He is by your side right this very moment, as you read this sentence. Despite this wonderful reality – what a wonderful reality it is – we don’t always feel him near; don’t have a consistent experience of his presence (some people rarely experience his presence). It can be so disheartening; I hate that rollercoaster.”John Eldredge
By now you may recall reading about physical and mental rest or lack thereof and wonder what emotional rest deficits might look like. Here is Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s list to consider:
- You tend to focus on your failures and flaws
- You experience self-doubt and insecurity that prevents you from trying new things
- You constantly compensate for who you are with apologies or clarifications
- You beat yourself up when you make even the slightest mistake
- You feel depressed or angry when you think about your life
- You exhibit excessive worrying or display feelings of anxiety about situations
We may experience these from time-to-time, but if they are chronic or tend to be there much of the time, we need to consider how we replenish this deficit of emotional rest. Sadly, we may not be sure of what that looks like or what it would feel like or how to get to that rest we need. Some of the practical steps would be recognize our own emotions and what may trigger them, curbing the tendency to compare ourselves with others, and start to consider being truly authentic with ourselves and others. We all have strengths and weaknesses and knowing that can help us set healthier emotional boundaries and risk being real and more vulnerable when that is safe and appropriate.
Most important of all is to be real with the Lord and take time to breathe Him in and know you are deeply loved (warts and all) and He has been waiting for you to invite Him in and receive his healing and help to gain the emotional rest you may have needed for a long time.
What would emotional rest look like?
“You experience emotional rest when you no longer feel the need to perform or meet external expectations. It is the cessation of emotional striving. We each have an internal capacity to manage emotions. We pour out of the space as we offer sympathy to a friend who just lost her husband, console a tearful toddler in our arms, or encourage a coworker on a job well done. Each interaction is giving a bit of ourselves. When our emotional withdrawals exceed our emotional capacity, we will experience emotional fatigue. Emotional rest is a deposit back into our emotional account.”Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)