In our last Wednesday night women’s class, we talked about how we each tended to handle strong emotions. We are working our way through Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Unglued, and Terkeurst describes two unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions: exploding and stuffing. When we explode, we spew our emotions onto others. The “explosion” doesn’t have to be loud or violent; it just has to get the emotion out. In contrast, stuffers bottle their emotions in unhealthy ways. They trap them inside where the emotions harden into either barriers or what Terkeurst calls “retaliation rocks.” The author makes sure to point out that people tend to use different styles in different situations, but in our class, we found that most of us were exploders. And unfortunately, we realized that the people we “explode on” the most are our own families. The reasons for the explosions were numerous: stress from work, a messy house, resentment toward having to do too much in a relationship…the list went on, but the outcome, in each situation was the same. When our emotions got to a certain point, we tended to verbally unload on the people we care the most about.
In class we all realized, of course, that this was wrong and generally unhelpful. At the same time, some honest comments were shared and questions were raised:
But this is how I feel.
Shouldn’t we be honest about how we feel?
I’m not a fake person; when I feel something, I share it.
Several times, this idea came up that it is best to be honest and that bottling up our feelings would be bad. And really, I’m not surprised that these concerns came up. We live in a culture that values honesty and authenticity. No one wants to be thought of as fake or hypocritical, and this seems to be just as true in “Christian circles” as in the larger society. It makes sense to value honesty, but Terkeurst points out that sometimes our “honest feelings may not be truthful representations of the situation. I can be honest with how I feel and still exaggerate or misinterpret what is factually true” (52). She calls this, “emotional spewing,” and asserts that even “in the Christian world we often use this kind of unbalanced honesty with little justifications such as, ‘I’m just keeping it real,’ ‘I’m just being honest,’ ‘Sometimes the truth hurts.’ (53). Such “honesty” can be really ungodly and hurtful toward others.
Okay, but then what do we do with these negative feelings? Especially when they stem from issues that sincerely need to be addressed? We can’t just sweep them under the rug, and we aren’t good at hiding them. So then what?
My suggestion is that when we approach another person, we should always keep our bigger goals in mind. When we go off on another person, we usually have goals, but they are not what you would call “big picture” goals. Instead our goals are usually:
1. To make myself feel better.
2. To make the other person feel the hurt/frustration that I feel.
“Venting” our unfiltered feelings does usually make us feel better…at first. But as Terkeurst points out, there is often a deep shame that comes from venting our emotions on someone else. And even if we don’t feel the shame, we usually rupture that relationship to the point where it becomes very unpleasant. And it’s hard to feel good when your relationships are unpleasant or dramatic.
And it’s true that exploding on others does help to “even the score” in some ways. Someone upsets you; you upset them right back. It’s like instant karma. Only…then they feel like they need to even the score back…and ’round and ’round it goes. Also, when you really “put someone in their place,” do they ever truly come around and see things your way? Do they ever say, “You know, you’re right–I see how you feel now?” I know I don’t react that way when someone yells at me. It certainly doesn’t make me see things from their perspective. It just makes me angry at them.
So those two goals aren’t really that great of goals to start with, and we don’t actually meet those goals when we explode on someone. So instead of those goals, we need to step back and look at some bigger goals whenever we feel like we are going to explode on someone who we feel deserves it:
1. Bring glory to God.
If we are Christians, this should always be our number 1 goal. It is never met by exploding on someone else. God is a God of peace, and he tells us that as far as it depends on us, we are supposed to live at peace with others. Peace is not accomplished by emotional spewing.
2. Strengthen the relationship.
In class, we mostly addressed family drama and conflicts between friends. In these cases, the goal of our words should always be to strengthen the relationship. That means that we don’t just avoid talking about the things that bother us–avoiding the issue will not strengthen the relationship. But we talk about it in such a way that it makes us closer, instead of driving a wedge between us. A closer relationship makes everyone happier…and it brings glory to the God who created us.
This week in class, we are going to look more at how to handle our exploding tendencies. We are going to discuss ways to be prepared for the times when we want to lose control and look at some practical ways to respond when someone pushes all our buttons at once. I think Terkeurst gives us some really great ideas, and I can’t wait to share them with you!