Myth #5: Ignore Your Emotions and They Will Just Go Away

And now onto the last myth in this series:  Myth #5.  Ignore your emotions and they will just go away.

This is the myth that does the most damage.  The body count is enormous—marriages ended, relationships broken, churches split and destroyed—all because people with influence were unwilling to stop and look at the uncomfortable emotions they are feeling.

It’s no mystery why this happens.  Our culture has trained us that emotions aren’t trust-worthy.  Men have been told since boyhood that showing emotions makes them weak.  It only gets worse if you’re a Christian:  If you believe that emotions aren’t Godly, that all they do is lead you into sin, that showing emotion makes you shallow, then what choice do you have?

So, we practice denial.  We change the subject.  We take antacids for the clenching in our gut and anti-depressants for the sadness in our spirits.  We treat our negative emotions like the symptoms of a cold, medicating them into suppression so that we can get on with our lives.

But it doesn’t work that way.

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazerro talks about our emotional life and health in terms of an iceberg.

Only the smallest fraction is visible above the surface of the water.  In our visible lives we try to appear “fine”, but beneath the surface everything is not OK.  Collected below is the stored pain, sadness, grief, and anger that we are desperate to avoid.  As much as we hope to ignore those feelings, they just won’t stay put.

Non-metaphorical icebergs do an interesting thing when they start to melt.  As the amount of ice above the surface of the water diminishes, the weight and balance of the iceberg changes.  If the conditions are right, the iceberg founders.  With a thunderous crack the iceberg flips over, crashing into the water sending waves in every direction, with it’s underbelly exposed to the sky.  It’s dramatic and even dangerous to be near an iceberg that’s foundering.

The same thing happens to us.  Trying to contain all of that unprocessed emotion takes its toll.  These painful emotions leak out in sharp words and tones.  They leaches into other conversations and conflicts causing us to over-react.  They surface in passive-aggression and avoidance behavior.  And then, when the conditions are right—when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, when something goes wrong in our world—our iceberg flips over to devastating effect.  The pain and anger beneath the surface becomes visible to everyone around us in often hurtful ways.

Icebergs flip.  We flip out.  Hiding, avoiding and denying won’t stop it.  But it doesn’t have to happen.  God gave you your emotions for a reason.  There’s important information in your emotions.  Processing them, listening to them, sharing them; this allows you to find healing and release.

This post is Part 5 of a 5 part series:

9 thoughts on “Myth #5: Ignore Your Emotions and They Will Just Go Away

  1. I had come to this website seeking an answer that has been eating at my faith like a canker worm:
    Does God care about my emotions?
    I was told no and asked if there was a verse in the Bible saying so. I could think of none.
    If you can give me evidence by scripture that He cares, it will be the meaning of more than the world to me.

    1. Hey Lynn,

      Thanks for asking. First, know that your question is a good one shared by many people. I’ve preached on this topic, and always get a huge response from people who want to know more, and are so thankful to have it addressed in church. Let me provide a couple different answers.

      First, the short one: Genesis says that humanity was created in God’s image. That means, in one way or another, every aspect of who we are was created in the image of God. We bear God’s likeness and are God’s image-bearers. While this doesn’t directly mention emotions, I suggest that it implies that even our emotions are created in God’s image. Second, when Jesus describes the life of his followers, he says this is what our commitment will look like: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, mind and soul and Love your neighbor as yourself.” You can find variations in both Matthew and Luke. This means we are to love God with all of who we are. Emotions are a part of that.

      Now, the longer answer. I’ve been working on this subject for about 5 years now. I’m about half-way through a manuscript for a book on the subject that will be out sometime in 2017, so stick around and you’ll hear more about that. In the meanwhile, here are some additional resources that might help:

      Much of what is taught in churches about emotion is just not Biblical. This post summarizes some of this:

      Myth #1 God is not emotional. Myth #2 Emotions always lead you astray. Myth #3 Emotions aren’t spiritual. Myth #4 Emotional Christians are shallow. Myth #5 You can ignore your emotions and they will just go away.

      If you are more of an auditory learner, here’s video of a teaching series I did on the subject. Lot’s of Biblical support is shared here.

      I hope this is a good start. Stick around. I deal with the topic of emotions and faith quite often.

  2. So how do you explain that i in the past have ignored my feelings, and one day after a long time it was gone.

    1. Hey Noor, There are a couple of things I would suggest.

      First, sometimes we have desires for certain things, but as time passes our desires may shift. I used to desire a large house for my family, but as I’ve gotten older and my priorities have shifted, I no longer desire that. This isn’t the same as an emotion.

      Second, sometimes our understanding of our emotions changes over time. For example, I had a painful interaction with someone that felt disrespectful to me. My immediate emotional response was anger. I felt violated. Then, whenever I was around that person I felt defensive. But I spent some time processing those feelings and came to realize that I had interpreted my initial emotional response incorrectly. This person wasn’t really violating me. It was just my pride speaking. When I realized this, all the emotion deflated and the bitterness went away. So, for me, over time my emotional response to this person changed.

      A true emotion is a response that happens almost spontaneously in response to something going on in our inner world or outer circumstances. The strongest emotions like grief, anger and hate deeply impact us. Their intensity will go away, but if we don’t process them (why did they happen? what did they mean? what do I do next?) they remain bottled up inside of us. It takes some kind of process of healing, or maturity, or God acting to move us through the scabs of these things.

  3. when are you following your emotions? when do you disregard them>? how do you express your feelings?

    1. Hey Yujna, those are all good questions. They all are questions that deal with the topic of emotional maturity and growth. As we grow, we learn how to recognize our emotions, hear the truth the carry, and know when and how to express them in God-honoring and life-giving ways.

      If you’re able, pick up a copy of my book, The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. Amazon is the easiest place.

      You can also watch a number of short videos I’ve created on just this subject over on my YouTube Channel.

      I’ll drop some links below.

      Video Series:

      The book:

  4. Why is it that I easily get over emotional pain? After a day or two the pain no longer stays. Or is it just buried deep inside me?

    1. Ronnah-Great questions. I don’t know you or your story, so I can’t tell you for sure. There are several possibilities in my view.

      Different people have different levels of emotional resilience. An emotional experience that will derail some people won’t feel like that big of a deal to others. In some cases, that’s not a problem. In other cases, it might mean there is some denial or emotional disconnection.

      The test, I suspect, is whether you think your life is working for you. Are you happy? Are you enjoying real intimacy in your relationships? Do others experience you as emotionally connected to them? If those things are true for you, then you’re probably OK.

      In my case, I felt like I was OK, but in fact a lot of negative emotional experience was being stored up in me, that eventually came out in anger and depression. But if I had honestly answered those questions above I would have had to say that I wasn’t happy, people didn’t feel emotionally connected to me, and I was struggling with intimacy. So, the signs were there that I was emotionally disconnected.

      You’ll have to be the judge of your own situation.

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