By Amanda Rowett, MA, LHMCA, Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC
Beth sought out therapy to address her struggle with self-hate and negative body image. She tries to compensate for her deep-seated insecurity with perfectionism. However, if her performance or expectations fall short of her ideal, she tells herself: “I am bad … I hate myself … I am stupid.” She obsesses and berates herself for her appearance, calling herself “fat and ugly.” She casually refers to the cruel comments made by friends regarding her body, yet dismisses her pain saying: “It’s not a big deal … I am just too sensitive … I just need to get over it … I hate that I struggle with this.”
Beth shows very little emotion in therapy, except for frustration and anger. She does not allow herself to express her vulnerable emotions, and hides her story of pain. Beth has very high expectations of herself ̶ even in how she “should feel” ̶ and is ashamed of her limitations. She often states she “shouldn’t” feel hurt and rebukes herself, saying that as a Christian woman she should not be focusing on her outward appearance. Her solution is to “just get over it.” Beth battles with intense shame and self condemnation for the presence of pain and negative emotions inside of her. She is wrestling with painful emotional wounds, but is exercising great control to make sure she “keeps herself together.” For Beth to break down would be a sign of weakness and failure, so her emotions remain locked up inside.
Why People Avoid Emotions?
Like many others, Beth is having trouble connecting to herself and allowing herself to experience her emotions. People avoid their emotional experiences for many reasons: 1. Fear of pain, 2. Fear that the emotion will engulf them, 3. Feeling guilt and shame for having negative emotions, 4. Believing that expression is weakness, 5. Possessing unrealistic expectations of self, such as the legalistic belief that they “shouldn’t” feel a certain way. The truth is that no matter how much you might not want to feel a certain way, the emotion will remain unresolved despite your efforts to ignore it. Pain will wait until you attend to it. It is important to acknowledge the feeling, process it, and then move on. We cannot heal in reverse order, no matter how much we might want to “just get over it.”
Feelings get a bad press in many well-intentioned Christian environments. We hear messages such as “Don’t listen to your feelings,” “Don’t be led by the flesh,” and “You can’t trust your feelings.” After hearing sermons like this, some Christians mistakenly conclude that emotions are “bad.” However, we must remember that God created our emotions. God himself experiences emotions. So feelings must have a value and purpose. The negative association of emotion comes from living in a place of extremes. Some people place too much emphasis on their emotions, allowing their feelings to control their lives. If this happens, you are making rash decisions and possibly ignoring the Holy Spirit’s leadership in your life. But, at the same time, putting too little emphasis on feelings is equally destructive. Denial and avoidance keep you emotionally stuck and cause emotional wounds to worsen. The key is balance and perspective. Balance means not allowing yourself to be ruled by emotions, while not totally diminishing your emotions either. Perspective involves looking to the Holy Spirit to guide you, even in your emotional experience.
The Value of Emotions
We must recognize that emotions are a gift from God and exist for our benefit. First, emotions enable us to experience the richness of life. For example, joy, surprise, desire, delight, appreciation, curiosity, wonder, triumph, affection, and passion add to a fulfilling and abundant life. Second, emotions also help us form relationships ̶ they help us bond and relate to others and to God. Third and lastly, emotions provide us with a piece of data, just as your five senses or thoughts inform you about the world inside and outside of yourself. I want to stress a “piece” of information ̶ emotions do not give us the whole story, but they still provide valuable information. For example, when you experience anger, sadness, or anxiety, your body is trying to tell you that something needs to be addressed. Emotions can serve as warning light. But many people sadly dismiss this God-given internal alert system.
A Christian Counselor Can Help You Process Emotional Pain
Do you feel numb, stuck, afraid, overwhelmed, or even plagued by your emotional pain? Are you ignoring the warning light inside of you? Christian counseling is a safe place to face the hurt you have been avoiding for so long. I would be honored to listen to your story and seek the Lord with you to help you find peace and healing. If you would like to find out more about how Christian counseling can help you in addressing emotional pain, please contact me here.
“Woman with Terrible Headache,” Stock Photo by David Castillo Dominici, published on 13 March 2012, Stock Photo – image ID: 10075988; “Woman with Sad Expression,” Stock Photo by David Castillo Dominici, published on 01 February 2013 Stock Photo – image ID: 100137117; “Emotion,” office microsoft image