Archive for the ‘anger’ Tag

Good and Bad Emotions?   21 comments

After dozens of conversations I started to understand that Kimberly believed feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are.  “Excuse me, but haven’t you read in the Scriptures all the evil that comes from anger?”  I respond.

“Well,” she says, “if God himself gets angry, it can’t be all bad.”

“Ah, yes, but everyone knows there is ‘righteous’ anger and ‘unrighteous’ anger.  If you start feeling the bad kind, you are sinning, and must stop feeling that way.  You can get angry for the wrong reasons or for the right reasons, and you should not get angry for the wrong reasons, so if you do, you have to repent.”  She clearly did not believe the childhood morality I was taught.

“So,” she responded, “if emotions can be immoral, it means you choose them or refuse them.  Is that how your emotions work?  Because my feelings come without thinking, often without warning.”

“No,” I reply, “you can’t control your initial emotional reactions, but you can choose to hold onto them or to let them go.”

“And how do you let them go?”

“You tell yourself they are wrong and think of all the reasons why you shouldn’t feel that way, and you can talk yourself out of those feelings.”

“So, Jani, basically you should all over your feelings… you beat down your emotions with the law?”

Long pause as I think about this.  I decided long ago that motivating myself with shame is a bad idea.  Is that what I was doing?  Wasn’t I just listening to my conscience, examining myself, and repenting?  Should I not feel guilty for wrong feelings and stop myself from having them?  I knew I didn’t have total control over my emotions, but I had enough control to force out the bad ones. I had done it many times.

“I guess I agree with you that my motivation should not be legalistic.  So maybe I should work from the motivation of wanting good relationships, and everyone knows anger pushes people apart.”

She responded, “In my family, politeness was a much greater threat to true connection than anger.  I have often seen anger bring people closer together because it forces honest communication and each person ends up telling the other person how they really feel.  What do you think makes anger bad?”

“Well, you don’t like me getting angry at you!”

“It is not your anger that is a problem for me, but your blaming me.”  Okay this REALLY does not make sense.  If she was not to blame, why would I get angry?  Getting angry over an innocent behavior is just wrong.  How can you possibly separate anger from blame?  If there is anger, someone is to blame!  How could she say that all feelings are legitimate?

“So you think there is nothing wrong with being angry as hell at an innocent person?” I ask.

“Well, what do you mean by ‘wrong’?” she responds.  “If you mean ‘are some emotions immoral,’ then I would say no.  If you mean ‘are my emotions accurate or correct,’ I would say it depends on what you are measuring.  Feelings are unreliable interpreters of someone else’s behavior (your rage does not prove that I’ve done something wrong).  But feelings are great interpreters of your heart if you listen to them carefully.  Emotions always tell you something about yourself rather than about the other person.”

Wow, that’s really a revelation to me.  She is delinking my negative feelings from her culpability, a bond I thought inseparable.  I could only imagine my anger being justified if she were truly at fault, but she is insisting that my feelings of anger are legitimate in themselves, even if she has done nothing wrong, nothing “deserving” of anger.  They are legitimate for the very reason that they do not measure her misconduct… they simply alert me to what is going on in my heart, and do so quite accurately.  If I merely shove my anger away or talk it down without considering what it is telling me, I can gain nothing from it.

After mulling this over for awhile I ask, “Okay, so maybe emotions are not evil in themselves and are just a gauge of my heart, but aren’t some of them a gauge of my bad heart?  Doesn’t my anger or sadness or fear point to something that should not be in my heart, something for which I am guilty?  And isn’t it possible to hold on to or nurse these negative feelings and so keep myself under their power?  And doesn’t it matter how I express my feelings?”  I was determined to prove my “negative” feelings were bad in some way!

Posted August 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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