Archive for the ‘emotional support’ Tag

Thought: How We Treat Our Emotions   4 comments

We all know we have some influence over our emotions, and there are various reasons we may find it beneficial in particular situations to manipulate our emotions: if emotions are impairing our functioning on some crucial matter, if we cannot control our expression of emotion and that expression is damaging others, if we don’t have enough space (time, safety, etc.) to process our feelings just now.  In such cases we are not ignoring our feelings or pushing them away, but we are asking them to wait for a bit until we can address them.

If as a rule we listen and support our feelings and what they are telling us, then the exceptions I suggested above won’t undermine our spirits.  If as a rule we try to control our emotions instead of listening to them empathically, it is as healthy as trying to control your spouse—the more “successful” you are at this effort, the more damage is done.  It took me a very long time to begin to deal with my emotions based on the principles of grace instead of the principles of law.

I can manipulate my emotions by suppressing them or by aggravating them and neither approach is healthy.  It is one thing to listen graciously and patiently to my anger until it has told me all it needs to say; it is quite another to pump up my anger.  When I use various means to exacerbate my feelings, I am being just as untrue to my genuine emotions as when I refuse to hear them.

I find that the best question to ask myself regarding my feelings and my response to them is “why?”  Why do I feel so angry?  Why do I feel the need to stimulate them further?  I used to ask myself these questions in condemnation, just as my irate mother used to ask us: “What is WRONG with you?!”  This was not asked in a comforting way to find and relieve our suffering.  The natural follow up to such a question was, “Just stop it!”  And that really was my attitude towards my own feelings.


When I was in India, I kept throwing my unwanted emotions out the back door, only to realize too late that it was not the back door, but the closet door, and the shelves collapsed under the weight of my ignored emotions, driving me into deep depression.  Trust me, when you ignore or shame your emotions, it does not fix them or get rid of them, it just forces them to keep working behind the scenes where they sicken and weaken your spirit.

Response Part 2: Supporting Without Enabling   Leave a comment

Elisabeth’s comment raises at least four additional issues in my mind.  The most apparent one, I think, is the distinction between enabling (as AA uses the term) and supporting. When people take too little responsibility for themselves, offering blanket assistance may not be the most helpful thing to do for them.  We need to take this into consideration so that we do not inadvertently hurt or weaken others by our aid (such as parents do when they over-protect their children).

When folks are in need, love calls us to discern how best to serve them.  It seems to me, the better we know someone, the better we can identify his or her true needs (so perhaps the best way to serve them is to get to know them).  The difficulty lies in determining whether the crutch I offer will aid or hinder healing, and I have many potential problems in sorting out this quandary.

I tend to expect of others what I expect of myself, but this is a dangerous measure.  Each of us has unique struggles and strengths, clarity and confusion, emotional surplus and shortage, speed of growth in different areas.  If I don’t even know my own heart well, how can I presume to know another’s?   I tend to expect too much of folks (and others’ tend to expect too little of them).  Without realizing it, I tend to help or deny help to others for the wrong reasons (because it feels good to be needed, because I am proud of my abilities, because I feel obligated, because I resent the inconvenience, because I am suspicious of their motives).  I rarely if ever respond out of pure love.

How can I tell when folks are being negligent, failing to do what they can easily do, or whether they are in genuine need of a hand up?  Without even deciding that question, I know of a number of vital ways we can support others.  We can accept them for who they are, we can feel and express empathy for their sense of need, we can listen and ask questions, we can offer encouragement and insight from our own similar experiences, we can be honest about our hopes and concerns regarding them and the strengths and weaknesses we bring to the table.  I have discovered in relationship to my wife that what I need more than anything else is someone to understand and accept me as I am.  It is far more important than the help they do or do not give me.

The Comfort of Caring Hands

Posted July 25, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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What Do You Think?   6 comments

In a message to a friend I wrote the following some time back.  I would love to get everyone’s thoughts, to get a dialogue going.  Are you game?

When I said that different folks are helped in different ways (and by different kinds of people), I meant that even the downcast are each sad in his or her own way, with unique history, issues, perspectives, coping strategies, resources and the like.  When I was struggling in Calcutta with deep depression, a well-wisher sent me a copy of “Spiritual Depression” by a noted evangelical writer.  The author’s premise was that depression always arises from a lack of faith.  I have discovered in my own life that depression and sadness may be a demonstration of a much deeper faith.  Many people are too afraid (i.e. lack the faith) to allow themselves any unpleasant feelings.  They constantly keep such feelings at bay by various means of escape (entertainment, overwork, even reading the Bible).  It often takes a great deal of courage (i.e. faith) to acknowledge one’s unpleasant feelings, and if we push those feelings away, we will never discover what they are trying to tell us about ourselves.

So many folks are also afraid that not challenging their friend’s moodiness will encourage him either to mope and cling to his depression (a “pity party”) or to use his depression to manipulate others.  These two unhealthy responses do occur.  On the one hand, no one is completely honest, even with themselves, about their feelings.  So some folks use depression to avoid their true feelings because of fear of acknowledging their anger or sadness or pain (just as other folks use cheerfulness to avoid their genuine emotions).  On the other hand, they may use their depression to try to control others.  The solution for both types of folks is not to push them out of feeling sad, however, but to help them discover their true feelings beneath their depression while maintaining good boundaries relationally and emotionally (i.e. not yielding to manipulation).

Some folks want you to cheer them up from their sadness, either because they are not ready to face their deep unpleasant feelings or because their sadness is superficial and probably only circumstantial.  (After all, no one likes to feel depressed—everyone would rather always be genuinely cheerful if it came with no negative side effects.)  They may in fact need “cheering up,” though in my perspective even these folks are usually more benefited by an expression of sympathy for their sadness, at least initially and tentatively: an offer to be with them in their pain, if they wish, instead of helping them to avoid it.

Posted July 10, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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“Get Over It!”   2 comments

“Fear Not!” occurs over 300 times in the English Bible.  It has always been a rebuke to me, or at least a challenge to obey.  After all, it is in the imperative mode—it is a command, and commands are to be obeyed.  Combined with Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples, “O ye of little faith,” I was tried and found wanting.  That was my take on it most of my life.

I am regularly amazed at how I blindly bring my own assumptions to Scripture.  As I receive insight from the Bible, I also shape that truth to my pre-set ideas.  I think to some extent this is inevitable, since we cannot make sense of a concept that will not somehow fit into our current worldview.  In this case, my assumption was that any word of Scripture in the imperative is a command, its primary address is to my will, and it requires obedience.

If I do fear when I shouldn’t, I am being disobedient and condemned by my conscience, and fearing this feeling of guilt, I try to force my feelings to submit, usually by impressing on my mind thoughts that will countermand my fear—talk my fear down, so to speak.  I was trying to eliminate my fear by increasing my fear (of something greater), and my greatest fear was losing God’s approval.

I remember when I started wondering about this.  Does a God of grace really want us to be afraid of Him, to doubt His grace?  Does the phrase “fear God,” which crops up way more often than “fear not” really mean that I should be afraid of God?  How does the gospel address this question?  How do we make sense of the Bible commanding us both to fear and to not fear… is God suggesting that He should be considered more scary than anything else… the Almighty Boogeyman?

As I wrestled over many months, perhaps years, with these questions, it dawned on me that the command mode in grammar is not always used as a call to obedience.  We commonly use the imperative to encourage or grant favors to others: “Have another piece of pie” or “Take your time.”  They are in the command mode, but are meant as gifts, not orders.  As someone departs town, we say, “Stay safe!”  Is this a blessing or a command, like parents scolding their teenager, “Drive safely!”  They have such very different responses in our souls.

I learned as a husband that I can easily intend a statement to ease my wife’s fears which only shames her instead.  She would be afraid of something happening, and I would feel sorry for her suffering in this way and try to give her relief by explaining to her why she did not need to be afraid.  “You don’t need to be afraid!  It is pretty unlikely that this will happen because ____________.”  I would try to explain away her fears, but she heard me saying, “It is stupid for you to be afraid.  Your feelings are completely unfounded.”  I seemed to be shaming her for her feelings.

Over time I learned to validate her feelings of fear, “I understand completely why this would make you afraid.  I mean consider X,Y,Z,” before I went on to try to calm her fears with some form of encouragement (the kind that works for her).  All my life I thought that expressing understanding for someone’s fear would actually support their feelings of fear, but I discovered that, magically, the opposite happened.  Hearing my empathy for their feelings (instead of arguments for not being afraid) seemed to relieve a lot of their anxiety.  They could see I was with them in their insecurity.

When God says, “Don’t Fear!” is he trying to calm our fears or shame them away?  Is it the voice of a tender father soothing his frightened little girl as he holds her tight, “It’s okay… I’m hear… don’t be afraid… I’ll protect you,” or is it the voice of a sergeant to his platoon, “Stop being afraid, you cowards!  What’s wrong with you?  Go out there and die like men!”  Which seems to yield more healthy results in our lives?

Posted June 28, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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