What’s Wrong with Stuffing Our Feelings?

Introduction: You’re reading Part 9 in a blog mini-series on Emotional Intelligence. Read Part 1: Emotions: God’s Idea, Part 2: Why We Feel What We Feel, Part 3: Good News about Good Moods, Part 4: What Went Wrong?, Part 5: Our Emotions and Our Bodies, Part 6: How’s Your EI?, Part 7: Become an Emotional Mentor, and Part 8: Emotions Gone Mad. I’ve developed this series from material in my book Soul Physicians

Stuffing Our Feelings

In Part 8, we explored the first of two typical ways that emotions go bad: using our emotions as spears—out-of-control expression of our feelings that end up harming others. 

For most people, especially Christians, this “spearing of emotions” seems like the worst possible scenario. Additionally, many Christians seem to assume that the opposite extreme is actually a healthy emotional response: “stuffing our feelings”—over-controlled repression of our feelings. Such is not the case. 

Emotional Stoics Versus Emotional Poets

God calls us to be emotional “poets.” We are to manage our moods the way the psalmists did— facing our feelings face-to-face with God and soothing our soul in our Savior. 

Instead of being passionate poets like the psalmists, we become apathetic stoics. We try to live without pathos, without passion and feeling. Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame was a stoic. He tried to repress his emotions, deny them, if he could, eradicate them.  

It’s easy to understand stoicism’s attraction. Hatred, despair, and terror are not exactly the most attractive experiences. When they sweep over us, we flee them like an invading army. 

We can understand stoics by contrasting them with poets. What should biblical poets do with their anger, hatred, and rage? 

1. Option One: Acknowledging Our Moods or Trying to Eradicate Our Moods

We should not try to eradicate our feelings. Paul tells us to be angry but sin not; he does not tell us never to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). Emotional poets acknowledge their moods to themselves (candor) and to God (lament).  

Psalm 73 is a classic expression of a believer’s struggle to comprehend and control his envy, jealousy, and hatred. Asaph is dismayed that a good God could allow bad things to happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. He faces his envy coram Deo (face-to-face with God) telling God all about it. He doesn’t wait to be rid of his envy before he dares enter his Father’s presence. He takes himself, all that he is, including his envy, to God.        

Stoics, on the other hand, try to eradicate their hatred. “If I don’t think about it, it’s not there. If I repress it, it will go away.” They choose denial over candor and lament. 

2. Option Two: Seeing Our Feelings with Spiritual Eyes or with Eyeballs Only

As emotional poets, God wants us to explore our moods with spiritual eyes. Asaph enters the presence of God to gain perspective on his perspective. “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Psalm 73:16-17). God calls us to view our external situation and our internal moods from His eternal perspective.   

Those who repress their moods try the opposite approach. When a mood doesn’t vanish, they mull it over and over and over again with eyeballs only—from a worldly perspective. Asaph was once trapped there, seeing only the prosperity of the wicked. We’re doomed to defeat whenever we look at our situations and our feelings only from a temporal perspective. 

3. Option Three: Confessing My Sinful Anger or Playing the Pharisee with My Sinful Anger

Third, emotional poets confess their sinful anger to Father. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you” (Psalm 73:21-22). 

Of course, not all anger is sinful. But sinful anger—anger that is self-centered and self-protective, anger that pushes us away from God and others—we confess that anger. 

Stoics, on the other hand, don’t confess their mismanaged moods to God. They don’t believe that they could come to God unless they perfectly, serenely suppress their rage. They play the emotional Pharisee—trying to deal with their emotions through the flesh, through works, and through self-sufficiency. 

4. Option Four: Facing Feelings with Grace or with Works

Fourth, poets receive grace. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand” (Psalm 73:23).  

Not so the emotional stoic. In self-righteousness, they never receive grace. They think, “Why do I need grace? I manage quite well on my own.” 

5. Option Five: Choosing God-Sufficiency or Self-Sufficiency

Fifth, poets recognize that only God is enough. “Whom have I in heaven but you, and earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Godly emotional poets choose God-sufficiency. 

Emotional stoics choose self-sufficiency by denying and attempting to repress their feelings. 

Why? Facing moods forces us to face our insufficiency. Nothing makes us feel punier than being overwhelmed by feelings. No one wants to hear the derogatory comment, “He’s so moody.” “She’s so emotional!” 

When feelings overpower us we feel powerless, impotent. In our flesh, we would rather stuff our moods, would rather survive self-sufficiently, than admit that we need help managing our moods. 

That’s why stuffing our feelings is sinful—it is a work’s orientation. It displays a self-sufficient denial of our need for God. Though more subtle than out-of-control expression (spearing) of our feelings, suppression is equally sinful. 

The Rest of the Story

We’ve explored mood order—how God designed our emotions to function. And we’ve probed mood disorder—how sin mars God’s design for our moods. We never want to stop at sin. Where sin abounds, grace super-abounds (Romans 5:20). In our upcoming posts, we begin to discuss mood reorder—how does our salvation in Christ bring wholeness and holiness to our emotions? 

Join the Conversation

How surprised are you that repressing, suppressing, and stuffing our feelings is just as harmful and sinful as using our feelings as spears?

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  1. daughter said:

    Really good thoughts. Thank you for publishing this for those of us who suffer in relative silence. For me its not so much “stuffing” anger but a lot of personal loss, grief, and regret. I guess the same ideas would apply though. 🙂

    January 6, 2012
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