Introduction: You’re reading Part 12 in a mini-series on Emotional Intelligence. I’ve developed this series from material in my book Soul Physicians.
How Can We Practice the Hallmarks of Emotional Maturity?
Emotional maturity consists of our ability to be managed by the Spirit so that we can manage ourselves and master the art of relating to others. The mature person has an emotional repertoire tailored to glorify God by showing God’s majesty and beauty to a weak and ugly world.
God designed our emotions to put us in motion. However, living in a fallen world, inhabiting unredeemed bodies, and tempted by an unloving enemy (Satan), we dare not allow our emotions to manage us. God calls on us to manage, master, and govern our emotions.
The problem is not with emotionality, but with the appropriatenessof emotions and their governed expression. The question is, “How can we bring spiritual maturity to our emotions?” As Aristotle said, “Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy.”
Without the Spirit’s control, we are vulnerable emotional hijackings. Our emotions, being designed as bridges between our outer world and our inner life, scream at us, “Act! Don’t think! 911. Emergency! Emergency!”
I tell people that “Our body has a mind of its own.”The physical brain transmits urgent messages to act and react. However, as Paul teaches in Romans 6, spiritual maturity includes yielding our body, including our brain, to the service of God’s will. Thus we must learn to control our physical brain with our spiritual mind. We need to bring rationality to bear on our emotionality.
Emotions are fast and sloppy. Our spirit/soul/mind/will/inner person is our emotional manager. We are to be our brain’s emotional damper switch.
Emotional maturity includes at least five emotional management skills:
- Emotional Self-Awareness: Soul-Awareness
- Emotional Spirit-Mastery: Soothing Our Soul in Our Savior
- Emotional Motivation: Managing Our Moods
- Emotional Empathy: Recognizing Emotions in Others
- Emotional Savvy: Handling Relationships
Emotional Tool # 1: Emotional Self-Awareness
Our first emotional management skill is emotional self-awareness. Emotional maturity begins with our awareness of our feelings as they occur. Are we able to recognize and name our own moods? Able to understand the causes of our feelings?
When we are emotionally self-aware, we give ongoing attention to our internal state. We are aware both of our mood and our thoughts about our mood. “I’m feeling down right now and it is frightening me.” Actively monitoring our moods helps us to begin to gain control of them.
Emotional Tool # 2: Emotional Spirit-Mastery
The capacity to soothe our soul in God (emotional spirit-mastery) is our second emotional management skill. It begins with our ability to take everything we are feeling to God.
It also involves our capacity for emotional self-regulation and responsibility. Thus it rejects the ventilation fallacy which teaches that catharsis—uncontrolled expression of what I am feeling and experiencing—is necessary for emotional health. Instead, what is necessary for emotional health is candor with myself about what I am feeling, candor with God about my mood states, and selective expression of my feelings toward others.
Emotional Tool # 3: Emotional Motivation
Managing our moods (emotional motivation) includes harnessing our emotions in the service of a goal. It also involves stifling our impulses (what the Bible calls “passions of the flesh”) and delaying gratification (Romans 5 and 8).
Hope is a key to emotional self-motivation and delayed gratification. Hope produces resilience, perseverance, and longsuffering. It allows us to turn setbacks into comebacks. Optimistic hope in God is vital. It says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “I can meet challenges as they arise.” The result is learned contentment in whatever state I’m in (whatever external situation or internal mood).
Emotional Tool # 4: Emotional Empathy
The fourthemotional management skill is empathy or the ability to recognize emotions in others. Empathy builds on self-awareness. When I don’t have to strain to hear my own emotional voice, then I find myself hearing others with crystal clarity. That’s empathy: fluency in others’ emotional language. The more open I am to my own emotions, the more skilled I will be in reading the feelings of others.
How attuned are you to others? Are you emotionally tone-deaf, or do you have the ability to sense another’s mood? Do you practice the artful, creative, aesthetic ability to perceive the subjective experience of another person? Can you make another person’s pain your own? Are you skilled at perspective-taking?
Emotional Tool # 5: Emotional Savvy
The fifth emotional management skill—emotional savvy— is “the social art” or the art of emotional influence. It is the capacity to be emotionally nourishing, the ability to leave others in a good mood.
Emotional savvy involves interpersonal effectiveness that includes managing emotions in others, helping others to soothe themselves in God, and becoming an emotional tool kit for others.
The new you can manage your emotions, can govern your mood states. You can thrive by experiencing joy in the midst of sorrow, hope in the midst of grief, and peace in the midst of turmoil. The power comes through grace connecting. Only as we connect with God, soothing our soul in our Savior, can we courageously choose to connect with our fallen world in an emotionally mature manner.
The Rest of the Story
We’re near the end of our journey. In our final post, we review by asking the “What?” question: “What are the key emotional lessons we’ve learned?”
And then we renew by asking the “So what?” question: “So what difference could all of this make in how we live, relate, and minister?
Join the Conversation
Of the five tools in your emotional toolbox, which one do you most want to sharpen?