Here I would like to come full circle in this series about emotions and return to our first question: are emotions good or bad? While we came to the conclusion that emotions are good, because they help us express our needs and motivate us towards action, we have also noted that emotions can sometimes become problematic. In this final post, I want to take a deeper look at how emotions can cause difficulties in our lives.
One way that emotions become problematic is when the emotion does not produce change. If emotions are a signal for some type of action we should be taking, such as setting a boundary with an intrusive individual, but we do not know how to take that action, then we will feel stress. The key to resolving stress is to identify what action needs to be made and then making that change, which often requires tenacious courage, as well as support from others. On the other hand, if the emotion is a signal that something is wrong internally and cannot be easily fixed, such as feeling ashamed about having a bad temper, then the typical response is to become numb. The key to overcoming numbness is to focus on transformation of the self. Once you stop numbing the feelings, the motivation to change often returns so that you can change.
A second way that emotions cause problems is when people lack the ability to regulate their emotions, or express them appropriately. Some people tend towards over-regulation, where they tend to inhibit all feelings, while others may under-regulate their feelings, becoming emotional or angry easily. The key here is finding homeostasis, or a balance point in your emotional life, where you can experience the passion of emotions but also be able to function effectively and achieve your goals. The key is to be able to allow your emotions to arise in response to your life situation but also to be able to resolve those emotions so that they do not become too intense or endure for too long. Problems with either under- or over-regulation of emotions lead to a lack of homeostasis, which leads to a less than fulfilling life.
The last way that emotions can challenge our lives is when our emotions lead us to make improper conclusions about our life in the world. Emotions are crucial for making meaning, such as when we learn that life is precious while grieving the loss of a loved one. However, some emotions, such as depression, can lead us to believe life is hopeless or that nobody loves us. We probably know many people who have abandoned faith in God because they encountered difficult circumstances in their life and were unable to make meaning of these times. This process of meaning-making is one where emotions shape our thoughts considerably and where we are subject to making incredibly false conclusions.
As you can see, emotions can cause tremendous problems in our lives: stress, numbness, being over-reactive, lacking joy, and leading us to miss the real meaning of our lives. Nonetheless, emotions are a gift that God has given us so that we may be fully alive. I hope that you may find the path that leads you to live the emotional life that God has in store for you, where you can feel joy, hope, and love.