7 Steps to Emotional Healing
Where Do Emotions Come From?
There are many different theories circulating in our world as to where emotions come from, but as Christians, we can confidently say our emotions come from God. God created us to experience a wide range of emotions. In Genesis 1:31 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Jesus, who walked this earth just like you and I, felt many different emotions throughout his lifetime. He experienced emotions like joy, exhaustion, anger, disgust, sorrow, compassion, frustration, agony, empathy, and forgiveness. Wow! Can you relate to any of these?
While some people separate emotions into categories and label them as good or bad, I don’t look at emotions this way. They may not always be pleasant when we are experiencing them, but they are all necessary. I believe that all emotions are essential for us to live a healthy life. It may seem hard to believe at times, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made with ALL of our emotions (Psalm 139:14).
Emotions span across every culture. No one scholar agrees on a specific “basic set of emotions”, but we know for certain that there are a wide range of emotions and that we all experience them. What emotions do you experience the most? Most of us will immediately think of emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. But how comfortable are you in expressing these emotions?
Why Do We Have Emotions?
I believe emotions are biological, genetic, and learned. Think for a moment about a baby. Babies cry, scream, coo, and smile. If we meet their needs, they know they can count on us to take care of them. There is a conditioning that takes place. A learned response. For most children growing up in a healthy environment, most of their needs get met to the best of their parent’s ability. Now think about a young child that is three or four years old. How do they express emotion? They cry, scream, throw a temper tantrum, smile, give hugs, and literally jump for joy with excitement. They may even express themselves with words that communicate their specific wants and needs. Children are born free of emotional restraint. They are naturally expressive, animated, trusting, and vulnerable. Emotionally health parents will allow their children to express all of their emotions openly and freely. There are no emotions that are “off limits” and even in this environment parents are comfortable in expressing their emotions too.
What memories do you have from your childhood surrounding emotions?
Were you encouraged to share and express your emotions, or were you told things like “Calm down”, “I’ll talk to you when you stop throwing a fit”, “Stop crying”, or “You’re being too emotional.” Were you told as a little boy that “Boys don’t cry?”
The Emotional Shutdown
Most of us experience what I call an “emotional shutdown” at some point in our life. An emotional shutdown occurs when we no longer believe our emotions are worth expressing or when it becomes too hurtful or too painful to share how we feel with another person. It may have occurred in your family when you were growing up as a young child, in school, during a sports activity, at work, or in a relationship with a friend or spouse. And quite possibly, it may have occurred multiple times.
I encourage you to take the time needed to identify, acknowledge, and work through your “emotional shutdown” or “emotional shutdowns” that you have experienced. Not only will you feel emotionally lighter, but you will also be healthier emotionally and physically, and you will begin to experience emotional connection (where you once felt emotionally distant) from those in your life that are most important to you.
As frustrating as experiencing different emotions can be at times, emotions serve a wonderful purpose in our life. Unfortunately, many of us are disconnected from our emotions because we didn’t learn how to express our emotions in a healthy way, and it doesn’t help that modern culture tells us to ignore how we feel. So, what actually happens when we don’t acknowledge our emotions? We end up saying things like “Nothing’s wrong”, “I don’t know”, “I’m just tired”, “I’m not feeling well”, “I’m sick”, “Such and such hurts”, “Something must be wrong with me physically” or “I hope the doctor finds something wrong with me.” Have you said any of these statements lately?
Emotions are always trying to get our attention. They offer us great insight as to what is going on with us at a deeper level. Instead of saying “I’m not feeling well today” ask yourself, “What emotion am I experiencing right now?” Maybe someone said something that hurt your feelings and you need to say, “I feel hurt.” Instead of saying “I don’t know” when someone is asking you how you are, stop for a moment and ask yourself “How am I feeling at this very moment?” and then fill in the blank, “I feel _____.”
We process emotions by first acknowledging them. When we do, we will begin to feel healthier not only emotionally, but also mentally, physically, and spiritually. It takes training and lots of practice to identify our emotions. As 1 Timothy 4:7 says, we need to train ourselves to be godly. Emotion training, as I like to call it, takes intentional practice, and most often, lots of it! Diving into this work isn’t always easy, but it’s always worthwhile.
And, for the record, men have just as many emotions as women. I get asked this question all the time.
Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life
When I was in graduate school studying to be a counselor, I had to pick a “counseling theory.” This theory would represent how I see human behavior. Of all the theories, I chose to establish my counseling practice on the cognitive theory. The cognitive theory is all about cognitions, which are our thoughts, and focuses on how an individual’s thinking can actually change their emotions and behavior.
I use a counseling process that I call “TFA”. It stands for thoughts (T), feelings (F), and actions (A). To sum it all up: The way you think directly impacts the way you feel and act. I teach this to almost every client I work with. I believe it’s extremely helpful for every individual.
In the same way a helm (or wheel) controls the direction of a boat by turning its rudder, our thoughts determine how we feel, and those feelings directly determine our behavior.
7 Steps to Emotional Healing
1) Put a name to it! Research shows that simply being able to label your emotions can change how your body reacts to stressful situations. Practice at any given moment by saying, I feel ___________ right now.
2) Determine what thought(s) preceded the emotion. Remember, thoughts lead to feelings and those feelings lead to subsequent actions. It’s not the event but rather the thought it triggered or how you perceived the event that prompted the emotion.
3) Be still and FEEL. Some of us are too busy to feel an emotion. Emotions are trying to get our attention. It’s healthy to experience an emotion and move through it (don’t stay stuck!). Emotionally healthy people are balanced. They think just right. Not too little, which is avoidance, and not too much, which is obsessive (also called rumination.) Feelings don’t just go away, they pile up until you address them.
4) Listen to what your body is telling you. When you’re in a situation, is your heart racing? Do your palms sweat? Is your stomach feeling nausea? Are you tightening a body part, maybe your foot, leg, neck, or shoulders? Are you quenching your fists? Do you have a headache? Pay attention to what your body is doing. If we don’t acknowledge our emotions, our bodies will take our emotions on. I believe strongly in the mind/body connection. I believe that many illnesses, sicknesses, and diseases can be prevented by listening to our feelings.
5) Be honest with your emotions and talk about them to people in your life that you feel safe with. Seek professional help when you need it.
6) Be patient with yourself. It takes time to unlearn unhealthy habits that no longer serve you and re-learn new healthy behaviors.
7) When you experience an emotion, thank it for being there. It may feel unpleasant in the moment, but that emotion is trying to help you live your healthiest life.
Putting “T F A” into daily action is my secret weapon to healing my past trauma. I feel more connected with my emotions and don’t let negative thoughts consume me. With time and practice, I know these 7 steps will help you find freedom and live a beautiful life.
In Health and Love,
~ Debbie ~
Debbie Whitehead is a licensed professional counselor (M.Ed, LPC), certified personal trainer (CPT), and certified nutrition coach. She owns a practice in Plano, Texas where she helps clients break free from trauma and live a beautiful life – mind, body, and soul.