What is the real purpose and value of feelings and emotions?

Good day Margaret, thank you for your time to answer our questions. I appreciate your insight and wisdom in this area.
My question is related to feelings and emotions: both in our faith walk and in day-to-day life. What is the real purpose and value of feelings and emotions? We are told frequently ( both in church and outside the church) not to trust our feelings and emotions because they might not reflect reality. Also, so many emotions ( like anger, fear, desire etc.) lead to destructive behavior or harmful behavior, both to oneself or to others. I know we experience emotions as humans, but do we just ignore them in decision making or determination of our actions?

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Hi @ChrisV, (Chris)

Thank you for your question. This is an interesting one - and one I’ve been working on with many of my child clients (under age 12) in counseling. It is helpful to use an acronym to describe the role of our feelings and emotions. We can frame it as a question: Why do we have feelings?

  1. P = Protection - our feelings and emotions are often helpful in keeping us safe. For example, if you feel fear when you hear a tornado siren, that fear can help you head to a place of safety. Or, if someone is hurting you - let’s say physically trying to beat you up, you might feel anger that helps you to defend yourself, or enable your legs to run and get away from your attacker. So, feelings can help to protect us.
  2. I = Information - our feelings and emotions can be helpful in telling us information about our environment. When we walk into a room of good friends, for example, we feel happy, or at peace, or a sense of warmth and comfort. In this case, our feelings are giving us some information about our connection to our friends.
  3. E = feelings do not always equal facts! This is very important and I suspect this is what you have heard frequently in church. Our feelings are not always based in reality. You might walk into a room and see two people look at you, point, and begin to laugh. You might instantly feel shame or embarrassment, or you might feel angry that they were making fun of you. But, what if those two people weren’t making fun of you at all? What if they were simply telling a joke, pointed at something, and laughed as a result? You will only know that when you ask them, “what are you all laughing at?”

So often, hurt feelings result when we make assumptions about others and those assumptions create misunderstanding when we do not communicate about what/how we are feeling and whether or not we got it right. It is very important to check-in and ask: "Hey, I noticed you haven’t been talking to me as much as you used to…is there something I did that upset you, or is something going on that you would want to share with me?

Clearly, our feelings and emotions serve important functions - but we are not just emotional beings, we are cognitive beings, physical beings, and psychological beings. All of these aspects to our humanity operate (when things are going right) cooperatively. And all of who we are is to be offered to God as worship - so at the very least that means we are to be in alignment with God by walking in the way of Jesus - living and following His way - that’s what it means to be his disciple - to follow after him and learn of him. Jesus certainly had emotions - he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and he experienced the agony of being separated from God at his crucifixion: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But, Jesus also had a mind and a will - and despite how he might have felt about certain things, he willingly chose obedience to God above his own desires (i.e., the Garden of Gethsemane; the wilderness temptations).

I hope this is helpful to you, Chris.

Blessings,

Margaret Manning Shull

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That is a GREAT acronym. It will help me to explain emotions to my son. Thank you.

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