Which comes first – thoughts or feelings? Does the heart or the mind dominate our ability to live well?
Medical and psychological research continually investigates the link between the head and heart, now utilizing detailed scans that give windows into brain operations and how information travels throughout the body. Both thoughts and feelings are keys to physical and mental health.
In Hebrews 10:16, the writer reminds us of the original plan by God for His people, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Our Creator God knows both heart and mind need to be engaged for a full commitment, a deeper understanding.
Can’t Stop This Feeling…
Bob Newhart has a silly video about a counseling method that takes less than five minutes. He doesn’t want to hear about the past trauma or fantasies or nightmares associated with the problem. When the client is finished describing the complaint, her anxious thoughts and painful feelings, Newhart says he will supply two words that will cure the client. She takes out her pad and pencil with anticipation.
Then he shouts at the client, “Stop it!”
The directive to just stop thinking or feeling is too simplistic for many issues and will not lead to healing and freedom without additional support. I discuss with my counseling and coaching clients the role of feelings and thoughts in the context of suffering and change. Together we look for the strategy to help clients stop the unhelpful patterns and habits. I wish shouting at them aggressively would magically work.
Here are 3 ways we can take control of our emotions:
1. Red Light – Green Light
How should we handle emotions? I like to use a traffic light analogy with my clients, thinking of their emotional responses as signals:
- If you feel angry or upset, that is like a red light, telling you something needs to change or stop. You cannot continue this way without dangerous consequences.
- If you are confused, mildly irritated, discouraged, or suspicious, that is a yellow warning signalto slow down and look at the situation carefully.
- If you sense peace, delight, or joy, the light is green and you can proceed.
We must pay attention to these signals, but not make hasty decisions based on the emotional responses alone. Take time to reflect and analyze the details surrounding these emotional reactions, composing a clear-headed solution. We need to engage both the emotional information and the data our minds have collected over the years to help us make sense of our world and personal events.
2. Scripture Therapy Manual
Two particular verses in the Bible are excellent counseling instructions that can alter a person’s negative perspective which ultimately brings positive changes in his/her life. The determination to harness thinking can bring emotions into proper alignment and allow our behaviors to produce good results.
- Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–thinkabout such things.”
- 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thoughtcaptive to obey Christ.”
The Apostle Paul is teaching in these verses how the full concentration of our mind on the truth found in God’s Word and the life of Christ, forms the healthy foundation for living. We can’t deny our feelings, they often bubble up to the surface uninvited and unannounced. Feelings change due to circumstance, hormones, weather, natural events, physical ailments, and people’s behaviors around us. How we respond to these emotional signals should be based on something more concrete, less fluid, a sure foundation.
3. Just Fake It
Can we try to fake it till we make it with our emotions? Should we just pretend to be happy or content or relaxed until this becomes reality?
This phrase more generally applies to acting confident while learning to be the skilled worker boasted about on a resume. Trying to feign a genuine emotion long term would be an exhausting endeavor, although the impersonation might produce reliable information. Perhaps the charade might enhance a person’s belief that such a feeling was actually possible.
For lasting change, I am more inclined to probe for the underlying self-talk, labels rooted into a client’s belief system. I agree with many of the self-help books written by trusted Christian mental health professionals and teachers that we need to assess our personal truths, what we have come to believe about ourselves, and compare them to God’s truth, what He says about us in His Word. When there is misalignment between the two sets of truth, we need to cast ours down in favor of God’s since He is the One who made us, knows us best, and planned our destiny for His glory and our good.
God Will Show Us the Way
When we get a proper understanding in our minds about who we are in God’s family, how much He loves us, and how He wired our emotions and personality, we can move toward controlling our feelings.
We can read our emotional traffic signals and think about what we should do. Eventually, we can tell ourselves, “Stop it!” when we are not responding correctly or in a healthy manner. This will not be a five minute cure and we will need guidance from a trusted counselor or able friend, but we can do it, with God’s help.