by Ella Walker Henderson, M.A., LPC, CEDS
In our last post, Wende wrote about emotion coping. This month, we’ll add a spiritual perspective to emotion-coping steps.
Whether or not you struggle with food or exercise issues, many of us are unaware of the emotions we experience. We use work or busyness or alcohol or drugs not to feel. Sometimes, the knee-jerk reaction to seek these things is automatic. We have no idea that emotions are a driving force behind them. The avoidance feels natural. Therefore, the first step of emotion-coping is awareness.
To work on awareness of emotions, try to name the emotion. If you’re not sure, print out a list of emotions. Reading through a list can help you further identify how you feel and can help you go beyond the words we all too often rely on, like happy, mad, or sad, that can oversimplify how we feel.
Acceptance and awareness of emotions go hand in hand. The more accepting we become of an emotion, often the more aware of it we become. The more we try to deny how we feel, the more that emotion becomes buried only to resurface. How can we cope with something when we force it down? If you think you “shouldn’t” feel something, you never work through it.
A great step to accept how you feel is to simply say, “I feel _____. This is how I feel.” A simple acknowledgement can go a long way towards allowing your emotions to surface.
Next, it’s a great idea to explore the source of an emotion. You can ask yourself, what is this emotion telling me? What are the thoughts behind this emotion? Try sitting with the feeling and seeing where your thoughts go, but try to be careful not to get lost in a negative thought spiral. Rein your thoughts in if that happens. Also, see if there are any distorted ways of thinking that are influencing your thoughts.
Here’s where the faith-based coping comes in. Try asking yourself: is there a different way God would perceive what’s happening? Am I believing truth? Does this line up with what God says about me according to the grace of the Gospel? Thinking through these questions are a great way to start inviting God into how you’re feeling.
After that, invite the presence of Jesus. To do this, find some quiet space and allow yourself again to feel the emotion. Ask Jesus to sit with you in that feeling. You can even imagine him sitting next to you. What is it like to feel his presence of love there with you? (If you struggle to experience love with his presence, find a trusted friend who knows Jesus well and talk through this.)
Experience the comfort of his presence and know you are not alone with your emotion. As you sit with his love, there may be something he transforms about how you feel. Sometimes, he won’t make the hard emotions go away, but will add hope into the midst of them. Meditating on his Word can add to that peace and hope. Allow his Spirit to work inside your heart.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Ella Walker Henderson, M.A., LPC, CEDS serves both as Founder of Living Bread and as a counselor. She is trained in the treatment of eating disorders, as well as in the integration of Christian faith and prayer into counseling sessions. She received her B.A. from Furman University in Psychology, and her M.A. in Professional Counseling from Richmont Graduate University in Atlanta, GA.