Crippling Emotions

Q: What do Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Worry, and Anger have in common?

A: They are all emotional responses that can be debilitating. Depression can result in a lack of hope and a lack of motivation. Anxiety, fear, and worry can result in a lack of confidence and an inability to make decisions. Anger can cloud judgment and break down personal relationships.

Emotions, in and of themselves, are good. God gave us emotions and a proper response to emotions should cause us to direct our hearts and our minds towards Him. However, our response to our emotions is often wrong. An incorrect response to emotions can result in being controlled by our emotions, rather than controlling our emotions. When this happens, emotions can become crippling and debilitating.

Depression, anxiety (along with fear and worry), and anger not only share similaries in that they are all emotional responses. I believe they also share similar causes concerning how these emotions can become crippling. In each case, the fundamental reason why these emotions become crippling is the same. The underlying cause is facing a reality (or potential reality) that you believe to be unbearable.

In his book Out of the Blues, Wayne Mack identifies three causes of depression. 1. A refusal to deal with sin and guilt biblically. 2. Mishandling a difficult event. 3. Clinging to unbiblical standards. I think the same three causes could be applied to fear and anger as well. In each case, the result leads to facing a current reality or a potential future that is thought to be unbearable.

The depressed person sees an unbearable situation, and is crushed by it. The fearful or anxious person frets over how they will deal with it. The angry person lashes out at the situation. The response is different, but the cause is the same. There is also a further underlying reason why people struggling with crippling emotions come to see a situation as unbearable. In each case, it can be traced back to a desire to be in control. A person may become depressed when they see that they cannot control the outcome they would like. A person who wants to control a situation, but does not know how (yet thinks they should be able to), becomes anxious. A person who lashes out in anger is trying to control the situation. Sometimes these three responses may overlap, and a person may experience more than one of these emotions. Anger and attempts to control a situation can be expressed passively also. A person who exhibits “passive-aggressive” behavior is attempting to exert control by giving limited control to another person and assigning responsibility to another person for their own actions.

Q: When emotions have taken control, what is the proper response?

A: It starts with a recognition that you are struggling to be in control of your own life. Without a willingness to let go of control and allow God to be in control (and trusting God with that control), none of the other steps toward recovery will be effective.

The next step is to identify the current reality or potential future that you find to be unbearable. What is unbearable and why is it unbearable? Once the situation has been identified (there may be more than one situation; in fact, there may be many–each needs to be identified and dealt with individually), there are only two possibilities. 1. The situation is not unbearable. 2. The supposed situation cannot be true.

I’m not sure which will be harder: identifying the unbearable situation, or believing the right things about the situation. It may take a long time to pinpoint the situation that seems unbearable. However, identifying the concern is necessary to gain an understanding of why the situtation is either not unbearable or not possible. Even when the concern has been identified, it may be difficult to know whether or not the supposed situation is truly possible or not. However, I submit that one of the two cases is true. Either the situation is bearable, or not possible.

Should the latter be true, recognizing that a potentially dreadful situation is precluded by God’s promises means that whatever situation you find yourself in is bearable. Recognizing that an unfortunate situation is bearable does not remove the hardship, but it does offer hope that it’s possible to have peace and joy in spite of the circumstances.

By focusing on these two possibilities (as opposed to focusing on the situation itself), the consequences of accepting and dealing with sin are seen to be bearable; the circumstances of a difficult event are seen to be bearable; letting go of values you have clung to is seen to be bearable.

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