The Failure of Feelings & The Need for Proper Emotion (PART I)

blog - feelings 1

Disney’s Pixar Studios cranked out another billion dollar winner this past summer with the release of Inside Out – a story set in the mind of a little girl, where we encounter her 5 personified emotions.

The little known secret about this movie is that they TOTALLY ripped me off, as I’ve had this idea for years now. The only difference was that in my version the story takes place in a child’s heart and the characters were adorable little “feelings bears” ….. and I never actually wrote a script or recorded a movie. Nonetheless, being a man of grace, I haven’t pursued legal action. I simply ask, next time you see the movie and chuckle …. you’re welcome ūüôā

The American public was due for an insightful movie breaking down the interaction of our emotions. They are such a powerful aspect of all of our lives, and as I’m going to make the case today, potentially¬†too¬†influential.

This is a topic I frequently try to bring up in my church. For instance: I’ve LOVED every minute of the Mere Christianity class I’ve been leading on Wednesday nights¬†this fall with 100 or so adults.¬†A couple of weeks ago, we arrived at¬†one of the classic chapters of C.S. Lewis’s classic – Book III: Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin” (i.e. Pride). As Lewis offers his incredible insights on pride, you get the sense that Mere Christianity is moving from a really good Christian book into arguably one of the top 5 “must reads” in Christian history.

This chapter also presented me the opportunity to share one of my personal favorite, mildly provocative, mini-sermons about human nature РTHERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS FEELINGS. Typically, this speech is met with some resistance. Sometimes, ironically, feelings get hurt. But that only presents the occasion to explain what those feelings really are.

For instance, I’ll ask someone to, medically speaking, point to where their feelings are located. After processing the question, some will point to their hearts. Now, my wife is a cardiovascular surgical ICU RN at Mayo Clinic. She’s studied a good deal about hearts in recent years. She also has a lot of what are commonly labeled “feelings” – but she knows they don’t reside in her technical heart.

So here’s the point of clarification. When we say things like “My feelings are hurt” or “You hurt my feelings,” what we, more accurately, mean is that our pride has been hurt, and this is causing us emotional turmoil. Our ego is the sense of self that we build upon some aspect of our lives.

Here’s an illustration that might help: if you criticized me by saying, “James, you’re a horrible figure skater,” not only would I not be hurt, I’d probably feel a certain sense of, “Whew. ¬†I don’t even really want to be known as a good figure skater.”¬†On the other hand, if you said, “James, you’re a thoughtless, loveless pastor and a faithless, incompetent interpreter of Scripture,” that is much more likely to “hurt my feelings.” Why? I tend to build more of my identity, my sense of self, on being a pastor than I do as a figure skater. Conversely, if you told Scott Hamilton (yes, that’s how little I pay attention, HE is still my current frame of reference for a male figure skater) that he was a poor pastor, he’s probably going to say, “Okay. Fine. I’m not even a pastor and don’t really want to be.” On the other hand, if you told him what an unimpressive skater he was, he’d probably be a little more hurt. He would naturally be more inclined to build his identity on and draw his pride from something different from me.

So¬†if someone criticizes us, we naturally wouldn’t like it, but if we’re devastated by it, if our “feelings are REALLY¬†hurt,” we have to ask why? Is it because we’re drawing too much of our identity from something other than our status as a redeemed child of God? Is it because our pride, our boast, is misplaced?

In his chapter on Pride, Lewis says:

“if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or show their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’…The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”

Our feelings haven’t technically been hurt. Those “feelings” don’t exist per se. The importance of making this distinction is that, unless we realize this truth about illusory “feelings,” we won’t be able to remedy the problem. What hurts is our pride. Our sense of self, the thing on which we sought to build our lives and make a name for ourselves, the thing other than Jesus that we primarily look to for value, meaning, security, and hope for the future has been compromised. Spiritually speaking, this is a healthy, albeit painful, process to go through because it drives us deeper into an unshakeable identity shaped exclusively by the gracious blood of Christ.

If it’s true that what we experience when our “feelings are hurt” is more about our pride being jeopardized and¬†leading to negative emotions, then it’s also probably worth explaining the role that emotions should play in our lives.

The problem I potentially face (and have faced) if I say “feelings aren’t real things” is the accusation of emotional dismissiveness, which could be fair. So, allow me a minute to explain what I believe should be¬†the proper, balanced understanding on these types of emotions?

(please come back next week for PART II when we’ll look at the proper role of emotion)

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4 thoughts on “The Failure of Feelings & The Need for Proper Emotion (PART I)

  1. I have fuzzy little bears. They don’t live in my heart (not enough room), but in my thoracic cavity. So many, in fact, they have bunk beds. And when one gets a “good idea” (ice cream run at 11 pm?) he is very persuasive to the others, mainly due to their proximity and like-mindedness. Try telling THEM they aren’t real!! ūüėõ

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