Part 1 of a 3-Part Processing Emotional Pain Series
In my previous article I discussed why people avoid pain. I confronted the negative stereotypes regarding emotions and explored the value of feelings. We learned that emotions are not something to be feared or ignored, but are a gift from God and worth our attention. Once we see our internal experiences as significant, we are better able to engage in the process of healing. In this second article, I discuss how we can process our feelings in order to find clarity in the emotional wilderness.
Steps to Processing Emotional Pain: Connecting with Self and God
1. Listen to Yourself: Observe, Discover, Acknowledge
Remember that emotions such as anger, depression, and fear, serve as an internal warning light. They tell you that something inside needs to be addressed. So the first step to processing emotion is to listen to what your body is telling you. Observe yourself. Ask yourself: What am I feeling? How strong is the feeling? How long does the feeling persist? Does it change? If you are having difficulty identifying specific feelings, focus your attention on your physical experience. Emotion can manifest itself in the body, so anxiety might show up as a stomach ache or muscle tension and depression might manifest itself as lethargy. Take note of your tone of voice, facial expression, and behaviors. How do you sound? How do you look and act? Once you have discovered what you feel, acknowledge the presence of your feelings.
2. Express and ExploreThe next step is to describe, express, and explore your emotions. People do not often give themselves the space or permission to explore and figure out their internal experiences. In the Bible, David was a man after God’s own heart and yet he was very vocal about his negative emotional experiences. In Psalm 42 David admits to feeling that God had rejected and abandoned him. He admits to feeling distressed. He mourns and states that his soul is depressed. David made some bold statements and yet he was not afraid to be honest. Why is this? I believe David was not afraid of being transparent because he had an intimate relationship with God. True intimacy involves sharing and revealing ̶ even the unpolished parts. There is no fear in love. David knew that his Father was a safe place, even in the midst of struggle. David knew who his Father was and that he is good and can be trusted with his heart.
3. Going to the Secret Place with the Father
So the next step in processing emotional pain is to feel the freedom to express it to our Heavenly Papa. Oftentimes many Christians feel such shame, failure, and guilt for admitting struggle to God. They believe God is mad at them for their imperfections. Yet God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. God longs for us to talk to Him about everything and true intimacy involves all types of communication. No matter how much we struggle or mess up, the answer is always to come to him. The Lord knows we are human and made of dust, so our struggles and weaknesses do not come as a surprise to him. The focus shouldn’t be so much on the fact that negative feelings are present, but rather to whom we go when problems arise. God loves restoring and comforting his children. A good father wants his children to come to him for help. God is also a good teacher and does not expect us to just “get over things” without proper healing and teaching. He knows better than anyone one else that we cannot be healed apart from him.
We should also note the order and pattern in most of the emotional psalms, such as Psalm 42. David cries out at the beginning but ends with a declaration of faith. What does this mean? When David expressed his pain to God, he was then able to make room to receive revelation. So, exploring and searching our hearts makes way for clarity and enables us to hear God’s voice and direction. But we must be willing to engage and to connect with God and with ourselves.
4. Drawing Conclusions and Interpreting
The next step in processing pain involves digging deeper in order to draw conclusions and give a meaningful place in our lives to the answers we receive. This evaluation process usually occurs after the emotional intensity has lessened, when you are not emotionally flooded and you are able to think more clearly. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal his truth to you. Ask: Why is this coming up now? What might this mean? Was there an event or person that triggered this feeling? Am I seeing clearly? How am I appraising this situation? What meaning am I attaching to it? Are there any lies I am believing? God, what is your perspective?
This may be a time to take action, such as deciding to call a friend for help, learning a new skill, or implementing better self-care. Asking questions gives you the opportunity to glean from your experiences, gain valuable self-insight, and learn life strategies that you can use to become stronger. I believe that God is so powerful and good that he can use even the worst situations for our wellbeing as stepping stones to a greater future.
A Christian Counselor Can Help You Process Emotional Pain
You can process pain alone or with others. However, when you explore and express your emotions by yourself, you need to make sure that you are in a safe place and able to express them in safe ways such as through journaling, art, movement, music, prayer, etc. In cases of raw unexplored deep emotional trauma, you should avoid isolation. Talking with a trusted friend, family member, or Christian counselor is especially important in the beginning stages of healing. As a Christian counselor, I would love to walk with you through the steps of processing your pain and help you to connect with the God who promises to be your comfort and light in times of darkness. We shall witness together how he illuminates your path in the wilderness. If you would like to find out more about how Christian counseling can help you in processing emotional pain, please contact me here.
“Woman Having Headache At Home,” Stock Photo By marin, published on 03 June 2013, Stock Photo – image ID: 100173636; “Young Woman Praying Sincerely,” Stock Photo By David Castillo Dominici, published on 13 March 2012, Stock Photo – image ID: 10075996; “Tree Lined Rural Road,” Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis, through Microsoft Office
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