HABITS OF EMOTIONAL SELF-CARE
Self-care, whether for our physical, psychological, or spiritual aspects of living, requires respect for oneself as a creation of God. A teenager is reported as saying, “God don’t make no junk.” No matter what our age or our health status, we are of value.
Even our negative experiences are of value. We may feel defeated and at the end of our resources, yet God is willing to be a partner in rebuilding our lives. “Hello, Partner, what do we do now?” is one way to start again. Then as we listen to our heart’s desires and longings, our thoughts turn to doing God’s will as best we understand it, and we are ready for adventurous living. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you will do a lot of traveling, but you will be challenged to creatively “Make lemonade out of the lemons in your life.”
Sorting out our true desires, wants, and wishes is difficult when we have conflicting thoughts and motives. Setting our goals in the direction of Good or “God’s loving, just, and merciful will” helps us evaluate the thoughts as they come. We can discard the thoughts that do not contribute to the goal.
If we over-control our emotions, we lose the capacity for joy. Sometimes we over-control because we are afraid of what might result if we let ourselves “feel.” We do not have to act out every emotion, but acknowledging our feelings helps us be more real. When angry, take my grandmother’s advice and try counting slowly from one to ten. That gives us time to cool off, rather than acting impulsively,
Merely the task of recognizing a feeling is difficult for some of us. “Feeling” words were not in the family vocabulary. Were we taught (and learned) not to cry or show our feelings when hurt or teased? When the intensity of feeling rises to the “bad, sad, glad, mad, and fear” levels, the feeling is easier to recognize, but is harder to deal with appropriately.
Learning to recognize earlier stages of our feelings, such as being “sorry, disappointed, pleased, bothered, irritated, and anxious” helps us “intervene” more quickly in our situation. It also helps us enjoy life more when we recognize the nuances of positive feelings. Some writers have developed long lists of words that express different degrees of feelings. I recommend that you search out these helps for understanding and expressing ourselves. You can go to my article on Feeling Words as a beginning.
If you are unable to connect with your feelings at all, I recommend that you notice physical signs such as wet eyes, tears, a lump in the throat, quivering lips, a tremulous voice, and slumped posture as probable signs of sadness, although they also can be related to physical conditions.
Anger may range from minor irritation, to being mad, to being furious. Physical signs may show as flashing or piercing eyes, grimacing, feeling hot, sweating, a heavy sensation in the abdomen or nausea or intestinal discomfort, hardening of the lips, a strong voice, cursing, white fingers, fingers curling into a fist, very erect posture, strong physical movements, such as shaking and pointing fingers, loudly hitting one hand against the other, stomping, slamming doors, and yelling. The release of anger can be exhilarating and addictive.
Anger is often is preceded by feeling hurt, disappointed, threatened, frustrated, anxious, or guilty. It helps to talk with someone in a “safe” situation where we are not fearful of being blamed or ridiculed for our feelings, or of becoming a subject of gossip. Talking about our feelings helps us accept them and deal with them in constructive ways without hurting ourselves or others. Sometimes, all we can do is cry when we try to talk about feelings, and that is O.K., too.
When we reflect on the reasons for our subtle positive feelings such as peace, contentment, calm, comfort, wonder, satisfaction, protected, appreciated, grateful, and thankful, then the feelings of gladness and joy increase. The principle given in the line of the old hymn, “Count Your Blessings, name them one by one,” is powerful medicine for the down-hearted person.
Deciding what feelings we want to have and what we want to do about the feelings we already have, helps us make better choices about what action to take in any particular situation. Feelings usually follow actions and thoughts. Do I want negative or positive feelings? So often we are caught in a vicious circles while unaware of what is happening, that you might profit from visiting my earlier article on Stepping Out of Vicious Circles.
For God did not give us a spirit of fear or cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline and self-control.
II Timothy 1:7 R.S.V