Nowadays, there’s not really any need for us to show our true emotions. Not when we have emojis at our fingertips that we can send to friends and family – even when they don’t really live up to what we’re actually feeling. These little faces cover a wide range of emotions, so we can feel like we are more emotionally intelligent, right? 

The question of what we are supposed to do with emotions can be a tough one for many of us. Some people may feel threatened by people who express their emotions, lashing out with an angry response of, “Some people are just too sensitive, too emotional.” But what about the anger they’re showing? To some, anger is a “legitimate” emotion – it’s rational or righteous in nature. But tears and sensitivity? No chance. The reality is sensitivity and anger are both legitimate. Denying any emotion never works well. 

The Psalms are full of emotions. The psalmist often refers to a variety of different emotions, including anger or grief. An example is found in Psalm 38:1-4:

“O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.”

As the psalmist shows, it is best to acknowledge our emotions and recognize what they are telling us. Made in the image of God who Himself demonstrates emotions, we are emotional beings in addition to physical, spiritual and relational beings.

A misunderstood conversation

Think about it this way: have you recently had a conversation that you thought was no big deal, but the person you were speaking with was upset about it? Did they seem to be unreasonable or extreme in their response to you? Did they try to justify their unreasonable comments by suggesting they were responding in righteous anger, just like when Jesus got upset in the temple? 

You thought it was no big deal – but what happened? 

Perhaps the person misunderstood what you had to say. Maybe they felt they knew what you were going to say, disagreed prematurely and wanted to be sure that their viewpoint would be heard. Maybe they were upset about something else that had nothing to do with your conversation, but were still feeling emotions from a previous situation. When not properly addressed, emotions can manifest themselves in unreasonable and unwarranted ways.

What is emotional intelligence?

A mark of emotional intelligence is having the ability to work through your emotions as they arise, with the person with whom they occurred. This takes practice and intentionality. When we overreact, it is often because we have not dealt appropriately with our emotions. 

As Peter Scazzero explains, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” Working through your emotions will help you work out your faith. 

Are we fearful of dealing with emotions? Do we look weak in our own eyes if we show emotion? Do we think that others might see us as weak if we get emotional? These are important questions to address as we seek to become emotionally intelligent people.

How to become an emotional adult

We begin as emotional infants, move on to become emotional children, grow into adolescence and finally grow up to be emotional adults. Emotional adults respect others and their opinions, and do not feel the need to change them. Emotional adults can appreciate people for who they are and can take responsibility for their own actions, thoughts and feelings. How do we become emotional adults? A good place to start is to begin owning and working through your emotions alone. It becomes more challenging when you are trying to work things out with your spouse, team or family member – more challenging, yet incredibly rewarding.

One day, I was late to a meeting with my older brother. When I eventually got there, I tried justifying my failure to meet him on time. He, on the other hand, accused me of being defensive. I could have gotten even more defensive at his accusation, but because he’s not one to say those kinds of things, I took his correction seriously. I realized that, even though I felt I had a valid excuse, I needed to take responsibility for my behaviour. The result was freeing!

Expand your emotional vocabulary

What are some ways that we can expand our emotional intelligence? One way is to increase your emotional vocabulary. Instead of just having a bad day, maybe it is really a draining or distracted day. Perhaps we are actually just frustrated and not angry or mad.

Another thing we can do is to work through the issue at the time and in the context in which it presents itself. Acknowledge the emotion, recognize why you feel as you do about the issue or conversation, and work through it. This will help you understand what is going on for you and be able to make good choices in the midst of the emotions that have arisen. It will also help you avoid taking these feelings into your next encounter, where they do not belong.

Your phone has emojis to represent a lot of different emotions – and so do we. Let us get better at recognizing the nuances of our feelings, addressing them quickly, and being mature, emotionally intelligent people available for those we love and serve.

Sam Doerksen and his wife, Pauline, are the program directors at the Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit

© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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