Emotional suppression is ungodly and harmful
Self-control is a good thing, emotional suppression is not. What is the difference? Emotional self-control chooses when and how we release our emotions. Emotional suppression hides our emotions and won’t release them at all. Unfortunately, negative emotions don’t go away, no matter how hard we suppress them. They simply get stored up in our bodies and if we are not careful, will eventually destroy us.
The Bible teaches us that God has given us appropriate times to express all our emotions. We simply need the emotional maturity to realise the right time to express the negative ones.
Ecclesiastes 3:1,3-4 ESV For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
Signs of suppressed emotions
Negative emotions are triggered by real as well as perceived offences. They are not desirable, but they are neither bad or dangerous. They are simply a signal that something is not right, either within us or with other people.
When such negative emotions are suppressed over a long time, they will inevitably re-surface in one or more of the following ways. These are all signs that there is a sense of unresolved disappointment, embarrassment, fear, helplessness, hurts, powerlessness or shame in our lives.
- Do we feel “stuck” or numb?
- Do we get anxious, bored, frustrated or restless easily?
- Do we live with simmering anger, annoyance or contempt, and don’t know why?
- Do we find it hard to express any sort of emotion?
- Do we find it difficult to smile or laugh genuinely?
- Do we tear up or cry easily?
- Do we gravitate towards addictive or self-destructive behaviour?
- Do we exhibit perfectionistic or obsessive-compulsive behaviours?
- Do we struggle with depression, despair, sadness?
- Do we constantly feel constantly weary or fatigued?
- Do we suffer from chest pains (heartache) and body aches?
- Do we find it hard or impossible to enjoy deep, restful sleep?
Our relationships with people
- Do we tend to vent to others?
- Do we tend to judge and evaluate others in order to protect ourselves?
- Do we tend to have emotional outbursts that “come out of nowhere”?
- Do we tend to draw attention to ourselves?
- Do we tend to see ourselves as the victim?
- Do we dislike it when we are not in control of things or people around us?
Our relationship with God
- Do we feel as if there is a wall between God and us?
- Do we pray intellectually and not from our hearts?
- Do we believe that God is good, but don’t “feel” it?
- Do we have a tendency to do a lot for the church to feel good about ourselves?
If we answered “yes” to two or more of the questions above, we probably need to identify the lingering, subconscious negative emotions that continue to haunt us. They may even be related to events from 20, 30 years ago! It’s time to confront them so we can finally move on with our lives.
Time to unlearn ungodly social cues
When we are born, we don’t filter our emotions. But as we grow up, people will teach us which emotions are unacceptable or undesirable according to their views. As a result, we may unknowingly pick up beliefs and patterns from this world that are not God’s good and perfect will for us.
Romans 12:2 NIV Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
1. Fear says: “Cover up. Don’t show your real face”
Peer pressure forces us to bow down to other people’s wishes. We hear warnings from other people that say: “Don’t show your emotions. Otherwise, you may…
- Come across as weak.”
- Look foolish.”
- Not be accepted.”
- Be inconsiderate.”
- Be punished.“
- Cause an embarrassment.“
- Be misunderstood.”
We are taught to camouflage our true selves, because there must be something wrong with the way we feel. Such “lessons” attack the very persons that God created us to be. By suppressing the things we feel, we end up denying our inner problems or the sins that other people commit against us.
Such behaviour is driven by the fear of rejection. When we fear people and want to please them, we make them our idols. A spirit of fear is not from God, it is demonic and a dangerous trap. We are not to model our lives after our parents, teachers, bosses, church leaders, co-workers, family or friends, we are to model after Jesus Christ, the Son of God, alone.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Proverbs 29:25 NLT Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety.
2. Philosophy says: “It’s your fate. Just suck it up.”
Some philosophies teach followers that they are powerless to change their destinies. As such, people should just accept abuse or injustice, and suck up their negative emotions. We are told to deny who we are individually and suffer man’s collective destiny.
- Buddhism – All life is suffering, pain, and misery.
- Confucianism – Just accept your fate.
- Stoicism – Be in control because the world is unpredictable.
- Fatalism – You have no choice over your destiny.
These grandiose philosophies can sound “wise” but they inherently teach people to be their own masters. They teach us to rely on our own strength to cope with our negative emotions.
In reality, all forms of philosophy focus on the personal “self” rather than on God. Such teachings come from demonic powers in this world.
Colossians 2:8 ESV See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
3. Peer pressure says, “Tears are weak.”
Many of us have been taught that crying is bad. Men are told, “Real men don’t cry”. Women are advised against being emotional. Children are teased for being cry babies.
God called the human anatomy He created “very good”. This included our tear ducts.
Genesis 1:31 ESV And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…
God gave both men and women the ability to cry because we need to release our frustrations, sadness, grief and anxieties through our tears. Otherwise, these emotional toxins will affect our spiritual well being. According to The Health Benefits of Tears in Psychology Today, “Emotional tears … contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying…. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.””
Jesus Himself also prayed with loud cries and tears before His crucifixion. He wept for his friend Lazarus. He wept loudly for Jerusalem’s pending destruction. Jesus didn’t worry about what people thought of Him. Neither did he suppress His pain and sorrow. God cried when He needed to.
Hebrews 5:7 ESV In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
John 11:35 ESV Jesus wept.
The enemy’s hidden weapon
Whether we like it or not, suppressed emotions that are embedded in our subconscious psyches will eventually interrupt our lives. Our heads want to follow God, but our hearts and flesh lead us in another direction. It appears as if there is a subconscious emotional “auto-pilot” that leads us towards ungodly behaviour.
Romans 8:8 ESV Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Whenever we deny our feelings, we are in essence, playing the devil’s game of lies – except that the ones we are deceiving are ourselves. That gives Satan a foothold in our lives. If we don’t submit our fleshly emotions to God, the enemy will use our unseen but very real suppressed emotions to torment and influence us. To medicate or avoid the torment, we react in ungodly ways. The Bible describes this as being captured by the devil to do his will.
John 8:44 ESV You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
2 Timothy 2:26 ESV and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Put down our pain to take up God’s rest
God loves us immensely and doesn’t want us to continue to live with suppressed pain. Jesus invites us to bring our weary hearts to Him so He can give us rest from our emotional burdens. Let us not forget that Jesus is familiar with all the emotional pains that this world can throw our way. He reminds us that He cares for us and invites us to give up our pains to Him.
Isaiah 53:3 ESV He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
1 Peter 5:7 ESV Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
In Matthew 11, Jesus uses the metaphor of a yoke, a wooden crosspiece that farmers use to attach two animals together by their necks, to symbolise God’s gentle loving guidance. With a yoke, both animals have to go at the same pace. The stronger one cannot run ahead of the weaker one. Both have to stay side by side, whatever the circumstances. They can only be yoked to one another, and not to other animals.
Matthew 11:28-29 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Notice however, that we cannot be yoked to Jesus when we continue to be yoked to our pain. We often make the mistake of thinking that God will automatically take our pains away. This is incorrect. We are to first release our pain so that we can take up His rest.
This is an active step, not a passive one.
How to release suppressed emotions
Only God can restore us to emotional and spiritual fullness, we can’t do it on our strength. Let us lean on the Holy Spirit’s guidance along the way as we release suppressed emotions.
1. Confront and surrender our fear of emotions
The first and most important step is to acknowledge that we have been hiding our emotions and seek help in unravelling this destructive habit. This may mean that we see a counsellor to guide us through the process or simply confess our past pains to God. Having a safe godly community to practice confessing our emotions within is also very helpful.
James 5:16 ESV Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
2. Pray and recount all significant events
Next, we can find a safe, quiet place to be still before God and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the significant events that have left us with lingering negative emotions. Usually, a few will pop up immediately into our minds because their memories will still be vivid in our minds. We should take note of each event and write down why they still affect us.
John 14:26 NLT But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative–that is, the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
Continue to wait for the Holy Spirit to reveal more. He usually will! The revelations can surprise us because some events may have occurred many years ago. Praise God that He will help us flush out all the hidden toxins when we ask for His help.
3. Acknowledge our emotions at that time
In the past, we may have suppressed ourselves out of respect for other people, such as our parents or superiors. Even if they were well-meaning, their rash words can still cut into our hearts. Now is the time to be truthful about the negative emotions we felt at the time.
Proverbs 12:18 ESV There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts…
This step is not about condemning people. We are not to judge other people, but we are called to recognise sin when we see it. We are to speak the truth and not cover it up.
Matthew 7:1-2 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
1 Corinthians 6:3 ESV Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
Note: If we find that the emotions that surface are too much for us to deal with, we should see a godly Biblical counsellor who can help us process and learn about our emotional states or heal from traumatic events. Those of us who have hidden our emotions for many years will often find this very beneficial. There is no need to struggle on our own.
4. Get authentic with God and pour out our emotions
Cry freely in the safety of God’s presence. There is absolutely no shame in crying. God who gave us the ability to cry. We need to cry in order to release the stress toxins that have been stored in our bodies before we can heal properly.
5. Invite the Holy Spirit to do His healing work
The Bible describes the Holy Spirit’s work as “living water” that flows from our hearts. This is in essence, a good imagery of what crying does for us.
We can now invite the Holy Spirit to do His work in our hearts, His living water flushes out the toxins that this world has pierced us with. Many people find themselves feeling “lighter” afterwards as God heals and purifies their hearts.
John 7:37-39 ESV … Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive …
6. Ask God if there is a log in our eye
When we have been hurt, it is hard to judge ourselves clearly. Once we have released our emotions, it is good to take a step back and ask God if we have had “logs in our own eye”.
Matthew 7:3 ESV Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Let us examine our own hearts and check:
- Did we experience negative emotions because of our own pride and self-entitlement?
- Did we fail to empathise with those who hurt us? Were they also hurting and needing comfort at the time?
- Did we choose to retaliate, gossip and taking revenge, rather than do what was honourable?
- Did we curse people or curse God?
- Do we still resent, grudge or hate our offenders?
7. Repent of judging people or God
In the midst of pain, we can all say awful things.
We can challenge God and ask Him why He let bad things happen to us. We doubt His love and mock His authority and power. We feel like He owes us an answer. We can even accuse Him of doing evil and causing us to sin. All this is blasphemous. God never does any wrong or commits any sin. It is Satan who creates the havoc in this world. We ought not to point the finger at God but take a careful look at who we should really be accusing.
James 1:13 NLT And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.
If we have ever doubted, judged or cursed God, we need to repent before our tender, loving Father.
8. Praise God for our pain, ask Him to redeem it for His glory
We are called to praise God in all circumstances, not just the ones we like. This is His will for us.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
God knows the full picture of every person’s life on this planet. We don’t have that ability. God knows exactly what will happen in one day, one week, one year or one millennia’s time. How can we hope to know better than God how things should work out? Therefore, let us rest in the knowledge that our Father in Heaven will work things out for us.
God is achieving greater things through the pain we experience. Just as Jesus chose to suffer for us, our pain is our greatest opportunity to testify about how true God’s love is. He will turn our mourning and pain into joy. It may not be in the timing we hope for but it will be perfectly timed. We simply need to learn to be patient.
Romans 8:28 ESV And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Psalm 30:11 NLT You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
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