The importance of emotional healing
Negative emotions, such as fear, shame, and grief, can be very powerful drivers of our decisions without us even being conscious of it. From a young age, we all learn to cope with our negative emotions in various ways. These can include anger, denial, perfectionism, pride, hyper-vigilance or escapism. Some of us disengage our emotions and only live through our minds. Our fleshly coping mechanisms can become so deeply ingrained and instinctive that we find it difficult to submit to God, until we confess our pain and seek healing through Jesus Christ.
The Bible repeatedly reminds us to seek God with all our heart. The heart in this context refers to our emotional, intellectual and moral centre. When our hearts have been hurt or traumatised without the opportunity to heal properly, we cannot be said to be “whole”. There are some parts of us that are still “broken” that need God’s healing. We become emotionally, intellectually and morally incapacitated in some way.
Jeremiah 29:13 ESV You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
1 Kings 8:61 ESV Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”
Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
This is why God repeatedly promises that He will restore us to fullness. Even the strongest people have emotional vulnerabilities that need God’s loving restoration. No one on earth has escaped some form of disappointment, shame, rejection or humiliation. King David was known for his mighty conquests at war. He is also the one who wrote most of the Psalms where at times he cried out to God, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes (Psalm 6:6-7).
Ephesians 3:16-19 ESV that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The underlying negative emotions that drive our behaviour
Perhaps the two most common negative emotions are fear and shame. We can see that both first entered the world through the original sin committed in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve, the first man and woman God created, disobeyed Him and hid in fear and shame. These emotions continue to underpin many of our fleshly tendencies today.
- Do we find ourselves comparing ourselves with and envying others?
- Do we find ourselves constantly overworking?
- Do we feel a need to prove our worth?
- Do we surround ourselves with material things to make us feel secure?
- Do we find ourselves seeking attention and affirmation from others?
- Do our minds wander to dark or lustful thoughts?
- Do we tend to see ourselves as the victim?
- Do we sometimes doubt God and get angry with or resent Him?
- Are our thoughts plagued by doubt?
- Are we incorrigible perfectionists? Do we obsess about details?
- Do we tend to procrastinate?
- Are we quick to assess and judge others?
- Are we prone to uncontrollable anger?
- Do we keep a record of wrongs that people have committed against us?
- Do we find it hard to forgive others?
Even seemingly positive behaviours can be driven by negative emotions. A person who appears to be invincible, successful and driven may actually be feeling fearful and trapped inside. Someone who appears to be happy all the time may be masking a fear of rejection. A highly intellectual person may choose to live through his mind, rather than his heart, in order to avoid painful emotions. Some people may be driven to over-achieving and perfectionism in raising their families, during sports, or at work, as a result of childhood shame and fear of abandonment. Or they may turn to substance abuse, alcohol, or sex to drown out a critical inner voice that tells them they are not good enough.
We can recognise the effects of lingering negative emotions when people:
- Struggle to overcome areas of sin
- React compulsively or have a strong emotional reaction to certain triggers
- Feel stuck or feel numb
- Are unable to be still mentally, emotionally and physically
Our patterns are rooted in our past
James 3:14 talks about a couple of unhealthy patterns; bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. It is not easy to break free from vicious cycles of comparison and competition overnight. We can “try harder“ to be less jealous or less selfish, but find that we still keep failing.
True freedom through Jesus doesn’t come by striving to be like Him, which would be based on our own fleshly efforts. Instead, true spiritual freedom comes through the Holy Spirit as we confess our pains and sins to Jesus Christ. Only then are the barriers to God’s goodness in our hearts removed and the Holy Spirit able to fill us and restore us to fullness.
Galatians 5:17-18 ESV For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Jeremiah 5:23-25 ESV But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.
Let us look at the bitter jealousy and selfish ambition mentioned in James 3:14 as an example. On the surface, it may seem like both are primarily driven by greed and pride. But on closer examination, we may find that their true underlying drivers lie in hidden memories and buried emotions.
James 3:14-18 ESV But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
A true life example
Here is an example of how this could play out.
A 50-year-old man felt humiliated by his family and classmates because of a silly mistake he made at school when he was 10 years old. The boy felt ashamed, anxious, abandoned, and lonely. Without knowing how to confess his ensuing emotions and receive loving correction, the young boy hid his feelings and decided to “never make another stupid mistake again.”
Over time, the shame and fear remained stuck in his subconscious mind and continued to drive his decisions and actions over the next 40 years. In life, he expects the highest standards from himself as well as his own children. At work, he becomes an over-achiever and gains satisfaction through promotions and praises. He is easily jealous and embittered whenever someone does better than him because this makes him feel “stupid.” He will do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it goes against the rules. He will brag about his achievements and fill his time with activities, sports, or charity in order to look smart and worthy of admiration.
This 50-year-old man may come across as arrogant, boastful and ambitious, but in reality, he is driven by a critical inner voice that accuses him of being “stupid again.” He is still fighting off the feelings of shame, anxiety, abandonment and loneliness that were planted in his heart when he was 10.
Matthew 15:18-19 ESV But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
Instead of living as a true adult, his emotional state is closer to that of a child. He has become enslaved to invisible forces that stem from childhood brokenness that has not not yet been restored to fullness in Christ. The man’s present patterns are rooted in his past.
2 Peter 2:19 ESV … For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
How our enemy enslaves us through our emotions
James 3:15 goes on to say that bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are from wisdom that is “earthly, spiritual, demonic,” unlike the “the wisdom from above.” This does not mean that our 50-year old man, who has asked Jesus to be his Saviour when he was in his 30’s, is necessarily possessed by demons, but he is very certainly enslaved to some demonic influences because of areas in his heart that have not been submitted to God.
Here is how this works.
As a 10-year-old who suffered humiliation, he felt ashamed, anxious, abandoned, and lonely. He would have had valid judgements of his parents and friends such as, “Why are they so mean to me? I don’t understand why I deserve this. I feel so rejected and stupid.” Even though this may not have been the case, his feelings of rejection and stupidity became his perceived reality.
The more he remains in his toxic emotions, the more they color his judgments and thoughts. He might have thought, “I believed that I could rely on them. Now I don’t trust them and I don’t like them either. I am good and they are bad.” The boy wasn’t aware it was that Satan who was whispering such evil suggestions to his young mind and tempting him to condemn others. At the same time, God was also present and speaking to the boy’s inner conscience – but the 10-year-old was only paying attention to his painful emotions.
The boy’s pain and hurt became a foothold through which evil spirits could provoke further thoughts and decisions that lead the man to rely on his own limited strength and wisdom, rather than God’s strength and wisdom.
The Bible shows that some evil spirits specialise in negative emotions, such as despair, fear, jealousy, and pride. The young boy was probably overcome by such spirits.
- Despair/sorrow | Isaiah 61:3 NIV … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…
- Fear | 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- Jealousy | Numbers 5:14 ESV and if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself, or if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself,
- Pride/arrogance/haughtiness | Proverbs 16:18-19 ESV Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Every time we react sinfully to painful emotions and judge those who hurt us, rather than leave the ultimate judgment to God’s powerful authority, we give Satan another opportunity to enslave us. This is how evil spirits form “earthly, spiritual, demonic” strongholds in our lives.
The importance of releasing our toxic emotions to God regularly
This does not mean we should suppress, ignore, or dismiss our painful feelings. The reality is quite the opposite. We need to flush out the toxic emotions.
1 Chronicles 28:9 ESV “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.
We should let our emotions run their course and release them to God, so we can serve God with a whole heart and with a willing mind – like King David did.
David made it a regular practice to vent his frustrations, fear, anger, and grief to God, so that when he was tempted to sin, his emotions were stable and he could think clearly.
We see an example when David had an opportunity to kill his oppressor, King Saul. His men even goaded him into doing so, giving him “earthly, spiritual, demonic” wisdom dressed up in God’s name to justify their murderous intentions. David was able to maintain a healthy conscience and not take revenge or commit cold-blooded murder. For this, God greatly rewarded David later on. Even King Saul ended up praising David for being the better man. David showed himself to be true to God’s observation of him as a man after God’s heart (Samuel 13:14).
1 Samuel 24:3-19 NLT At the place where the road passes some sheepfolds, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding farther back in that very cave!“Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’” So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe. But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him.” So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul.
After Saul had left the cave and gone on his way, David came out and shouted after him, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked around, David bowed low before him. Then he shouted to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’ Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me. “May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you. As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’ So you can be sure I will never harm you. Who is the king of Israel trying to catch anyway? Should he spend his time chasing one who is as worthless as a dead dog or a single flea? May the Lord therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!”
When David had finished speaking, Saul called back, “Is that really you, my son David?” Then he began to cry. And he said to David, “You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil. Yes, you have been amazingly kind to me today, for when the Lord put me in a place where you could have killed me, you didn’t do it. Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today.
When King David submitted his hot emotions to God’s spiritual guidance, God helped to steer David’s heart, his conscience, and his actions – and eventually led him into greater blessings. Negative emotions tend to scream out our conscience and make us blind to our own sinful ways. Like King David, we need to learn not to react impulsively or give in to the temptation to judge, grudge, curse, condemn, slander, or take revenge against other people. Otherwise, James 1:26 says that our “religion is worthless.”
Ephesians 4:26-27,29 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
James 1:26 ESV If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
We don’t have to join our offenders in God’s Judgment
Everything we do from the day we were born, both the good or the bad, is recorded in heaven. We all have to give an account for these records on Judgement Day. No one escapes Judgement Day – not our offenders and not ourselves.
2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
No one is perfect, not even our parents who desire the best for us. At some point in our young lives, we would have all failed to receive the loving guidance that we needed. If the 50-year-old man had received godly discipline as a young boy, he may not have fallen for demonic influences and developed his own coping mechanisms based on demonic “wisdom.” He started off as the innocent victim with a clean record, but despite having accepted Christ himself, still accuses others. This sin, along with those who humiliated him, will also be recorded in heaven
Proverbs 23:13-15 ESV Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad.
Freedom through confession
Now suppose the 50-year old man loves God and desires to submit to His will. His suppressed emotions of betrayal, shame and fear, however, will keep tempting him to go back to his old ways and rebel against his Heavenly Father. To truly break free from this spiritual bondage, he needs to go back to his 10-year-old self and acknowledge all the emotional pain he suffered as well as the judgments he pronounced on those who had hurt him.
Working through hurt and other painful emotions is perhaps the hardest part for most people because they have already spent years covering up their fears and shame – avoiding their painful emotions and justifying their ungodly judgments.
Furthermore, Satan keeps people in bondage by whispering lies such as:
- “This is just the way I am. I can’t change.”
- “I can cope with this on my own, I don’t need healing.”
- “I don’t want to be seen as attention-seeking.”
- “No one understands me.”
- “I can’t talk about my past.”
- “Other people are hurting more than me. My feelings don’t matter.”
The only way to see change is to bring our old hurts to the surface into the healing and cleansing light of Jesus’s love. Otherwise, we will remain in sin and in bondage to our old coping mechanisms.
Proverbs 28:13 ESV Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
Psalm 34:17-20 ESV When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
The difference between reporting and confessing
When we do attempt to confess, many of us resort to merely reporting the facts. There is a critical difference between reporting and confessing.
Here is an illustration.
Example 1: Reporting
“I know my dad worked very hard and came home tired. I aggravated him by telling him about the silly mistake I made at school. I felt sad and afraid when he shouted at me.”
Example 2: Confessing
“My dad always came home angry and I was always afraid of him. I really needed his comfort when I made that stupid mistake at school, but instead, he just shouted at me. I’m so angry that he was never there for me throughout my childhood. He even rejected me when I needed him the most! Why couldn’t he be a good dad? I often ended up feeling alone and unwanted. My parents didn’t even know that I was also bullied in school. I felt so much pain.”
The difference between judging outcomes and condemning people
The Bible calls us to judge people’s sins but we must be careful not to condemn them because Jesus also died for them. Also, see Judgment and the abuse of wisdom.
True confession will name our pain, and also the conclusions that we came to about our offenders. What seemed to us to be the right descriptions about our experiences often become judgments against people as well.
This does not mean that we ought to sweep aside the injustice we have been dealt but instead, we ought to be able to say, “Yes, this was wrong and it should not have happened. What they did was wrong. Yet I choose to release this injustice to the One True and Perfect Judge, Jesus Christ. I trust God will bring about justice on my behalf and I do not need to take revenge. Jesus, please comfort me! I am so hurt. Help me! Come to my rescue.” This is the essence of how King David prayed over and over again in the Psalms.
Romans 12:19-20 ESV Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Psalm 9:13 ESV Be gracious to me, O Lord! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
Psalm 119:50-52 ESV This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord.
We need to recognise that while we were feeling hurt, we too have sinned by judging those who have sinned against us. God has declared that Jesus, the perfect sinless Son of God, has been entrusted with judging every person on earth. Only Jesus has the right to judge us because He died to purchase us from eternal death.
John 5:22 ESV Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,
Releasing our offenders to God
We need to recognize that people hurt us because they have been hurt themselves. Jesus went to the cross for those sins against our offenders too. Jesus often addressed the conditions of people’s hearts before their sins. Like the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman by the well, or Peter after he betrayed Jesus three times, Jesus did not name their sins specifically but in His great love and compassion, He addressed the shame or pain behind their sinful actions. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn us but to save us. If we are to truly follow Jesus, we should also choose not to condemn others and ourselves for what has happened in our past.
John 3:16-17 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
We need to release our offenders into God’s judgment and trust that God will do the right thing on our behalf. This can be incredibly difficult but it is an important part of healing and moving forward. When we choose to trust God and choose to stop judging those who have wronged us, we ourselves are released from God’s judgment. We will experience not only healing but also see His blessings flow through us in ways that are beyond our imagination.
Jeremiah 17:10 ESV “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
When our hearts are healed and restored to spiritual health as God designed it, we will find that we don’t need our old, faulty coping mechanisms, and the Fruit of the Holy Spirit will be clear in our lives.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
We are able to see things more clearly and judge our past experiences with a more objective perspective. We get to finally remove the emotional “log” out of our own eye.
Matthew 7:1-5 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. 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? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
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