Vocabulary to unplug buried emotions and receive God’s healing
Growing up, very few of us experienced “emotional schooling”, where we were taught how to pinpoint and address unpleasant feelings in healthy ways. As a result, we may have simply ignored or stuffed down unpleasant emotions, thereby unintentionally collecting a hidden archive of painful memories. To receive healing through the Holy Spirit, it is helpful to be equipped with the vocabulary that helps us name and unplug the buried emotions that choke our hearts and block us from God’s joy.
Psalm 34:17-18 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.
Ezekiel 36:26 ESV And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Stuffed emotional pain will often cause us to feel emotionless, empty, numb, stuck, unfulfilled or unfeeling. This isn’t how God created us to feel. Our good God desires to restore our hearts to spiritual richness and emotional health.
Sources of subconscious negative emotions from childhood
Our brains create longer-lasting memories of events that are emotionally charged than those we have no emotional attachment to. Moreover, research shows that we will recall unhappy emotional memories with greater ease and more detail than happy ones*. Even if we haven’t thought about them for decades, our hidden archives of painful memories can continue to subconsciously stir up anxiety in our hearts.
Some of the deepest memories are formed in childhood, when our young brains were still developing and ill-equipped to deal with an onslaught of new emotions and events.
1. Emotional stress in the womb
Our consciousness began in the womb, where we were able to kick or push in response to external stimuli, such as singing, music or voices. Similarly, we were also fully conscious of our mothers’ emotional highs and lows. Where our mothers were constantly anxious, aggrieved or in pain, we would have picked up on her body’s stress hormones and chemical signals. Research has shown that prenatal emotional stress can even alter a baby’s gene expression and emotional regulation, causing greater sensitivity to stress and fear.
2. Emotional nurturing within the family
Starting from as little as one year old, we experienced many emotions before we even knew how to name them, let alone deal with them.
- 1-2 years old: We felt fear, frustration, embarrassment, empathy, and envy for the first time.
- 2-3 years old: We experienced guilt and shame for the first time.
- 3-4 years old: We started to develop an idea about our self-image and self-worth.
Every child needs to learn how to recognise and regulate his or her emotions without shame or fear. This is why emotional nurturing and reassurance from adult caregivers is so important. We not only learn from what they tell us; we also pick up as much, if not more, through their body language, choices, and values. Some cues little children quickly pick up include:
- What can I deduce from their spoken and unspoken language?
- What elicits anger, ridicule, rejection, and disgust?
- How do I gain acceptance, attention, and approval?
- Do my caregivers consider me worthy of their time and care?
- Am I worthy of love?
Young minds are not always able to comprehend grown-up issues. Even seemingly benign experiences with the most well-meaning caregivers can leave us feeling confused, alone, rejected, or abandoned and scar us emotionally, if the adults around us did not know how to help us address our feelings. What’s more, children may end up internalising fear, shame, and self-blame for adult-sized problems such as family conflicts, financial struggles, domestic violence, separation or divorce.
3. Emotional conditioning
Besides our families, we also quickly learnt what are socially acceptable emotional norms from our peer groups, schools, and society. Some emotional bumps along the road will quickly show us (rightfully or wrongfully) the feelings that are safe to express to others, and those that are not.
Picking up the vocabulary to express how we felt as children
As followers of Jesus, we have the wonderful privilege of asking our Heavenly Father to help us examine and cleanse our hearts of hidden emotional toxins.
Psalm 139:23-24 ESV Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Where we lacked the words to acknowledge, accept and confess our painful emotions as children, we can always benefit from a checklist of emotions to do so now. May this sample vocabulary list bless all those who wish to cast their anxieties to God and receive His emotional healing.
1 Peter 5:7 NIV Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:10 ESV And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
* Source: Negative Emotion Enhances Memory Accuracy (Behavioral and Neuroimaging Evidence) by Elizabeth A. Kensinger at Boston College.
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