Emotional Intelligence: The ABCs of Emotions
Part 8: Emotions Gone Bad and Mad
Introduction: You’re reading Part 8 in a blog mini-series on Emotional Intelligence. Read Part 1: Emotions: God’s Idea, Part 2: Why We Feel What We Feel, Part 3: Good News about Good Moods, Part 4: What Went Wrong?, Part 5: Our Emotions and Our Bodies, Part 6: How’s Your EI?, and Part 7: Become an Emotional Mentor. I’ve developed this series from material in my book Soul Physicians.
Mood Disorder: Emotions Gone Mad
So far in our blog series on emotional intelligence, we’ve focused on how God designed us as emotional beings. We’ve called this “Mood Order.”
However, we’d be quite naïve to imagine that our emotions and moods are always well-ordered. Because of our fall into sin, we’re not the way we’re supposed to be—we are depraved and disordered. For emotions, we call this “Mood Disorder.”
In Ephesians 4:19, Paul chooses a very rare Greek word, apēlgēkotes, to describe mood disorder. The word literally means “past feeling.” We cease to feel and care. Tired of feeling, we shut ourselves down to the messages that pain sends. As a result, we lack emotional intelligence, sensitivity, and awareness.
Designed to be responsive to the world, others, and God, we close ourselves off. We think we’re too smart to smart anymore. In our folly, we decide that hurt is too painful, even if reflecting on hurt enhances our relationships. We become obtuse to emotional messages—emotionally dense, relationally stunted.
Refusing to Need God: Emotions Gone Bad
What is the essence of fallen emotionality? Instead of using emotions to experience deeply the life God grants us, we misuse our emotions to forget the pain in our soul and the sin in our heart. We pursue whatever pleases us for a season. We live as if this world is all there is.
We also pursue whatever pleases us for a reason. We live to survive, to make it somehow—without God. You see, facing our feelings force us to face the fact that we must live face-to-face with God to survive.
In our refusal to depend upon God, we pinball between two self-centered, self-sufficient emotional survival modes.
• Out-of-Control Emotional Expression
• Over-Controlled Emotional Repression
Both styles share the refusal to listen well to our emotions, the refusal to use our emotionality to evaluate where we are spiritually. We refuse to face our feelings because we refuse to need God.
Using Our Feelings as Spears: Out-of-Control Emotional Expression
Paul further describes sinful emotions in Ephesians 4:19 as “giving themselves over to sensuality.” We’re ungoverned. Out of control. We’ve taken the brakes off our emotions.
We decide that we want nothing to do with managed moods. If we feel it; we express it. If it hurts others; so be it.
Consider King Saul. He massaged his jealousy toward David. When the women of Israel met Saul and David with dancing and song, they sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul was enraged. This refrain galled him. “And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David” (1 Samuel 18:9).
Caressed anger leads to expressed anger.
“Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, ‘I’ll pin David to the wall’” (1 Samuel 18:10b-11a). Saul perfectly pictures imperfect, sinful emotions—we use our feelings as spears to hurt others.
Like all unmanaged moods, Saul’s resulted from a foolish internal evaluation of a difficult external situation. No doubt it would be emotionally distressing for most leaders to hear subordinates praised to the extent people praised David.
Experiencing this, Saul kept thinking to himself, rather than talking to God. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:8b).
Saul catastrophized. Imagining God to be a Hoarder, Saul could not imagine that there was enough respect and responsibility to go around for both David and himself. This town was not big enough for the both of them because God was not big enough for Saul.
Emotional sensationalists wear their emotions on their sleeves and hurl their feelings like a spear. They will not be controlled. They refuse to be inhibited. Their feelings become their god.
Yet, their feelings never direct them to God. They may feel their feelings, indulge their feelings, but they never engage their feelings, never use their mood states to detect their spiritual state.
I know. We’re all thinking about people—other people. People who have treated us like this.
But what about us? Am I, are you, are we ever guilty of indulging our feelings? Do we ever use our feelings as spears to harm others? Do we refuse to face our feelings face-to-face with God?
The Rest of the Story
Some may wonder, “Well, yes, I do this—so how do I cling to God so I can change?” Great, honest question. We’ll address that later in our series.
Others may say, “Well, that’s not my style. I do the opposite. I stuff my feelings.” In our next post, we’ll examine that mood disorder in: Why Stuffing Our Feelings Is Sinful.
Join the Conversation
If you’ve used your emotions as a spear to harm others, what is God’s Word calling you to do?