Emotional Intelligence: The ABCs of Emotions
Part 2: Why We Feel What We Feel
Defining Emotions: Our God-Given Capacity to Experience and Respond
What are emotions? Emotions are our God-given capacity to experience our world and to subjectively respond to those experiences. This capacity includes the ability to internally react and experience a full-range of both positive (pleasant) and negative (painful) inner feelings.
The very root of the word emotion is motere, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e” meaning “to move away.” This suggests that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion. All emotions are, in essence, inclinations to react, the instant plans for handling life that God has instilled in us. God designed our emotions to put us in motion. They represent a quick response that motivates action—emotions signal the mind to go into high gear.
Emotions play a crucial editorial role that force us to do a double-check, to look outward and inward. Emotions are our “psychological sentinel” that connect us to our inner and outer world.
Once connected, then we react to our external and internal world. What we desire (relationally), think (rationally), and choose (volitionally) (our inner world) determines our emotional reaction to our external situation (our outer world).
What we believe (Romans 12:1-2) (rational direction) about what quenches our thirst for relationship (Psalm 42:1-2) (relational motivation) provides the direction we choose to pursue (Joshua 24:15) (volitional interaction) and determines our experiential response (emotional reaction) to our world.
A Formula for Understanding Our Emotional Responses
Consider a basic formula for understanding emotions: E.S. + I.P. = E.R. Our External Situation plus our Internal Perception leads to our Emotional Response. Picture our emotions like this:
• Negative Situation (ES) + Biblical Belief (IP) = Legitimate Painful Emotion (Sorrow, Sadness, etc.) (ER)
• Negative Situation (ES) + Unbiblical Belief (IP) = Illegitimate Painful Emotion (Hatred, Despair, etc.) (ER)
• Positive Situation (ES) + Biblical Belief (IP) = Legitimate Positive Emotion (Joy, Peace, etc.) (ER)
• Positive Situation (ES) + Unbiblical Belief (IP) = Illegitimate Positive Emotion (Pride, Self-Sufficiency, etc.) (ER)
Your boss says to you, “You blew it.” Your emotions react to this external event and to your internal images and ideas. What if you believe, “I must have my boss’s approval”? Then you will respond with illegitimate negative emotions such as anger, depression, hopelessness, or hatred.
If, on the other hand, you believe that “I would like my boss’s approval, but I know that I am accepted by God,” then you will respond with legitimate painful emotions such as sorrow, disappointment, or remorse (if you were truly in the wrong).
The key to our emotional reaction is our belief or perception about the meaning behind the event. Thus, events determine whether our emotions are pleasant or painful, while longings, beliefs, and goals determine whether our emotional reaction is holy or sinful.
Obviously, our emotions are useful, beneficial, and very good (Genesis 1:31). Just as obvious, our emotions often are hurtful, harmful, and very bad. We are to be angry, but not sinfully so (Ephesians 4:26). Anger can be good (Mark 3:5); it can be evil.
So it is with all emotions and moods. Designed for mood order (Creation), we experience mood disorders (Fall), and can experience reordered moods (Redemption).
The Rest of the Story
This is not your father’s view of emotions! No—we’ve been sold a lie that says emotions are all bad. Yet, designed by God, God says emotions are very good. In fact, our moods can be very good. That’s also not what we’ve been taught. When we think “mood,” we think, “He’s so moody!” “She’s in such a mood!” We need God’s view of moods. We’ll find it in Part 3: Good News about Good Moods.
Join the Conversation
Ponder a current situation you are facing. Use our “formula” to assess the situation and your emotional response. E.S. + I.P. = E.R. Our External Situation plus our Internal Perception leads to our Emotional Response.