Dealing with Emotions

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos | 12 September 2021

Some years ago I came across a book with the title Deadly Emotions by Don Colbert, a Christian medical doctor. The book’s focus is on the mind and body relationship, and the fact that emotions produce chemical changes affecting every aspect of our physical and spiritual selves.

On the one hand, men and women are created to enjoy the gift of life. They are capable of love, goodness, kindness, gentleness, helpfulness, justice, concord, and peace. On the other hand, they become involved in deadly emotions such as stress, anger, jealousy, painful memories, bitterness, plaguing doubts, unforgiveness, and the like, which corrupt the quality of human life. People often carry what can be described not only emotional baggage but a whole cargo of poisonous emotions that harm spiritual and physical health.

The good news is that, with God’s help, a person can take charge of the course of one’s life, especially from the standpoint of healthy attitudes and right conduct, no matter what the objective facts or circumstances. A person can do a great deal to pull the plug on toxic emotions that make life a joyless venture. Here is what Dr. Colbert highlights on the negative and positive sides—words to consider as we review our priorities.

Our bodies cannot differentiate between stress that physical factors cause and stress that emotional factors cause. Stress is stress, writes Dr. Colbert. Between 75 and 90 percent of all visits to primary-care physicians, down to allergies, result from stress-related disorders. As a nation, we are starting out on the overstressed track at younger and younger ages as we have to live with tight schedules, unrealistic expectations, conflicting desires, argumentative environments. These in turn produce more toxic conditions of frustration, chronic anxiety, anger, resentment, hostility, depression, sadness, guilt, and cynicism.

What to do about this negative maelstrom? First acknowledge that God has given you the ability to take charge and change, not necessarily the objective facts around you, but the way you choose to respond to them. Dr. Colbert invokes the metaphor of television. To choose to relate to others in egoistic and argumentative ways, or to choose to hold on to hurts and grudges, are tantamount to watching horror movies or sex channels which, even if titillating, in the end disgust and corrupt the inner person. By choosing to watch good programs that portray honesty, justice, strong values, and unselfish conduct, a person can not only be entertained and sometimes educated, but also achieve a sense of inspiration and overall well-being.

Dr. Colbert mentions the example of Victor Frankl, a famous psychologist, who suffered torture and innumerable indignities in a Nazi concentration camp. One day, naked and alone in a dark room, Frankl recognized “the last of the human freedoms”—his inner identity—which his captors could not take away. He saw a gap between what happened to him and how he reacted to it; and in that instance, he recognized the freedom or power to choose a response.

We cannot control what others will do. Playing the blame game is not a helpful option. Rehearsing grievances and painful memories eats away at the soul. Refusal to forgive only strengthens the self-prison of hatred and vindictiveness. Nurturing such dispositions fuels the cycle of negativism and sickness of soul and body.

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