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Beware of Fictional Emotions

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

We all know one or two individuals who always seem angry. No matter how well things are going in their lives the slightest misstep will set them into a rage. We walk around on eggshells when we are with these individuals never knowing when they are going to explode and we will experience their wrath. But what is really going on with these people? How is it they are always in an emotional place where joy and happiness seem to be so distance?

These are people who are dealing with what I call “fictional emotions”. They substitute a secondary emotion like fear for the primary emotion that they refuse to recognize. For example, take a successful business executive who during a downturn in the economy -- although he maintains his position -- lives with a constant fear that he soon could be the next victim of a poor job market. But for this busy executive fear is not an emotion that he can successfully manage. Fear makes him feel weak and inadequate, which results in high levels of anxiety. Therefore, to reduce his anxiety level and to maintain an appearance of strength and confidence he suppresses his fear of unemployment. He then substitutes his fear with anger. For this gentleman, anger is an easier emotion to experience because it allows him to maintain an outwardly appearance of strength. If you were to ask this man why he is so angry he would run off a list of excuses including laying blame at the feet of others.

His engaging with ““fictional emotions” prevents him from recognizing fear as the underlining force behind his destructive behaviors. There are numerous negative primary emotions such as sadness, loneliness, despair, and shame that make people uncomfortable causing them to mask their “real feelings” with secondary or “fictional” emotions such as anger or contempt.

Carl Jung, a famous psychoanalyst said "the source of all unnecessary emotional pain is the avoidance of legitimate emotional pain".  Basically, what Jung is saying is if we run away from our “real” pain today we will have to deal with the consequences of it tomorrow. But there is an alternative to running from our pain and that is in turning to God who provides us with the resource of the Holy Spirit who can assists us in confronting and managing our true emotions.

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  Romans 8: 9-10.

We must learn to accept our circumstances and the emotions that come with them in a realistic manner and not run away from them. This does not mean you have to like the unpleasant situation you are experiencing but dealing with your ““fictional emotions” in an honest manner allows you to learn to accept and manage your true emotional state. Once you have accepted your emotional state you then can begin the process of connecting with and experiencing those emotions. This will help you to recognize and eliminate irrational thoughts that feed your highly-charged emotional state.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” is what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5.

By taking control of our negative thinking and replacing it with positive thoughts we not only remove our “fictional emotions” but we begin the process of resolving the “real” emotional turmoil that faces us.