6 steps for when your emotions spiral out of control

Jane was sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, her mind still reeling from the week’s disheartening events: A flat tire in the rain on Monday. An overdue electric bill on Thursday. A fight with her husband that morning.

She was in no mood to worship the Lord. All Jane wanted were a few pats on the back, a couple comforting girlfriend hugs, and the words, “It’ll all be okay in the end.”

She waited in “her” pew, yet one by one her friends waltzed by without even noticing her. Jane was devastated. Rejection, loneliness, and anger came rushing to the surface. Part of Jane wanted to throw herself in the aisle and proceed to kick, scream, and cry! Yet the rest of her didn’t want to show weakness. She managed to sneak out of the sanctuary to the bathroom without making eye contact with anyone. 

And then, in the privacy of the bathroom stall, she burst into tears. Jane wept and wept, wondering why her emotions were so strong. She couldn’t help but feel something was deeply wrong. Something beyond her power or ability to fix.

We can all identify with Jane’s plight at some level. We’ve felt the volcanic eruption of emotions. And good news awaits each believer! The resurrection life given to God’s children includes the re-creation of every part of us into His likeness, including our emotions (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:5–6).

When allowed to take over, emotions can wrongly dictate how we see God, the world, and ourselves. But He has not left us alone. His patient work in us never ceases (Phil. 1:6). When our emotions are out-of-balance, whether positive or negative, it is always an opportunity for God to continue this process of renewal.

But the question remains: “How do I practically respond in such times?” Though there’s no formula, having steps to follow can help you identify the dynamics behind your emotions and apply the truth that will set you free (John 8:32). Think of the following steps as stones along a path leading you to God’s truth:

1.  Name the Emotion(s): This can be more challenging for “internal” processors. We often have many feelings at work simultaneously. Work on this until you’re satisfied you’ve identified them all. If you get stumped, complete #2 and return to this step.

2.  Identify the Event(s): Identify what happened right before you began experiencing these emotions (maybe a thought that came to your mind or the way someone responded to you). The event might be recent or long ago. Go back to the very beginning, no matter how far you have to go.

3.  Clarify Your Thoughts: Narrow in on what you were thinking during the emotions and events. There are always thoughts behind our feelings. Some examples might be: This isn’t fair. She doesn’t like me. I can’t keep going. I’m all alone. I don’t understand.

4.  Examine the Messages/Lies: Clarify what messages and/or lies are behind these thoughts. It’s helpful to ask the following questions:

  • What do my thoughts say about God? (About who He is? About how He works?)
  • What do my thoughts say about me?
  • What do my thoughts say about the world? (About how God works in the world? About my connection to God in this world?)

5.  Seek Out Truth: Once you have identified the messages and/or lies, it is vital to see how these compare with what God has said in Scripture about Himself, you, and this world. Ask other sisters in the Lord to help you apply the truth. You might also want to journal applicable truths you hear during sermons, Bible studies, discussions with friends, or read during your devotional times.

6.  Pray: Ask the Lord to strengthen your faith to believe His precious promises. Allow other sisters to intercede for you as well.

Lone Ranger Alert: Many times our heart does not grasp what our head knows to be true. The Holy Spirit will help, and often works through other Christians. We need brothers and sisters in the church to walk with us, pray for us, and speak His truth into our feeble hearts.

The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that God gives grace so we will speak the truth in love to each other. The result is that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” In other words, we cannot look more like Christ on our own. He has given His church to help us.

With these practical tools in your bag, God’s Word as your guide, and Truth-speaking friends by your side, the Holy Spirit will lead you to experience the resurrection life of Christ now no matter how great or small, short or long the trial.   

Did you discover God’s Truth today?

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About the Author

Darla Wilkinson

Darla Wilkinson

Darla and her husband, Michael, reside in Cambridge, MA. In 2005 she earned a Master’s of Marriage and Family Counseling from Southwestern Seminary. For over a decade Darla has enjoyed the privilege of pointing women to the beauty and glory of Christ through service in women’s ministry, public speaking, and biblical counseling. Darla jumps at any chance to spend time with her husband or enjoy good food and meaningful conversation with friends.

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