We often hear comments like these, indicating that others are responsible for our feelings. This was my initial belief when my wife first complained about my anger. I told her, "Managing my emotions would be easy if others would stop pushing my buttons!"
Motorists would tailgate, and I would be angry. Simple cause and effect.
Or so I thought.
The words of Solomon forced me to rethink this notion. He wrote, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV). This meant that circumstances did not cause my emotions, but my thoughts about my circumstances did. I had to stop blaming others for how I felt.
First, I admitted that I have more control over my emotions than I realized. Too often my ethnic background and gender had become a convenient excuse for my negative emotions. "I'm an Irish male! Of course I'm a hothead!"
But if a billionaire offered me money to cheer up or a TV crew threatened to broadcast my angry mood coast-to-coast, would I work on self-control? Absolutely! The fact that I would even try to control myself suggests a deep-down belief that managing my emotions is possible.
Second, I reminded myself that negative feelings did not hit me out of the blue. While I could not control my circumstances, I could control what I thought about my circumstances.
For example, if I expect a restaurant meal to be served in 20 minutes and I get served in 10, I am happy. But if the sign says, "Service in three minutes," and I get served in 10, then I react. My expectations determine my response.
Third, I began to think about what I think about. This is what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5, "We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." This meant becoming aware of my underlying beliefs and expectations. Some of these were guaranteed saboteurs to well managed emotions:
Identifying these core attitudes gave me tremendous leverage over them.
Fourth, I learned to replace wrong thoughts. Instead of assuming that a tailgating motorist was intentionally irritating me, I would come up with three or four plausible explanations:
In many situations, we may know the truth about others but ignore it. I try to replace unverified assumptions with truth.
Angry men, fearful women and moody children who have successfully managed their emotions have told me about notable moments when they avoided assumptions:
Rather than thinking themselves into anxiety, frustration or discouragement, these emotion managers controlled their feelings. They are not at the mercy of their circumstances.
Next time you're tempted to blame others for your feelings, replace negative thoughts with God's truth and see how your emotions follow.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.