Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Emotional Capacity - Part 2

The previous article contrasted EI with EC.  It takes much more than intelligence to deal with the realities of life.  We defined Emotional Capacity (EC) as follows, the ability to interpret and express inner emotional messages with unshaken assurance of personal worth and identity.”  Challenging circumstances create  inner emotional messages perceived as threats (real or imagined) to a safe and secure image of self.   The capacity to regulate whether the emotions help or hurt (make things better or worse) is EC.  A person’s quality of life is determined by EC.  
When facing a challenge, EC is not dependent on whether or not the circumstances improve, but whether the reservoir of positive self-worth is improved.  A person is not always in control of external events in life, but our EC can control our response to those events.  You may ask, “I know increasing EC dramatically improves my health and relationships, but how is it possible to cleanse (or maintain a clean) emotional reservoir?  I’m glad you asked! <smile>   Hopefully something that follows is helpful.  
First, and most important in emotional health, is knowing the God who designed and authored the human being (including the emotions). If you are not a God-follower, bear with me for a moment.  I believe the basis for understanding identity and worthfulness for each person, is understanding the divinity and worthiness of the One who knows us better than we will ever know ourselves.  The attributes of God, his relatability as a personal God, and how much He loves each person, sets Him apart as supreme authority.  All humans are created in His image with a unique stamp of his likeness.  Also understanding some things about his emotional qualities can help give us a glimpse of ours.  Knowing God as Father (similar to how a child depends on an earthly father) provides identity and security (including assurance of value and worth) like nothing else can.  This inexhaustible topic is obviously too much to give adequate attention to here.  The point here is that God is the source for living from the heart and emotional capacity of the human being.  
Ironically, esteeming self above God and other people, ruins our sense of worth and value.   Removing self-focus from our identity is essential for emotional health.  Ego-centric living destroys our true  identity. For some modern day examples of how this works I recommend Ryan Holiday’s book called, Ego Is the Enemy.  We must give up our “me centered” world-view, and take on a view of the world that puts God at the center of our universe and our soul.  God is not only a great God in charge, but also a grand God in love with all he created.  As the ancient Psalmist says, “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise ….. the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (Psalm 48:1; 32:10).  
Knowing God frees a person to focus on others and not self.  Connection with others is what gives purpose and meaning to life.  A great example of this is Viktor Frankl’s life.  In his book,  Man’s Search for Meaning, he shows how he survived four concentration camps in the 1940’s at the hands of Nazi Germany horrors.  
A second way to increase our emotional capacity is to allow our hurts and wounds to heal properly.  A broken arm needs to be set in correct position,  placed in a cast, and perhaps a sling for recovery.  Similar to our bodies’ vulnerability to physical injuries, our hearts are subject to brokenness and disrepair.  From the beginning of life, we pre-judge, mis-judge, and critically judge as a default tendency.  Although our self-worth is secure in who God created us to be, our “sinful nature” severely handicaps our ability to accept this without  self-imposed conditions.  Unmet expectations create disappointments and all sorts of negative reaction (see list at end of previous article).  Hurts and wounds fester and pollute our core beliefs (even without our awareness).  Although our minds try to settle into adulthood, our hearts remain in the limited capacity of broken conditions of childhood.  Some people turn to God and receive spiritual healing. Even as a God-follower, the process of healing the soul must continue throughout our remaining days on earth.  
The greatest loss in human history was Adam and Eve’s decision to reject God’s supreme authority.  This error introduced shame into the world.  Shame is the root of all roots of brokenness and emotional pain.  Shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown defines shame as the fear of disconnection.  As mentioned before, self-worth is rooted in a sense of connection.  Shame (based in our hurts and wounds) keeps us from the truth and whole-hearted (capacity-filled) living.  Dr. Brene Brown has authored a number of books including one that helped me greatly called The Gifts of Imperfection.  She has found vulnerability as the only way to attempt to resolve shame.  
Shame keeps a person from believing they are worthy of love and belonging. As a God-follower, I believe I am worthy, not because of anything I have done (or not done), but because of what God has said and done for me.  As a Christian I believe Jesus is the complete connection to resolve our fears of disconnection.  You may not believe in God the same way I do, but reading on will help you grow in emotional capacity.  Or, you may already believe in Jesus,  but to grow in your relationship with God, you must embrace vulnerability and the reality of a shame-infected soul.  
  To be vulnerable is to be authentic, transparent, and completely honest with oneself.  Vulnerability is not  weakness, but builds strength and capacity.  Here are some qualities  Brene Brown  mentions. Vulnerability means you must allow yourself to be real and seen; deeply seen.  It means you must love with your whole heart, even when there is no guarantee.  It means you must practice gratitude and joy, even in the face of fear.  It means you must believe you are enough, even when you feel “not enough,” not good enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not capable enough, and not so on.  And vulnerability “walks into” awkwardness, uncertainty, and imperfection.  
But under the cloud of shame we resist vulnerability.  What does that look like?  We try to be perfect (perfectionism.  We expect “perfect” from others.  We try to make certain (control).  We blame (as a way to discharge our pain and discomfort).  We justify ourselves (and pretend that what we do does not have an impact on other people).   These are all signs of trying to numb vulnerability.  
Numbing feelings may filter the bad, but it also prevents the good feelings.  As Brene Brown says, “You can’t selectively numb emotion.”   If you try to numb disappointment, failure, and sadness you will also be numbing happiness, gratitude, and joy.  Americans are the most “numbed” society on earth as evidenced by over indulgence and addiction;   food (obesity) , alcohol, (alcoholism), drugs (medications & illegal use),  work (work-a-holism),  shopping (“retail therapy”), busyness (filling schedule with things to do), technology, and all sorts of distractions.   So we set ourselves up for dissatisfaction and emptiness (lack of emotional capacity).  
Things that may trigger numbing vulnerability look like these;  asking someone for help when you’re sick or injured, initiating sex with your spouse, being turned down” (for promotion, election, team participant),  waiting for the doctor to call back, getting laid off a job or having to lay off people, and practicing servant leadership.   Common. ordinary experiences reveal our capacity to meet the challenges of  shame and vulnerability.    Other indicators may include things like whether or not we can easily admit offense when offended, accept differences (cultural, ethnic, or gender), own bad habits or addictions, take responsibility for actions that put others in peril, listen to others giving criticism, receive advice, and stop making excuses for too much eating, drinking, working, spending, sensualizing, sexualizing, hoarding, or technolizing (too much time on electronic devices).  
We discussed the God factor and the shame factor.  Now lets consider a third factor for building emotional capacity.  We must take clear and consistent action in the direction of  building good patterns and habits.  It’s not enough to clean up a polluted water source and then leave it to the elements to become dirty again. It must be maintained and treated for sustainability.  Removing destructive patterns that have depleted our emotional capacity is a good start.  But, we must build constructive patterns for productivity and resilience.  This involves changing the things on which we focus our attention.  Improving proficiency in any sport involves practice and focus on the fundamentals.  Similarly, learning to play an instrument requires pattern forming drills and exercises to create habitual motion.   Great effort goes into skillful playing.  
You may have heard it said, “love is an action.”  This certainly is true.  We may think we value something, but if our actions do not move us to stronger devotion we are not demonstrating love for it. For example, you may read about shame and vulnerability and think it worthy of your consideration, but if you make no commitment to practice vulnerability, your skill of using it to increase your emotional capacity will not be developed.  A great book was authored this year by  James K.A. Smith to help establish spiritual life.  It is called, You Are What You Love: the Spiritual Power of Habit.  We live in a time when information is over-abundant, but truth is hard to find.  We do well to treasure truth, and practice it over and over again to develop skill for quality emotional response.
Great commitment is required to build and maintain emotional capacity.  It is tough work, but it is worth it.  It is worth it because each person’s worth is “built in.”  Assurance of built in worth gives a person “well power.”  Well power is better than will power.  Will power eventually runs out because of human frailty.  For the God-follower, this is where God comes in.  I believe God is willing and able to meet us in our toughest spots of vulnerability.  We are wired for struggle, and our Creator wired in each of us our personal spirit as an access point to his divine power.  Surrendering our power to his power is the deepest place of vulnerability, and provides for us the deepest, bottomless  well (capacity) as a life-giving fountain. In fact, Jesus himself said, “… whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst ...” (John 4:14).  
I believe Jesus is the ultimate solution to shame. His whole purpose for being is to restore connection to Father God.  Vulnerability is the path to finding Jesus.  I’m not talking about religion.  Religion tries to work its way out of shame.  But, a true Christ-follower yields to Jesus Christ’s identity and worthfulness as the Solution for the shame we are each born into.  Our faith is related to the capacity we have to receive the love, peace, and joy he supplies.  
If you want help sorting out things you are feeling or thinking about this, seek out a competent counselor or trusted friend.  Have a comment?  I would  love to hear from you.  I have one more article in this series of three. The next talks about EQ, emotional quotient and emotional quality.  

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Emotional Capacity

The term emotional intelligence (EI)  has become a buzz word to address the role of emotion in relationships, work, organization, and family environments.  But most of what we hear on this topic has very little to do with emotions.  EI seems to have more to do with cognitive awareness and attempts to avoid or subdue emotions.    
I think Emotional Capacity (EC) is a better way to consider the emotional aspects of the human creature.  Intellect draws on the memory bank of the mind, but the capacity of emotional experience goes deeper to the heart of a person.  Unwanted feelings may produce unpleasant emotions, but the capacity to change these to pleasant emotions requires more than a mere decision to change.  Deeper qualities of love, joy, peace,  temperance, gratitude, contentment, kindness, and faithfulness must go beyond the imagination to provide meaning for ourselves and others around us.  
EI focuses on controlling behaviors. EC focuses on positively influencing behaviors by expanding core belief systems to engage and enrich a person . Mere cognitive awareness of emotion does not produce transformation.   Inside out change is much more rewarding, productive, and longer lasting.  
Emotions carry messages.  The messages they report are gathered from thoughts and feelings about the environment.  Who we are as a person is based on our constant evaluation of our value and worth in our environment.  Therefore, our identity directly relates to our EC.  
EC can be defined as the ability to interpret and express inner emotional messages with unshaken assurance of personal worth and identity.  
I discovered valuable insights on EC by reading things by Dr. Richard Ecker.  We learn how to navigate our environment by developing coping skills.  Ecker points to Webster’s definition of coping as “successful striving.”  In the Emotional Survival Training Manual, he writes that coping, “is the ability to stand and endure in the face of difficult circumstances— or maneuver to avoid them. But we do not cope when we merely stand and endure or run and hide. We cope when we strive actively against the realities we face— and succeed.”  
  Ecker also says, “Typically, coping success is believed to be tied to the ultimate outcome of the situation that has made the coping necessary. If the outcome is good from the standpoint of the individual who is trying to cope, then that person is generally considered to have coped successfully. If the outcome is undesirable, then most people tend to feel that they coped badly. The fact is, outcomes have nothing at all to do with whether or not an individual coped successfully with the situation. The only real measure of coping success is whether or not that person emerged from the encounter with a positive feeling of personal value— that is, has successfully striven.”  
Cope-ability is based on increasing a sense of God-given personal value and worthfulness.  Let me distinguish between self-worth and self-esteem. Value and worth is an attribute given by God inherent in the existence of every human life.  Nothing a person does (or doesn’t do) can add or detract from the image of God in personhood.  Esteeming self by ex halting one’s human ability to create or maintain superior value, is not the kind of striving discussed here.  Selfish satisfaction of personal desire works against the created order of God.  Self-worth is selflessly accepting and  loving the person who God made you to be.  
Ecker says,  “if you learn how to confront the realities of life in such a way that you can emerge from each experience with a positive sense of personal worth, then you can gain from each experience valuable equipment that will make you even more successful in succeeding confrontations.”   Increasing emotional capacity is the goal.  Accepting your unconditional personal worth is the means to that goal.  
In order to obtain the full message from emotion, one must be able to identify specific thoughts and feelings and determine the reality of their impact.  EC allows a person to feel.  Fear of feeling, shuts a person down so that the true messages being sent by emotions are not received.  If a person denies or minimizes the feeling of sad, they will also not be able to feel glad.  Pushing away the feeling of alone, will also prohibit a feeling of belonging.  Refusing to feel wherein one’s discontent lies, will also limit the capacity to feel true contentment.  Whatever negative feeling is avoided will inevitably cut off the ability to feel the positive counterpart.   
Anger management, for example, without anger engagement, may actually diminish one’s EC.  (see article  Anger is a surface emotion in that a deeper message is always behind the anger.  If feelings like rejection, guilt, or shame are the source of the anger, a cause nor solution have no chance of being discovered if the anger is merely “controlled” and not also engaged at a deeper level. EI may offer a solution to anger that would include withdrawing from situations that make you angry.  EC would build the ability to cope with the inner source of anger so that tougher and tougher situations can be endured without triggering the anger.   
At one time or another, we all face overwhelming emotional circumstances in life.  Our coping skills have limitations based on our perceptions of our personal worth.  Our capacity to overcome (or lack thereof), is most significantly influenced by our parents and the people in our background who shaped core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.  
Another thing to realize is that negative feelings are the default mode of our human condition. From birth we feel things like the following without having to take lessons: rejected, deserted, left out, ashamed, trashy, unfit, unworthy, anxious, desperate, fearful, powerless, helpless, oppressed, weak, damaged, flawed, inferior, insignificant, unappreciated, unloved, defeated, hopeless, disoriented, and depressed.  From a very young age we assimilate these into our concept of self-worth and unconsciously create conditions for accepting love and affirmation from other people.  We form habits of interpreting and expressing inner emotional messages that condemn rather than build up.  When this negativity is reinforced or aggravated by those around us, developing a positive sense of self-worth is all the more difficult.  
It takes some effort to increase the capacity of the emotional part of our being, but it is worth every bit of effort.  Building resilience  is like filling a reservoir with clean water in preparation for an unknown drought season.  We may not know when the next crisis or conflict tests our stamina or stability, but we know our personal worth is not based on how the situation turns out.  We fill our soul with “clean water” by uncovering and healing the source of damaged self-concept, learning and developing new coping skills, and replacing bad habits with good habits.   
In the next article I will address more of the how to’s for increasing emotional capacity.  

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Religious Barriers

            Could it be possible that religion is a barrier to finding God? Can religion hinder a deeper or more meaningful relationship with God? 
            This is part 2 of a discussion on barriers to better living. The previous blog post talked about sin, unmet legitimate needs, psychological pain, and false beliefs as barriers to a better quality of life.  In some ways it may seem like religion is an answer to overcoming these barriers, but I'll unpack here, a statement I made.  "God is not accessed through religion, but through relationship.  Religion can become a barrier of its own  that hinders a relationship with God.  Religion can encapsulate all four of the barriers listed above." 
            Religion tends to direct more focus on the human than on the divine.  Religion is about human effort.  Religious practice is based on self-effort to achieve a self-imaged perception of the divine.  It's about becoming good enough, strong enough, or worthy enough to please God.  No matter how well we perform, however, our human limitations cause us to eventually "miss the mark."  The mark is placed  higher and longer with every tryout or race on life's journey. 
            Take "good enough" as an example.  Relationship of any kind is based on trust.  Although many point to evil things in the world and blame God for allowing them, God is not responsible for bad things that happen.  God has proved himself trustworthy.  Everything God thinks and does is for the good of people.  Anything bad has nothing to do with God.  Reframing our perceptions of God toward his goodness is part of trusting God more and improving relationship.  God is good, all the time.
            Somehow we think that in order for God to accept us, we must attain a certain level of goodness to qualify.  Some err by giving up on God completely, and others (calling themselves religious people) try way too hard.   If we try to "relate up" to God's goodness, we will fail every time because his goodness is inexhaustible.  The bar will always go higher and we will get more and more frustrated with trying harder to be good.  Religion does not see this deficiency, and tries to produce good rather than surrendering (yielding) to it. 
            Jesus came to solve this dilemma and tear down barriers that keep people from relationship with God.  Isaiah the prophet spoke of Jesus the Messiah's mission,
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1).
            Christ's earthly life, crucifixion, and resurrection restored the path to Father God. 
Our sin produces guilt that leaves our heart broken and wounded.
Our unmet needs may leave us in poor condition.
Our psychological pain holds us captive to inner turmoil.
Our false beliefs filter out the light of truth leaving us in a dark prison.
Believing in Jesus (not religion) is the Way through all the barriers. 
            Church background, family practices, and cultural norms may all factor in to our filtered perceptions of who God really is.  Some of our views may line up with what the Bible tells us about God's ways, and some may not.  Although a Christian since boyhood, my own personal journey is sprinkled with sin, unmet needs, pain, and mis-beliefs.  For example, I recently encountered a different interpretation of a Bible story I had known since childhood. 
            The classic Bible story of David and Goliath highlights a small shepherd boy defeating a heavily armed, giant of a man taunting the armies of ancient Israel.   A common interpretation is that  God strengthened the underdog David to battle Goliath;  God can strengthen us to defeat giants in our lives.  While it is true that God strengthens his people to do great things, that is not the point of this story.   In the story (see 1 Samuel 17), David is to be interpreted as a type of the Messiah Jesus.  Jesus came as the Savior.  Jesus has conquered the giants.  Jesus defeated the enemy of our soul and all evil.  Now we (as representative of the armies of Israel in the story)  battle from a position of the final outcome having been determined.  But fight we must.  And the cleanup of conquered territory must continue.  I recently discovered this insight about the story by watching a sermon online called "Goliath Must Fall"  by Louie Giglio at:
            By inserting ourselves into the story as David, we reinforce the idea that somehow we can become good enough, strong enough or worthy enough to conquer bad things in our lives.  We can add religion into the mix and say, "God wants me to conquer _____" (fill in the blank with your personal struggle).  But the truth is, by surrendering to Jesus as our Savior/ Messiah, our relationship  with God and access to his power is restored.  Our giants are not conquered by our own efforts (religion), but through the relationship Jesus made possible.  
            The largest giants in our personal stories are not the financial struggles, relational struggles, or health concerns.  The big giants are inner person issues like anger, fear, guilt, shame, and rejection.  These giants are too big.  Jesus is the one who conquers giants.  I've been following Jesus for about a half a century now, and I still need reminded of that truth!   I'm dependent more than ever on my relationship with God to repeal and replace the sins, needs, pain, and falsehood for the righteousness, abundance, peace, and truth for better living.  God is the one who initiated removing the barriers and he accomplished barrier removal.  Our part is not to try harder to remove barriers on our own, but to surrender to what God has done.
            The gospel of John records the details of the intimate fellowship the Son Jesus demonstrated with Father God.  At the very end of John, the very last words he recorded as spoken by Jesus, are "follow me."  Becoming a follower of Jesus means you commit to grow your relationship with him as life moves on.  Following Jesus is not just a concept, principle, prayer, going to church, remembering a stained-glass picture on a wall, or relying on a deeply spiritual experience in the past.  Following Jesus is an active pursuit of discovering more of the person of God and putting your whole trust in him. 
            I'm not encouraging anyone to sever all ties to religious practices and traditions.  My hope is for people to discern between religion and relationship with God.  One more thing to point out is mankind's vulnerability to false religion.  We must recognize that some people in our  would hold to ideologies which pose as religion, but are more aligned with forces of evil than good.   False religion can become  extremely dangerous.  Blaise Pascal has stated, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.”   Without naming them here, I'm sure we can all think of examples of this in our world today.  May God deal with this kind of giant as well.  
            My prayer is that everyone reading this will see through barriers of religion,  to find the authentic relationship with God that fulfills their true purpose and destiny.
            I end once again by returning to my roots in Jesus Music.  I couldn't decide on one, so I mention two songs that helped me overcome religious barriers.  These songs are about four decades old, but the message still rings true today.  John Michael Talbot "Would You Crucify Him?",  and Scott Wesley Brown  "I'm Not Religious Anymore" . 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry