How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies

At some point, you’ve probably realized it’s not just the problems and challenging people surrounding you that rob your life of joy. Like everyone, you’ve been wounded and developed patterns that limit your ability to be your best self. Internal challenges, such as anger, guilt, and shame require your attention, or you end up overwhelmed and hurting others unnecessarily.

It’s hard to be good to others when you’re hurting inside.

Ironically, the most natural way of addressing troubling emotions actually makes things worse. Many well-meaning people seek to suppress and even condemn aspects of themselves they don’t like. The most common response to unwanted impulses is to insist, I need to get over it or, I’ve got to stop thinking that way. In our experience as counselors, we’ve found that this approach rarely works… which is why we’d like to suggest another way. And it involves understanding and even befriending the hurting parts of your soul.

Befriend my anger and fear? you may be thinking. That’s the last thing I want to do! Consider this: Jesus taught us to love our enemies. “Pray for those who persecute you,” He said (Matthew 5:44). When you throw a dinner party, stretch yourself and invite the unpopular people (Luke 14:12-14). Mature love is extending hospitality — even toward the parts of your soul that are angry, anxious, lonely, or sad.

Time to Take a You-Turn?

Most clients come to us initially with the desire to talk about someone else. Wives want to fix their husbands. Parents want to fix their children. When conflict detonates a frenzy of emotion, the natural response is to accuse the other. But you can’t control others! What you can do is take a closer look at what’s going on inside of you.

When you’re feeling out of control, taking what we call a “You-Turn” helps you gain clarity about your own reaction so you can respond intentionally instead of becoming overwhelmed.

A You-Turn involves following these Five Steps:

Step 1: Focus on a feeling you’re having right now

Step 2: Befriend this part of yourself that you don’t like

Step 3: Invite Jesus to draw near

Step 4: Unburden this weary part of your soul

Step 5: Integrate it into your life by helping it find a new, more helpful role

As you begin to understand your emotions with compassion and curiosity, they’ll soften. For example, a woman we know was angry with her son for constantly pushing back against her request to clean his room. Her anger was extreme, beyond what the situation warranted. As she focused on her anger, she realized that she wasn’t nearly as angry with her son as she was with . . . herself. She’d been overworking, and neglecting self-care. Her anger was a cue that she needed to listen to the part of her that was yearning for rest. After adjusting her internal boundaries, her anger subsided, and she could then enforce healthy boundaries with her son in a calm, creative way.

When extreme emotions threaten to derail you, seize the opportunity to evaluate your internal boundaries. Is there a part of you that’s hurting? If so, it needs to be drawn in closer so you can give it the care it needs. Or, is there a part of you that has become reckless and needs some gentle boundaries? What thoughts and feelings need your time, attention, and redirection? These parts of you present opportunities for your growth and healing. They need your time, attention, and redirection. After all, internal conflict is growth trying to happen.

As you engage in taking a You-Turn, you’ll move from seeing your undesirable inclinations as problems to seeing them as allies on your path to peace and wholeness. You’ll become more curious about your troubling thoughts and emotions. This compassionate posture toward yourself will help you develop what have been called “those wise restraints that make [us] free.”[1]

[1] Ask a Librarian, Harvard Law School Library online, accessed May 29, 2018 http://asklib.law.harvard.edu/faq/115309. Since the late 1930s, every year at commencement, the Harvard University president says to Harvard Law School graduates the following phrase, coined by professor John MacArthur Maguire (1924–1973): “You are now ready to aid in the shaping and application of those wise restraints that make men free.”

Adapted for Devotionals Daily by Alison K. Cook and Kimberly J. Miller, authors of Boundaries for Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies.

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Your Turn

Are you feeling out of control? Is there an area of life that’s making you nuts? What do you need to bring to Jesus and unburden? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full

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