Building Emotional Strength

by : Kim Frederickson

We need to take responsibility for our own emotional maturity regardless of what steps of growth our spouse, friend, parent, or child does or does not take. Just as we exercise to gain physical strength, pray and read the Bible to gain spiritual strength, and study to gain intellectual strength - there are ways we can gain emotional strength inside ourselves, and in our relationships.

The great news is that there are steps we can take ourselves to strengthen our own emotional development. When we are stronger emotionally, it will help our Relationships in every area of our life.

The way we grow emotionally involves:

  • Learning about and recognizing our emotions

  • Accepting them and working with them

  • Learning to tolerate feeling them a little more each time

  • Learning to express our feelings in healthy ways

When we begin to pause and notice the feelings going on inside of us, it is helpful to have some skills to help us process these feelings. The challenge is to allow these feelings to surface as we find new ways to interact with them besides distraction, denial, acting them out on someone, or deadening them with a substance.

This builds emotional muscles, as we are able to tolerate our emotions in a healthy way. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, and Relationship Coach, I have identified some helpful ways to release, understand, and accept our feelings as we grow in this area. Pay attention to yourself as you read the following ideas: Some of these will be a good fit for you, and others won’t.

  • Talk – You may find it helpful to talk through the feelings you are becoming aware of. Talking with someone who will listen and accept those feelings will help you understand them. Sharing your feelings with someone else will help you connect with another person, rather than isolating yourself from your feelings and/or other people.

  • Read – Sometimes it is helpful to read in order to understand what is going on inside of you. Reading may help you recognize feelings or experiences you have had. Reading often helps bring understanding to the confusion you may be feeling.

  • Move Your Body – It is helpful sometimes to let your body physically release the energy, anxiety, sadness, and other emotions you may be feeling. Some have reported that swimming, walking, aerobics, biking, running, etc lets out some of the energy associated with these emotions.

  • Write – Writing your feelings down in a journal can help you express and release them. Putting these newly felt emotions down on paper could help you further process them and lead to an even greater understanding of yourself.

  • Talk To God – Tell Him of your feelings. Ask Him to reveal to you what you are feeling and how to proceed. Read in the Psalms (25, 28, 40, 42, 46, 51, 61, 69, 103, and 119) to see how David poured his heart (emotions) out to God. He accepts your emotions and understands you.

  • Write Yourself a Comforting Note or e-mail – Tell yourself the truth about your worth, value, and hope for the future. Consider asking a friend to write you one too. Read it over when you need encouragement.

  • Listen To Music – Ask yourself what type of music brings you comfort and peace when you are upset or hurting. Give yourself permission to rest and listen to this music when the emotions that come up need soothing.

  • Talk to Yourself Encouragingly – When you are learning how to grow in emotional maturity it can be slow, scary, unknown. Say to yourself softly, “I know, it will be OK. It makes sense to be sad/scared/want to give up. God loves me, He is helping me, and there is so much hope. Just keep at it, growth will happen."

  • Feel Them – Let yourself feel some of the emotions that are coming up. One way to teach yourself that you are feeling is to learn how to read the physiological body sensations that let you know you are feeling something. For example, you may be aware of a pit or butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, feeling choked up in your throat, etc. As a feeling comes up, pause and breathe through it, rather than distract yourself with an activity, or covering it over with a substance. You might say to yourself, “Yes this is loneliness. It is powerful and very hard to feel, and yes I’m going to let myself feel some of it" or “I’m feeling very sad right now about it" or “Yes, I’m really angry right now". If you want, imagine Jesus or a good friend there with you providing support. Know that you are going to need to do a lot of this. One of the biggest “fall-outs" of painful childhood experiences is a disconnection from yourself and your feelings. By working with your feelings rather than against them, you actually reclaim a part of yourself previously lost.

  • Label What You Are Feeling - Now that you know you are feeling, your next task is to figure out what the emotion is. Begin with the general category of emotion (glad, mad, sad), then fine tune the feeling. Eventually you will be able to more precisely label your feelings, thus understanding yourself better, as well as being able to communicate to others more accurately how you feel.

  • Begin To Share Your Feelings Slowly - Try to ascertain with whom you wish to share your feelings, and which ones you wish to keep to yourself. Not all feelings should be shared with all people. Try to learn who is safe to share with and who isn’t. Sharing a little bit and seeing what the response is usually does this. Is there interest and acceptance, or advice giving and condemnation? You will usually find that some level of sharing will be fine with some but not with others.

You can work with yourself to build emotional strength as well as a better relationship with yourself! Don’t give up, work on it a little at a time, and you will see results. Remember to treat yourself as a good friend would: be patient with your struggles, listen to your wants and needs, and celebrate your gains - no matter how small! Go for it!