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Most of us think that negative emotion is something to be avoided and that if we are living our lives in the “right way,” our uncomfortable experiences will be limited.
But in order to accomplish the atonement, Jesus Christ had to experience all the negative emotions of the human experience. To do that, he had to be good at feeling bad and have the capacity to feel immeasurable amounts of pain and negative emotion, which makes the ability to feel negative emotion a divine characteristic.
For those of us who strive to follow Christ, learning to feel our feelings, especially our negative ones, may be an important part of becoming more like him. In our quest to become holier and acquire divine attributes, his perfect example demonstrates the need to feel our emotions rather than avoid them.
I think that feeling and processing negative emotion is actually a divine attribute, a divine skill, and that as we get better at feeling our feelings the more we follow our Savior and the more we become like him.
Resisting or Allowing Emotion
When we experience any feeling, we can either allow the emotion or we can resist the emotion. Resisting takes lots of different forms, including reacting to our emotion, avoiding our emotion, or blaming or judging ourselves or others for our emotions. No matter what form it takes, resisting is a way of trying NOT to feel our emotion.
In contrast to that, there is the skill of allowing our emotion, which means letting the emotion be inside of you and allowing it to be there, without wishing it away or thinking it shouldn’t be there, without reacting, without avoiding, without judging it or blaming anyone. It is just feeling the vibration inside your body as a physical sensation.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, to do his work as our Savior, Christ had feel all the feelings that we have felt. To feel our sorrows our sicknesses or infirmities, our heartaches, our sins and mistakes, and all the regrets we have about them, and all the pain they cause. His work was to feel all of that. His work was not to resist it. He needed to allow for the pain and feel it all so that he could succor us. He couldn’t resist it—he didn’t react to it, he didn’t avoid it, he didn’t think he shouldn’t be feeling it. He didn’t blame us or the father. He didn’t argue with it. He allowed it to be there. He felt the full weight of human suffering. And he had to feel all of it in order to make the atonement effective.
He had to have the skill of allowing negative emotion. He had to be good at feeling bad or he could not have performed the atonement on our behalf.
Choosing to Follow Christ
I think this is part of the work each of us came to do on earth, to gain the skill of feeling our feelings, especially our negative emotions. He didn’t want us to come and never feel bad. That would not be following him, and it would not prepare us to be more like him.
In our quest to become holier and in our efforts to follow Christ, what if the way is through negative emotion, rather than trying to avoid it altogether?
What I am trying to offer you is the idea that we don’t have to solve for our negative emotion. It isn’t something needs to be fixed or solved for. Feelings are not problems. They are experiences. Experiences through which we gain skills. And perhaps, the only real way to gain the skill of feeling is by feeling, which is a skill we need if we are trying to follow Christ.
How to Feel Your Feelings
1. First, you don’t make negative emotion mean anything negative about you. You are not bad because you feel bad.
2. Second, I think the best cue I can give you and that I give myself repeatedly is I tell myself, “Feeling happens in the body not the head.” Feeling always happens in the body. Remember feelings are just chemical signals sent form the brain to the body and so feelings are felt in the body.
3. Ask yourself:
Allow Your Feelings, But Don’t Believe Your Brain
While we are here to have the experience of feeling, and we can develop the skill of feeling in our bodies, the vibrations and sensation associated with negative emotion, we also have the capacity to choose to another way.
We don’t have stay permanently entrenched in the negative thoughts offered to us by our brain. We are in charge. Your brain is powerful and so is the adversary, but you are more powerful. And you have been given the capacity to choose to the light, believe the good, trust in the truth. We do this with the thoughts we choose to believe and put our energy and attention on.
Feel your feelings. But don’t believe your brain. Feel the feelings. And then choose. Choose to overcome your own brain, not to feel better and avoid feeling bad, but to allow that higher, holier part of you to get it’s say.
In so many ways, the thoughts that create our negative feelings are just part of the human experience. Christ’s human brain offered him similar thoughts. And we worship him because he felt ALL the feelings, not because he didn’t. He felt them and he stood his ground amidst the feelings. He continued to believe and trust and love while feeling bad. He fought through the darkness, but he didn’t try to avoid or resist feeling the negative feelings. He prevailed and overcame, while feeling every negative emotion we will ever feel.
And those of us who chose to follow him, this is what our work is as well. Following him means becoming better at feeling bad. And following is recognizing that even then, even when we fear scared and anxious and discouraged and despondent, (and all the negative emotions we will feel) that we can still choose what we will believe and what we will continue to think about and what we will focus on.
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Stephen Robinson - “In that infinite Gethsemane experience, the meridian of time, the center of eternity, he lived a billion, billion lifetimes of sin, pain, disease, and sorrow. God uses no magic wand to simply wave bad things into nonexistence. The since that he remits, he remits by making them his own and suffering them. The pain and heartaches that he relieves, he relieves by suffering them himself. These things can be shared and absorbed but the cannot be simply wished or waved away. They must be suffered.”
Malcom Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered
Reyna Aburto - “Learning to identify and value our emotions can help us use them constructively to become more like our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Jeffrey R. Holland, “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence”