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On emotional fragility
Not all of us are born emotionally robust, and that’s okay. But here’s what we can do when our thoughts threaten to pull us down.
Many years ago, I asked some friends if I could join them for a prayer meeting they were holding.
They said “no.”
This wasn’t the answer I was expecting.
It wasn’t as if I was asking to go on holiday with them, or join them for a private hot tub, or gate-crash a birthday celebration. In my mind, asking if I could go to the prayer meeting was just a matter of courtesy; I had absolutely no expectation of being excluded.
I don’t want to be too dramatic here, but my feelings took a nosedive. There was an immediate physical reaction to this personal rejection as my stomach churned in knots, my throat tightened and both eyes stung as if I was going to cry.
I’m not a robust individual, emotionally.
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“Self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own difficulties”
So, I had two problems here. One; the feeling of being rejected and therefore worthless, and two; the feeling of guilt that I had taken offence by the rejection. It wasn’t long before the impact of rejection overwhelmed the feeling of guilt.
The whole episode made me mull over what I imagined my friends thought of me, just how much they valued me, and exactly where I stood in relation to the whole group. I thought about this a lot. In fact it seemed to take over most of my thinking because, especially in these days of social media, friends are so important to us and we see very easily what they are doing. I couldn’t help noticing that the next time they got together they didn’t automatically invite me, as they used to do. I had been “dropped.”
The result of this was that I felt very sorry for myself.
The dictionary definition of self-pity is: “a self-indulgent1 dwelling2 on one’s3 own difficulties4.”
Let’s just pick this apart for a minute.
- Self-indulgent = someone who is too attentive to their own needs
- Dwelling = introspective navel-gazing
- One’s own = self-obsessed
- Difficulties = what we feel are problems
Many situations in daily life can push us into this state; I don’t need to run through them here – when we are miserable about something in life we are only too aware what the problem is. The result of allowing ourselves to wallow in these introspective thoughts is that we become self-obsessed.
“It has to stop”
But one day, after living under a cloud for too long, I suddenly realised that I cared more about what other people thought about me than about what God thought about me, and that under these circumstances I couldn’t call myself a disciple. I wasn’t really following Jesus; I was following the whims of other people.
When the Spirit gives us light over ourselves and we see something that we have been doing, thinking or feeling that isn’t in agreement with God’s Word then it has to stop. Whether I think I am justified in doing, thinking or feeling that way is absolutely not the point.
Yes, it is possible that we stumble around in confusion for a while, but when that confusion lifts, when we see clearly, then we have no excuse to be self-indulgently clinging onto hurt feelings and blaming the actions of other people for the way we are.
There are self-help books and therapists that can teach us how to re-frame our negative thought patterns differently, and this can be a useful skill to acquire especially if we are dealing with specific traumas from the past; but this will just address our mental health. When I sense my human nature is involved, that which craves attention and is disappointed, then I need to use God’s Word to get to the root. And when we have expressed our hope and expectation, a wonderful thing happens; God sends His Spirit which fills us with courage and hope, and power to resist the urge to dip back into navel-gazing and wondering where we are in people’s estimation.
Drawing a line in the sand
It’s not my fault that I was born with a tendency to emotional fragility, but it is my responsibility not to let it rule my life. My relationship with God is strengthened when I keep going to Him saying, “Help me with this!” For me, it came down to a cold-blooded decision. One day when I was alone, I said out loud, “I reject all these self-obsessed thoughts; I reject feeling sorry for myself and worrying about what people think of me. From now on, I aim to please God and Him alone.”
I drew a line in the sand. It can be that simple, that quick, and that liberating.
So, each time I start to have feelings of rejection, I remember that line I drew in the sand, and send up a quick prayer: “Help me now!” and I sense I am becoming more and more free from my nature which so quickly responds badly to negative interaction.
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36.
And the people who rejected me from their prayer meeting? We now have really good fellowship together, and I can talk openly with them with no remembrance of past offence at all. I fought that particular battle and won. And that is the power of the gospel – it really does make us free.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.