A Place for Negative Emotions

Embrace Them

Sometimes Christians think that the abundant life Jesus promised is mere happiness, but there’s more. Jesus came to show us a range of human emotion—from joy to sorrow—that can help us express our hearts and souls to God. In this post, created in cooperation with the Association of Biblical Counselors, Christian psychologist Eric Johnson defines and describes negative emotions in order to validate their place in the human experience. 

Eric Johnson is an associate editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology and author of Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. He has also authored articles for the Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling and co-edited and contributed to Christianity and Psychology: Four Views and God Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents God.   

Eric described the difference between positive and negative emotions, which may seem obvious. You likely enjoy the positive emotions. What are your general thoughts on negative emotions? Do you consider yourself good at dealing with them? Do you try to avoid them? Stuff them away so they don’t surface?
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Eric said people tend to avoid negative emotions because they are unpleasant. What is unpleasant about the negative emotions you’ve experienced lately?
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Because we tend to avoid them, it’s common to not know how to deal well with negative emotions. What is your typical response when you feel anger? Sadness? Fear or anxiety? What about shame and guilt?
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Do you think Christians in particular have a hard time appropriately handling their negative emotions? Why or why not?
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Eric said the danger of negative emotions is when they overwhelm us, become explosive, or manifest themselves in addictive or unhealthy behaviors. Share a time when a negative emotion of yours got out of hand. It can be as simple as “road rage” or as complex as a severe form of depression.
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Simply experiencing a negative emotion isn’t dangerous or bad. It can actually be very healthy. Share a time when it felt good to be sad over a loss or get angry at an injustice. Why do you think that negative emotion felt good, even though it was “negative”?
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Eric said it’s important to bring people “into the middle” and help them truly experience their various negative emotions. We can do this in three ways:
  • being aware of our negative emotions and acknowledging them
  • expressing what we’re feeling
  • practicing various strategies that help us deal with our emotions

What new insight have you gained from Eric’s message about negative emotions? What questions, if any, do you still have?
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Our negative emotions can be important indicators of how we’re feeling in relation to God. Be encouraged that it’s okay if your life isn’t full of happiness and ease. It’s often in the dark and uncertain times when Christ becomes the most clear.  

You can find more on negative emotions from Eric in the course Jesus Got Sad, It's Okay if You Do, Too.  

To learn more about The Association of Biblical Counselors, click here.