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What Vows Have You Made? (Part 2 of Emotional Health: What Is It?)

 Today, we tackle principle number two in the three part series exploring emotional health. If you missed the first principle, you may want to read it before continuing with this one.

Principle # 2 - An emotionally healthy person is willing and able to feel a variety of emotions and does not refuse to feel any specific emotion.


One of my counseling professors in seminary used to talk about vows, and the concept changed my life. I have come to believe that we all make conscious and/or unconscious vows to ourselves. If you have ever said or thought, "I will do everything in my power never to feel this way again" or "I will never let this happen to me again," then you know what I mean. That is a vow to yourself, a promise never to let yourself feel the way you were currently feeling.

A Personal Story

   I travelled to Guatemala while I was in college. I went to Lago Atitlán, which is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. I will make a long story short and tell you that I got ripped off. I did not speak the language well enough at the time and did not have enough travel experience. I paid well over what I was supposed to pay for a boat tour of the lake. When I found out I had been taken advantage of, I was furious. In my mind without an audible word spoken, I vowed to myself, "I will never let this happen again. I will never feel this stupid, embarrassed, and incompetent again." To this day that vow affects me. I hate the emotions that come along with being ripped off. When I begin to feel embarrassed or stupid in any way, I tend to cover it up with shame or anger. I am changing though. I am growing. Let me be clear. I am not saying that I should love being ripped off or even be alright with it. What I am saying is that I do not want to let that day define my future. I do not want a vow I made years ago to negatively impact my marriage, friendships, and ministry. If I refuse to feel the emotions of embarrassment and stupidity, then I will turn to anger, shame, or other means of escape. I would rather learn how to face feelings of embarrassment and stupidity than avoid those emotions at all cost.

The Principle

    When you or I avoid a specific emotion that is a normal part of life, we have to cover it up with another emotion or escape from it. In my counseling experience and life experience, I have found that the most common ways to avoid a certain emotion are by covering it up with the secondary emotion of anger, shame, or anxiety. Most of us would rather feel anger, shame, or anxiety than hurt, sadness, embarrassment, etc. If we don't turn to a secondary emotion, we turn to some behaviors that numb our emotions so that we hardly feel anything. Some common behaviors used to escape emotions are pornography, excessive drinking, drugs, gambling, excessive surfing of the internet, online gaming, or burying ourselves in our work.

There are all sorts of reasons you may have vowed to not feel certain emotions. Maybe it is birthed out of a story like I shared above. Perhaps it is because emotional role models in your life taught you that some emotions were off limits by their words or expressions when you were showing that emotion. We have a choice! We have a choice between learning to handle and face whatever our dreaded emotion(s) is or facing the consequences of turning to a secondary emotion or problem behavior. Will you seek to become emotionally healthy by being willing and able to feel those emotions you have vowed not to feel in the past?

A Call To Action: Pursue Emotional Health

  Take a minute and consider. What are some times in your life, whether they seemed important or not at the time, that you may have made a vow never to experience a certain feeling ever again? How is that vow working for you? Write about a story that comes to mind or share it with someone you trust, and be willing to feel the emotion(s) that you vowed not to feel. Imagine what it would be like to live free from the vows you have made to yourself as you pursue emotional health.
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