Have you ever seen those counters that employers have in their offices or warehouses that say when the last incident was? They read something like, “Accident free for ____ days.” or “Days since last incident — ____.” Sometimes, I think I need one of those for my emotions.
It’s been __________ day, ________ hours, and ______ minutes since my last emotional breakdown.
Over the last year and a half, I have cried a lot, and in front of all sorts of people. People I never intended to see me that emotional, that vulnerable, that broken. At first, if I could get through one class, just one, without crying, it was a victorious day. Then, half a day was my milestone. A whole day… you get the point. I was teaching high school at that point at a fantastic Christian school. My poor students. I love them. I think they thought I was dying. They were WAY more gracious than teenagers should have to be to an adult. And I am so grateful.
Having a “Breakdown Counter” would give me great encouragement. It would help me see my progress in a tangible way. It would also warn others. If my counter reads, “0 days, 5 hours, and 2 minutes,” they would know to tread lightly, because my emotions are right there at the surface. If I ever make it to, “10 days, 18 hours, and 23 minutes,” they could celebrate this huge milestone with me.
I’m amazed at what can trigger my emotions at this point. I mean, I can push through a lot of stress and emotional strain when I have to, but I can’t do it indefinitely. The smallest, silliest thing often pushes me over the edge. Seriously, sometimes I feel like Freud himself would look at my chaotic series of triggers and responses and say, “Nope, too complex for me. Try Pavlov. Maybe he can condition some of that craziness out of you.” Maybe I also need a “distress” meter to sit beside my breakdown counter. When people come up to me, they can see that while I have been breakdown free for 5 days, my distress level is dangerously high. I’m about to snap. Look out.
The appeal of the Breakdown Counter and the Distress Meter is that both would free me of having to explain my emotions. Both would limit the awkward conversations that accompany someone reaching their emotional limit in front of an audience. I could just say, “Heads up, I reset my counter today,” and that would be it. Life would be simpler.
But, alas, we do not have external counter or meters. We have to do this crazy thing where we communicate our emotions. Mine are often communicated with tears. Recently, I’ve discovered that I habitually apologize for my emotions. I actually discussed this with a friend because it hit me one day how ridiculous that is. Whenever someone sees me cry, I apologize to them for it. Regardless of what has caused me to cry. When I text a friend because I’m having a rough time with something, I include something along the lines of, “Sorry to be so emotional,” “Sorry to unload like that,” “Sorry I’m being so needy today.”
My friend helped me see that there are several reasons why I compulsively apologize for my emotions. I have had experiences where I thought I was sharing my feelings in a safety and security with someone I trusted, and was instead betrayed or rejected. I am also a people-pleaser (big time!) and I legitimately don’t want to make someone uncomfortable or feel bad themselves. Plus, somewhere along the way, I’ve become convinced that emotions are wrong, or at the very least a sign of failure and weakness. After all, “Big girls don’t cry…”
This view of emotions is so far from accurate, so far from biblical. I cannot recall one instance in the Bible where someone apologized for their emotions. They perhaps sinned in their RESPONSE to their emotions, and confessed that sin. They perhaps confessed the REASON for their emotion, because the reason was rooted in sin. But I’m drawing a serious blank on where someone confesses the sin of emotion.
Emotions are part of our human make-up and part of our reflection of God’s imagine. If you doubt this, read through the Gospels and track all the emotions that Jesus felt and expressed. He was angry over the sin of hypocrisy and materialism which entered into His holy temple, so He threw over the tables and chased out the swindlers. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, He wept over His friend. John 11:35 doesn’t read, “Jesus wept and then said, ‘I’m sorry for being so emotional, guys. Let me raise him from the dead now to even things out’.” Jesus KNEW He was going to restore life to Lazarus and still He expressed His grief.
I guess my point is this – the emotion is not the problem, so why apologize for it? The emotion makes me human. If my emotion arises from a sinful desire or produces a sinful action, that must be confessed. If my selfishness and pride causes me to be jealous of someone else’s success – that is sin. If my anger over the betrayal I experienced causes me to push… someone down a flight of stairs – that action is sin (probably, I think). But if I’m crying because too many hurts have built up in too short of a time for me to properly process, well, just know that I’m not apologizing for that any more. And I don’t expect you to, either. Because that’s called being human.