Big Feelings & Emotional Capacity, cont'd from: Whose Responsibility Is It . . .

 . . . you will feel hurt in your interactions with people and experiences in this world. There will be things said that affect how you feel about yourself, regardless of the intentions of the speaker. All through your life you will feel some combinations of what James Wilder calls, The Big Six Feelings:  Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust, Shame, Hopeless Despair. It’s what you do, how you act, when you feel these emotions that defines your maturity and character. Your habits will shape the quality of your life, including your relationships with other people. Are you able to feel your feelings and reflect on what you are feeling? Or do you act out, yelling if you are feeling angry, or crying and accusing when hurt? Let’s delve into this a bit more.

When it comes to feelings, it is important for all of us to accept how we are made, which is well documented in science, psychology, and spirituality. We are highly social, sensitive, and deeply feeling creatures. For us to thrive we must have loving relationships, healthy connections with other human beings. Our loving, healthy interactions with others builds joy, which increases our emotional capacity, which is also the foundation for our physical well being.

Do you know that building joy is the main task of an infant from birth to a year old? The second year is full of lessons on how to return to joy from difficult emotions. How well do you return to joy from difficult emotions? Do you know that finding and building joy is a skill that can be learned even if you didn’t get it in your original bonding with your mother and father?

How do you build joy? The short answer is: learning to see life and people with the eyes of heaven (borrowed from James Wilder, but I think the idea came from Dallas Willard).

For those of us who call ourselves Christians this is where the rubber meets the road because Jesus is our model. And, the behavior that is expected of us is written throughout the Word. Furthermore, Jesus took our sins, our excuses, onto the cross, bore our iniquity (our sin), and he made a way, so that we are empowered to be like him. I know that when I see life, circumstances, and people the way Jesus does the atmosphere is changed.

Building emotional capacity can be compared to weight lifting, in that, repetitions with a small weight leads to developing a bigger muscle that allows you to pick up a bigger weight which grows more muscle, and so on. Practicing the skills that bring joy (seeing his good in people; sharing the pleasure of life-giving company, or the health of nutritious food; being in worship) increases the size of your center for joy (which has unlimited growth in your lifetime). Simply said, what you feed, grows.

Let me tell you a short story that builds joy, including causing all levels of my brain to interact the way it was created . . . After days of rain I woke up to sunlight streaming into my window. I felt a warmth spread through me as I shrugged off the blankets, opened the blinds and stood in the sun. The grass and plants still soaked from the rains sparkled as the suns rays fell on them. The greens were bright, new buds opening. I felt a smile spreading over my face, then it felt like the smile spread to all parts of me. I felt lighter, energized. I looked forward to the day as I headed to the closet to get dressed!

Simple (but not easy). Try it. Stick with it until you find that your first habit of the day is to look at life in praise and be uplifted, energized. 

For a week choose to get up each day and look at life and people as gifts and opportunities. Keep a journal of your self talk. This is not an exercise of condemnation, but one of adventure. If you have a favorite Psalm read it. Psalms are Biblical Joy stories, particularly returning to joy from difficult emotions.

Feel free to drop a line on what kinds of things you are thinking about . . . until next time: love, joy, rest.


1. The extensive research of what is required for a human being to grow up into their full potential, is outside of this dialogue. For your own perusal, a helpful starting point is in the brilliant texts of: Dr. Allan Schore, and stated in layman’s terms in such writings as, “The Developing Mind,” by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, and in additional texts listed in following notes.
2. Many of us know a fair amount of what wrong was done to us as well as what we do wrong. What we need to know more about is: what does wise, healthy, life-giving, joy building choices look like?. In the Bible, it states in Duet 30:19b – “Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live; Vs 20.” For those of us who believe in God Jesus is our model of what life giving behavior looks like. In our present day we have an astounding book, “Living From The Heart Jesus Gave You,” by E. James Wilder, et al.
3. "Rare Leadership," by Marcus Warner & James Wilder; “Joy Starts Here, The Transformational Zone,” by E. James Wilder, Edward M. Khouri, Chris M. Coursey, Shelia D. Sutton.