Intersection of Life and Faith

Is it True that You ‘Can’t Heal What You Won’t Feel?’ 

  • Jolene Underwood Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2020 24 Feb
Is it True that You ‘Can’t Heal What You Won’t Feel?’ 

A common phrase tells us that you ‘can’t heal what you won’t feel.’ It implies a level of feeling critical to healthy living. Does scripture indicate that feeling is an essential aspect of healing?

Scientific assertions (such as how our minds and bodies experience healing through feeling) may not be found in specific verses, yet the Bible speaks to these truths.

Scripture doesn’t explicitly say we ‘must feel to heal,’ but scripture as a whole says a great deal about healing and feeling. Let’s look at 9 important considerations about what it means to heal through feeling:

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  • 1. Science Supports God’s Healing Design

    1. Science Supports God’s Healing Design

    Scientific discoveries around the brain and emotions continually reveal God’s hand in creation. Science and scripture both reveal the power of healing through feeling.

    Neuroplasticity, for example, refers to the brain’s ability to heal and develop helpful new neural pathways. This principle shows how the concept of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) is a spiritual practice with physiological implications.

    Renewing our minds is more than thinking different thoughts. It’s thinking in a new way. When we engage in spiritual connection with God and let His way of thinking change us, neuroplasticity literally rewires our minds. Our minds are renewed, as our souls are reshaped and our spirits strengthened.

    Science reveals how emotions get stored in our brains and bodies. If you’ve ever been heartsick, you know the pain of grief felt in the body. If you’ve been comforted by the care of others, you know the physical calming your body and mind experience.

    Stress, trauma, and painful emotions that aren’t processed stay inside of us. They may also get stored in the brain without our awareness. When I struggled with intense anxiety and signs of PTSD, a therapy method called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) helped my brain calm down. I also experienced God’s presence and love in powerful ways. My spirit and mind were strengthened together.

    God’s design for healing through the healthy processing of emotions is seen in how our bodies and brains recover. Particularly in relationships as designed by God, which we see throughout the Bible.

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  • 2. God Is the Creator and Giver of Emotions

    2. God Is the Creator and Giver of Emotions

    Scripture reveals multiple events where God expressed emotions such as anger, joy, jealousy, sadness, and love. Jesus, fully man and fully God, experienced the same. Emotions are part of who God is and who we are as part of God’s design.

    To feel is to be human. Not just human, but Imago Dei. Created in the image of God.

    To not feel is to deny part of our God-given design.

    Not all feelings in all circumstances are beneficial. Yet, emotions are a critical element of God and our image designed to reflect God. Our experiences with emotions are not perfect the way they are for God, but denying the reality of our feelings keeps us sick.

    Repressing emotional expression makes us sicker emotionally, physiologically, mentally, and physically. 

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  • 3. Pain in This Life Is a Certainty

    3. Pain in This Life Is a Certainty

    We all deal with pain. We don’t all deal with pain well.

    None of us escape painful emotions. This world is full of challenges and situations that become unbearable. We experience loss through the death of loved ones, tragedies, and even wanted life changes.

    Compounded stressful situations ignite many emotions. Childhood dynamics and past events also play a part in the types of emotional pain we feel and the degree to which we feel it.

    If we ignore difficult emotions completely, we may experience a hardened heart, which leads to an inability to receive from the Spirit of God—limiting neural healing and spiritual growth. Strengthened pride prevents us from resting in love.

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  • 4. Emotions Connect Us to God and Others

    4. Emotions Connect Us to God and Others

    Feeling our emotions connects us to the truth of pain, loss, joy, and comfort. It also fosters connection with God and others.

    “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

    God’s design for healing includes empathic experiences with Himself and other people. Our understanding and care for what others face in life expresses God’s care for each of us. We are to celebrate with others and cry too.

    When our emotions meet the emotions of another person, we experience relational connectedness. This is the heartbeat of emotional intimacy.

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  • 5. Denied Wounds Deny God

    5. Denied Wounds Deny God

    I’m increasingly saddened over the plight of many Christians to shove aside feelings, rather than understand them. Our attempts to ignore what emotions tell us keeps us self-reliant. We use God to deny God at work in our lives.

    For example, someone experiences a significant loss. There’s an initial emotional reaction, then they determine to make it through. This determination may be necessary for survival at the moment, but it isn’t sustainable long-term. It isn’t healing.

    Instead, self-will to power through assumes we are the source of good, rather than allowing God’s goodness to meet us in what doesn’t feel good.

    Sadness and hurt don't just disappear because we refuse to feel. They go underground.

    The wound still happened. It didn’t disappear, though it may be lightly covered, so we believe it’s not what it is. Pretending we experience victory from pain before we have processed painful feelings does more than keep us stuck. It keeps us blind to our stuckness.

    If we believe we can heal without feeling, we deny the power of God to meet us in our sadness, sickness, weakness, grief, and suffering. (Job 6:10)

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  • 6. What Happens When We Refuse to Feel?

    6. What Happens When We Refuse to Feel?

    Treating our wounds as if they are less than they are keeps us from experiencing true peace from our Healer.

    “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14 ESV)

    You can’t heal a wound by denying its presence. Or applying band-aid fixes. Cover-ups never clean out what’s infected inside of us. Only the sometimes-painful process of transformation with God brings about true healing.

    When we refuse to feel what’s hard to feel, we refuse God access to the tender places where we need Him most. We refuse His way of bringing comfort. Of revealing His strength in our weakness. We also become reliant on ourselves instead of God.

    Unhealed hurts may go underground, but they infect our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors. They leak out. We may not know it, but others will experience it.

    “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)

    When we refuse to feel, we deny God’s healing. We defer true Hope that comes from life with Christ because we’ve put hope in man’s ability to do good over feeling what’s hard and experiencing God’s goodness.

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  • 7. How Does Feeling Help Us Heal?

    7. How Does Feeling Help Us Heal?

    Emotions are informative. They reveal where there’s been injustice, harm, and real and perceived dangers. They also show where we feel safe and connected.

    Feeling is one aspect of healing. The information we gain from attending to our emotions leads us to action that resolves the underlying causes of destruction in our souls.

    Crying is a healing process. There’s a reason we say, “a good cry.” Some of my episodes of weeping were experiences of deep grieving that preceded a layer of freedom.

    Anger has an appropriate role too. It’s designed to move us towards action in the face of injustice and harm. When I was unable to express anger appropriately, or process it safely, I grew sicker inside. Anger turned inwards can fuel unhealthy thoughts and behaviors like self-harm.

    We need safe places and healthy ways to release anger and sadness. Grief healing includes feeling and processing those feelings.

    Christian counseling can help process hard-to-feel emotions. So can journaling, spending time with God, and talking with safe friends who allow emotional expression. I’ve also created a tool (Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets) that helps people identify feelings and work through them with God.

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  • 8. Scriptural Examples of Feelings and Healing

    8. Scriptural Examples of Feelings and Healing

    When Jeremiah felt distraught, he passionately pled to God for refuge.

    “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14)

    Jeremiah calls out for emotional healing. He’s looking for restoration to his soul from the depth of pain he feels. He doesn’t deny pain but expresses it with honesty. God meets him there.

    "But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 30:17)

    Joseph sobbed when reunited with the brothers who abandoned him. He allowed the vulnerable expression of his pain to work its way out. He then met them in love.

    “Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.” (Genesis 43:30)

    See also Genesis 45:1-2; Genesis 45:14-15, and Genesis 46:29.

    Throughout scripture, feelings are experienced in healing ways by God and His people. There are too many to refer to here. For a list of scriptures with their implications on feeling and healing, please check out this printable “Scriptural Examples of Feeling and Healing.”

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  • 9. What Do We Need if We Want to Heal?

    9. What Do We Need if We Want to Heal?

    Feeling isn’t the only way to experience emotional, spiritual, and mental healing, but not feeling can keep us from healing.

    We may need to prevent feeling for a limited time because circumstances overload our bodies. We may need to not feel in situations where we need to survive. This isn’t meant to be a long-term solution to living. It doesn’t lead to thriving. Ultimately, what we need is far more complicated than just feeling.

    God knows our needs. He knows the best path to experience healing and transformation. His goal is never about helping us just get through. It’s towards redemptive living that experiences more of Him and more of who He created us to be.

    A few critical elements for emotional and spiritual healing include:

    - willingness to get help

    - safe and healthy relationships

    - connection to God and others

    - connection within ourselves (including feeling what we need to feel)

    This may or may not include medical interventions, long-term therapy, recovery groups, spiritual battle prayers, exercise, and other means God may use to bring healing.

    We are whole people in need of a whole-person perspective for healing.

    Emotions are an essential aspect of who we are and how God brings healing. God uses emotional expressions to draw us to Him, reveal our need for Him, and meet our needs through His presence and people.

    Additional scripture examples for consideration can be found here

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    Jolene Underwood is an emotional health warrior and soul care mentor. She provides practical and spiritual support for cultivating life within the Christian soul by drawing upon her personal journey towards emotional health, her psychology background, and a passion for Christian counseling. Jolene writes regularly at JoleneUnderwood.com. She also offers life coaching and soul care mentoring. Her tool, Unleash : Heart and Soul Care Sheets, has helped hundreds experience greater freedom. Connect with her online via YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU or via the Cultivated Life Newsletter.