Should I Face My Feelings or Fake Them?
- Jolene Underwood Contributing Writer
- 2020 12 Oct
We recently buried our family pet. After close to 20 years, our beloved dog, Roxie, passed away peacefully in the corner of our backyard where she loved to explore. We said good-bye and felt the pain of loss mixed with gratitude for the many years we enjoyed her.
In the last few weeks, friends have been laid off after long-standing careers that supported families. I’ve heard of a young mom on her second round of cancer with a short lifespan predicted. Others have told me of anxiety, fears, and exhaustion related to working in the school systems during a pandemic.
All of us face hard things we don’t want or don’t expect. It is normal to respond with emotions that feel strong and unbearable.
Not all of us face our feelings well, though. Sometimes we fake our way through as if we have to muster up enough victory language and faith works to be okay. Allow me to reassure weary hearts that it is not part of God’s plan to fake fine.
The truth is, no matter how much we pretend things are better than they are, we will never experience God’s best for us until we accept the reality of what’s true and face the feelings we need to face.
Faking over facing feelings leads to unhealthy repercussions. Inevitably, emotional denial builds up until it leaks out and causes pain for us and others.
Why Fake It ‘Till You Make Isn’t Healthy
When I was young, I wore slips under my dresses. They kept clothing from sticking to me and provided added coverage if my dress material was too sheer. If the slip was too big, it was visible below the hemline of my skirt or dress.
I have this recurring thought when I think of not facing our feelings. “Oops, your slip is showing.”
We may not notice it, but others can see the result of emotions that don’t fit right. Ignored feelings build up and become too big for anyone to cover up anymore.
Are you quick to react in anger or fear? Are you struggling with anxiety or sadness? Do you have stomach issues and health concerns piling up?
Unaddressed emotions cause a ripple effect of destruction in our minds, emotions, and physical well-being. It causes ruptures in our bodies, relationships, emotions, and ability to function well.
Faking fine only serves to cover up the truth of what’s inside of us. It’s a band-aid over deep wounds in need of surgery.
Faking fine teaches us to deny truth and accept lies as normal. We start living from a false version of who we are.
Remember how Satan deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:1-10)? How our enemy wanted them to choose the knowledge of good and evil for themselves rather than trust God and live from the life He gave them? Remember how they hid from God as a result?
We still choose our way over God’s. When we choose to follow the idea, “fake it ‘till you make it” we choose a path of denial, cover-ups, and pretend. We choose self-reliance over God-reliance.
Hiding keeps us from experiencing the beauty of all God has for us. We can’t fake ourselves into becoming who we are designed to be.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/luisrsphoto
Why We Avoid Feelings
What we feel when we hurt or when experience losses—or even what we feel when we are growing and healing—isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes it hurts worse before it feels better.
Scientists are learning more and more about the connection between the brain, our emotions, and our body; like how heartache is more than an emotional feeling. It’s physiological. We literally feel pain related to sadness and anger. This can make it more challenging to face our feelings, because we want to avoid the pain.
Another reason we may avoid feelings is because we are afraid we can’t get through the pain. That somehow emotional pain will be the end of us. We may not have those specific thoughts, but our bodies react and withdraw into anxiety and fear.
We avoid feelings because we choose what feels good now rather than what transforms to good in the long run. It’s hard to choose a painful process and remember that goodness is on the other side.
I’ve felt emotional pain to the point of weeping and wailing. I wished it to be over and wouldn’t want anyone to go through that kind of pain. Also, there were times when I knew the pain I felt was part of a process. God was stripping away things I had relied on that were not of Him. Holding on...was holding me back from experiencing His goodness. After I cried a good cry, I felt freer.
What Happens When We Avoid Feelings
When we avoid feeling the feelings we need to feel, we deny connection with God—and destroy our ability to connect well with others.
God is not ashamed of us or upset with us for having emotions. He is an emotional God and designed us in His image. When we avoid our feelings, we disconnect from the part of us that needs to experience God in the hurt, shame, or pain. We deny God access to the places designed to need Him.
When we avoid feelings because they are hard to deal with, we avoid a part of ourselves that feels bad. We focus on trying to be as good as we can be which keeps us from experiencing God’s goodness in the badness.
It takes vulnerability with God, self, and others to connect to the vulnerable places of God, ourselves, and others. When we avoid feelings, the level of connection we have will be shallow and easily broken.
In addition to disconnection, avoiding feelings leads to prideful spirituality. If we are not connected to God in the deepest places of need, we have no need for God to be who He is. We become gods by idolizing our version of perfect rather than recognizing our limitations and honoring them.
If we can rely on ourselves to make it to a finish line of faith without feelings, we have chosen a path that ends without Christ as a savior.
Feelings We Need to Face
By not feeling the sadness and anger that come with losses, grief doesn’t get processed fully. We may not realize that we need to grieve at all, because we determine the loss to be too minimal to grieve. Or, we may not grieve fully because the emotions are scary or we’re anxious to move past the grief.
But undealt-with grief doesn’t just disappear with time. It goes underground and leaks into other areas of living.
Loss needs to be grieved. Even small losses that come as a result of positive life changes may impact us. There are times when I recognize I feel sad over the loss of something, even when it means something better is coming. I let the tears come and they don’t last long. Processed grief frees me up to enjoy the next thing.
By not feeling righteous anger from injustice, we ignore wrong and do not work towards justice. Jesus flipped tables in the temple when he became outraged at how God’s holy place was being used. Anger serves as a signal of injustice, and we may need to speak about inflicted harm.
In addition to sadness and anger, we may need to admit doubt and fear. Faith grows as we face fears we need to face and lean on God for His help along the way.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Sergio Yoneda
What the Bible Reveals About Facing Feelings
Throughout Scripture we see God’s connection to those who express honest emotions. David frequently cried out for God to attend to the pain he felt. He paints a vivid picture of feeling hollow and dry from intense emotional pain.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. – Psalm 22:14-15
When David faced his feelings honestly, he met God and his heart was encouraged again. Throughout the Psalms we see forthright emotional declarations followed by proclamations of God’s goodness. It’s a pattern of seeking help and expressing hope.
Jesus poured out his heart to his disciples as he knew the torture he was about to face on the cross.
Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed even to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. – Matthew 22:38
Jesus told his disciples how he felt and asked for what he needed. He needed their presence and comfort. They failed him by falling asleep. He then pours out his heart to the Father. God sent an angel to be with Him and Jesus continued to express deep pain:
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” – Luke 22:43-44
Jesus did not avoid his feelings or fake happiness at what he was about to endure. He was honest. He faced his feelings, and an angel stayed present with Him through the painful emotions.
Numerous other Scripture examples reveal people who didn’t fake feelings to appear better than they are. We also see plenty of people who faked it; they were called Pharisees.
We Can Face Feelings Instead of Faking Them
To face feelings they first have to be acknowledged. Once they are acknowledged, they need to be accessed.
One way to do this is to name our feelings, even if we aren’t sure what they are. Feeling word charts can help identify one or more feelings. A tool I created, Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets, includes two-pages with over 600 feeling words that help individuals find words to express soul experiences.
Safe friends can help us process challenging feelings. Presence without fixing emotions helps us work through clouds of pain, grief, and anger so we can see clearly again. Sometimes, we need a professional counselor who will listen well and lead us into healthy emotional processing.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (ESV)
It takes great courage to face feelings, and I believe God will meet you with grace, love, and more courage. I am praying for you.
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Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/x-reflexnaja
Jolene Underwood, MA, LPC-Associate is an emotional growth coach and mental health counselor. She believes a cultivated life is one that experiences more of God and more of the life we've been given by God. Her personal journey towards emotional health, and training in Christian counseling, inform the practical support she provides for spiritual growth and emotional healing. Her tool, Unleash: Heart and Soul Care Sheets, has helped hundreds process life’s challenges, experience greater freedom, and grow closer to God. When she’s not counseling, coaching, or creating content you’ll find her enjoying life with loved ones, puzzling, or adding to her collection of vintage glassware with a 70s flair.
DISCLAIMER: The content provided by Jolene Underwood is not specific counseling advice and should not take the place of working with an individual counselor. All online content provided should be used for informational purposes only.