Are my emotions only self-centered?

I attended a leadership conference this past week.  During one of the sessions, one of the presenters discussed the propensity for emotions to be primarily self-centered.  In some respects, I am not surprised by this statement.  However, in other respects, it struck me.  I oftentimes do not see myself as radically self-centered.  Yes, there are common tendencies where I become self-absorbed as I seek to get my way or engage in self-pity if something doesn’t go quite right.  Yet, overall, I wish to believe that I consider others.

But, as I reflect on the presenter’s statement, it caused me to reflect.  Emotions are typically self-centered.  Anger arises over being the recipient of some injustice.  Frustration grabs hold of my heart because of an inconvenience.  Even joy involves moments of happiness in my life where I experienced something good.  It is true that emotions are oftentimes self-centered.  Granted, it is not bad, if not natural, to experience emotions because of something that happened to me.  As humans, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” with emotions that typically flow out of some issue in our life.  In other words, we emote because we have experienced something.

However, the presenter prompted me to become self-aware.

  1. Are my emotions natural or a deeper indication of something more self-centered? It is possible that my emotions can serve as an indication of an area in my life that is selfish.  Possibly my anger is more of a reflection of an entitlement mentality than a momentary frustration.  Possibly I get easily irked because I believe I deserve to be comfortable.  In this sense, emotions can lead to a need for deeper transformation by highlighting areas of growth.
  2. Are my emotions in balance between self and others? While it is natural to have emotions that relate to personal issues, even inconveniences, emotions should not solely be self-focused.  It is not healthy.  It is not mature.  I should get angry when I hear of the plight of children in a refugee camp.  Frustration should be visible if a leader has abused one’s position for personal gain.  My heart should rejoice when someone receives a promotion or achievement even if it does not impact me.  Our self-focused emotions should be balanced by other-focused emotions.  And, if is not, our emotional intelligence is out-of-balance.
  3. Do I recognize that my heart as well as my mind require renewal? It is a common mantra in evangelical churches that we need to engage in the “renewal of our minds.”  It frames a bulk of discipleship material.  Yet, do I ever pause and consider the necessity equally so of the renewal of my affections?  Am I feeling the right things?  Am I surrendering my emotions to Christ?  I believe that decisions are oftentimes made in response to emotions.  “I am frustrated at someone therefore I am not going to talk to them.”  If this is the case, our actions will never be aligned with Christ’s will if we first do not address our emotions.
  4. Is there sufficient margin in my life to reflect on my emotions? I believe it is easier to reflect on my thought life.  It is at the forefront or our minds.  Yet, my emotions are deeply entangled, oftentimes buried in the subconscious.  As a result, it requires substantial space where I can reflect on those emotions – to uncover, to identify, to surrender.  It requires gradually unraveling the issues and reactions somewhat like loosening a shoestring that has been tightly knotted.

Leaders live in high-paced environments.  Oftentimes, decisions have to be made on the fly.  Each day presses in on leaders with a sense of emergency.  In such settings, it is easy to respond emotionally in a way that is not only counter-productive but harmful.  To be effective, it requires Christ-centered reflection and self-awareness so that our emotions are profitable for the reputation of the position and the good of those we serve.  It involves leveraging not simply our leadership opportunities but emotions in ways that are God-honoring.  Effective leadership is present when our minds and our hearts are properly aligned for the glory of God.


Christ-Centered Authenticity

Authenticity is a popular notion in today’s culture.  “I just want to be real.”  “I say it like it is.”  In many cases, it is couched in terms of integrity.  “I would not be telling the truth if I wasn’t authentic.  It is the true me.”  Social media has encouraged this posture of communication.  It is easy to share and post whatever is in one’s mind.  If someone likes it, great.  If not, it is not my problem.  Leadership has been influenced by this perspective as well.  One does not have to hunt for very long before finding high level leader, e.g. CEO, politician, industry leader, who shoots from the hip regardless of the implications.

First of all, I am in favor of authenticity, in some sense.  I believe it is important to be real.  A person should not be fake.  It is not good to be a people-pleaser to the point that you say whatever the other person wants to hear.  Nor should you be double-minded saying one thing one day and then changing your opinion the next day.  Our words should flow from our true beliefs and actions.  With those close to us, namely spouses and dear friends, it is important to share our true thoughts and feelings so that those around us do not have to guess.

Yes, I support authenticity but more specifically Christ-centered authenticity.  When I read Scripture, I do not see permission to be authentic in the way the world adopts it.  Rather, I see the concept of purposeful honesty.  Christ displayed it with those that approached him.  He was not shy in identifying the true need of an individual and saying it exactly as it needed to be said whether it is challenging the rich man regarding his possessions or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Yet, it was purposeful – for their own spiritual benefit.

Paul equally exhibited this quality.  He openly acknowledged his needs in his letters.  He did not hide behind a superhuman complex that affirms no weakness.  Nor did he publicly blast people simply because he was in a bad mood (although there are times where it seems like Paul is in a snarky mood, aka towards the church of Corinth).  His authenticity was for the sake of the gospel.

Leaders would do well to embrace a purposeful honesty.  Truth be told, I am at the front of the line when it comes to moments of failure in this regard.  I am grumpy thus I blurt out some comment.  Tiredness overcomes me resulting in a moment of venting.  Leadership demands restraint.  It necessitates discernment, thoughtfulness, and measure.  There needs to be an awareness of the implications of a comment – to myself and the people I lead.  Restraint is most certainly biblical as we are instructed to hold our tongue, if the words would be unprofitable.

As I reflect on leadership and purposeful honesty, a few questions come to mind that frame some guidelines.

  • Do my words bring spiritual benefit to the other person and me? It should be both.  Unrestrained authenticity benefits the speaker as it serves as an emotional release (e.g. venting) but does not grow the other person.
  • Am I taking the extra few seconds to filter my thoughts and emotions through Scripture? Are my words in line with truth?  Is the tone of my comment honoring to God?  Is my comment prompted by the spirit or the flesh?
  • Am I self-aware of unprocessed frustrations? Oftentimes, authenticity is a vehicle for pent-up angst.  Being attune to such issues aides in appropriate, Christ-centered authenticity.
  • Is there margin in my life? Without some space, it becomes difficult to restrain our thoughts.  Allowing time for minds to declutter enables us to filter our thoughts and emotions prior to communication.

Leadership is a privilege.  With privilege, there comes responsibility.  And responsibility encompasses not only our actions, but our thoughts and words.