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.


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