Shoulders shrugged, eyebrows raised in unknowing resignation: “I can’t control my feelings.” As if it’s an excuse for where she’s ended up. As if it’s an excuse for his actions. As if it explains the situation they’re in.
Or in another instance: She falls in love with a soldier. Months later she expresses to her father her deep anxiety over her fiance’s safety and her frustration with how much he is gone, and her father responds “You should’ve thought of that before you fell in love with a soldier.” And the woman replies, “You don’t choose who to fall in love with. It just happens.”
That situation played out in a Netflix show I watched but it could be anyone in any situation. Many people say it, or at least think it. It could be “I couldn’t control who I fell in love with, it just happened,” or “I can’t control my feelings and this is where they’ve led me.” Also the infamous “follow your heart.” Are all of those true?
Emotion are beautiful and they make us do wonderful things and their whispers are the perfect compliment to our thinking minds. We were meant to have both parts of the thinking-feeling dance. But what about when emotions run the show?
When a person says “I can’t control my feelings…” they mean one of two things about the result. Sometimes people mean: “I can’t control my feelings, so I can’t be responsible for what they make me do.”
We would never excuse a destructive outburst because a person “can’t control their feelings, and it just happened.” Being angry (a strong emotion) is an explanation for hitting someone but it is not an acceptable excuse. We know we must learn that emotional control. Yet with other behavior we play the “emotions” card as an excuse for the unfortunate situation we are in. And indeed, our emotions explain much of our behavior and there is grace and learning and second chances.
But the second thing people mean when they say “I can’t control my feelings” is this: “I can’t control my feelings so I will not always act on them.” Easier said than done, right?
Emotions are hard to control. We already know this. I can’t just declare I don’t like one and make it go away. Our hearts are deceitful, so they must be lead, but they can’t exactly be controlled. We grasp at our emotions but they run through our hands like water. We can’t tell them where to go, when to come, or when to leave.
But we do control the influence emotions have in our lives and how we act and respond to them — in the end we aren’t slaves to our emotions. It’s just a nice excuse to make, because our emotions usually dictate what makes us happy at the moment and following them is the path of least internal resistance.
So the beginning statement is true — I can’t control my emotions. They come and go and they surprise me. But just because I can’t control them doesn’t mean I’m obligated to follow them. The opposite is true: if I know that I can’t control them, I’m able to choose to not act on them if they aren’t for the good of my soul, the good of others, and the worship of God. Emotions require an outside measuring stick to see if they’re worth listening to. I’ll sit down for a chat, lend an ear to my emotions, and then decide what’s going to happen.