Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Managing our emotions with godly truth: Event, Thought, Emotion, Behavior (ETEB) - with a musical interlude at the end...

I often hear people, in an effort to excuse an outburst, claim they can’t control their emotions. Or if they’ve gotten themselves into a questionable relationship, they throw their hands up and exclaim, “I can’t help who I fall in love with!”
  1. First, while it’s true you can’t control emotions, you can manage how you respond while you are experiencing them. Responding thoughtfully while emotional can lead your emotions in a different, rational direction.
  2. Second, it’s also true that an emotional attraction to another can strike on a whim, we have full control over whether or not we choose to act on that attraction and “fall” in love. In fact, we can choose to be in love with someone even when we don’t feel loving toward them.
Some years ago I ghostwrote a book titled Preparing for Battle: A Spiritual Warfare Workbook (1999, Moody Publishers), authored by Mark Bubeck. It’s still in print and if you’re interested in the topic, you should get a copy. The book is excellent for small group study or for use in Sunday school classes. It’s also now available in an eBook format. Click here to preview more from the book online.

The book incorporates excerpts from Bubeck’s books around which I wrote extensive commentary, tying the concepts together and creating questions and tables, etc. for a nifty little study guide.
TRIVIA: I also created graphics for the book which I thought would be redone “professionally” by their designers. Much to my surprise, they used exactly what I sent them! I didn’t discover this until the book was in print, otherwise I would have put more effort into them.
There’s one section I created for the book and have since pulled together into a Word document to share with several people over the years. It discusses a concept – ETEB – that, when I first discovered it a couple of decades ago, really helped understand how to effectively manage my emotions.

The ETEB model is simple yet profound. I first encountered it in a course developed by Karol Hess while I was living in New Jersey. She captured it in her book (referenced below).  I took the idea and expanded it, grounding it in scripture.

Below is the excerpted section from the book, complete with graphics. With the tools provided in this excerpt, managing difficult emotions will become much easier.




In their book, Maturity is a Choice (1994, College Press) by Karol Hess and Doug McCulley, Hess, Director of Beacon Light Christian Ministries in Watchung, New Jersey, describes a useful model for recognizing and defeating irrational thinking and behaving. The model is based on Rational Emotive Therapy as developed by psychologist Albert Ellis. The model is also known by the initials ETEB representing the steps: Event, Thought, Emotion, Behavior.

As Hess states, “This diagram provides a practical means of mapping our thinking processes and seeing how they affect our feelings and behavioral patterns. It helps identify thought patterns and compare them to the truth, including the truth about God and the facts of any given situation.”

We’ve expanded and adapted the model here:

Stuff happens. Often we encounter situations that are unexpected and over which we have no control. Our only choice is to respond to them in Christian integrity. In the midst of these events, our emotions will be engaged and flare up automatically. These emotions can be positive or negative. In the midst of an event with our emotions on full flare up, we have two choices:
  • either we can react based on our perceptions and emotions, which means to react irrationally;
  • or we can choose to respond thoughtfully to the reality of the situation, with our minds and spirits fully engaged and under the control of the Holy Spirit and Truth.
Reacting irrationally will put us in an escalating “Loop of Irrationality,” where emotions, such as fear, guilt, arrogance, lust, or anger drive our behavior into irresponsible and damaging actions. These further feed our fear, guilt, arrogance, lust, anger, or other emotions which drives more improper behavior, and so on.

Responding thoughtfully will establish us firmly on the “Path of Peace,” where our minds, filled with God’s truth, seek a biblical and Christ-like, self-dying response where our actions are directed by the Holy Spirit. We focus on truth and not on emotions. As we walk out this truth, our emotions settle down and come in line as well.

For example, imagine that you’re at work and you’re working on completing a report that has an imminent deadline. The report is related to a project that’s very important to you involving material that you are fascinated by. You’re totally focused on your work and your back is turned away from the entrance to your cubicle. You’ve purposely blocked out all the ambient office noise, concentrating intently on your work. You’re in your own little world unaware of anything else around you.

Suddenly, without warning, someone has slipped into your cubicle behind you, dropping a binder down on your desk and saying loudly, “Here’s the report you were asking me about last week. Sorry it took me so long to find it!”

You have no control over this event, and your emotions--in the form of your heart in your throat--are fully engaged. Acting out of your emotions you likely would be enraged by the insensitivity of this co-worker who seems to be totally rude and bent on causing you to miss your deadline. If you were to follow through and react, you might yell at them for being a jerk, ordering them to get out of your cubicle immediately. They might then react by shouting back at you calling you a jerk, and so on, as you both huff and puff your way around the Loop of Irrationality.

The result would be a disrupted relationship, a disrupted workplace, and foothold made for Satan to create increasing hostility, hurt, and resentment.

However, taking a moment to think, you realize they are doing what you asked them to do (bringing you the report) and didn’t realize you were so focused. You know this person and you know them to be courteous and pleasant. They would never do anything intentionally to disrupt another’s success. You turn, put your hand over your heart, and say thanks. They realize what they’ve done and are profusely apologetic for startling you. You both have a small chuckle over the incident and everything is fine.

The reality is that they didn’t mean to startle you. However, your emotions are still engaged and your heart is still beating rapidly! Yet, you know there is nothing to be fearful of or angry about, and you turn back to your work. In a few minutes, your emotions and your thoughts are once again totally engaged in your project. All is well as you quietly travel the Path of Peace.

Using the table below, think of types of situations and events that you encounter at home, at work, at church, or somewhere else. Break down the elements of each event, and describe the emotions that you would feel, and the irrational and rational thoughts and behaviors that you might experience and respond with. Also list additional Scriptures that illustrate the truth of each step.

Satan loves to put situations before us that will enflame our emotions. He knows that the power of emotions--both good and bad--can overwhelm our reason and our faith and lead us into sinful and destructive behaviors. Whether we’re caught up by the seductive lie that it just feels so good it can’t be bad, or we’re lashing out in self-righteous anger to get even, acting out of emotions can be spiritual deadly.

Satan knows that our (E)motions can easily subvert the good intentions of our (M)ind and (W)ills. He will attempt to puff up our emotions and thus lead us into conflict, anger, hurt, disappointment, lust, addictions, and more. Only as we submit to the cross of Christ, crucifying the flesh, and bringing our (M)ind, (W)ill, and (E)motions into subjection to Him will be find the healthy balance we need to walk out our faith successfully.

Do you believe you control your emotions or do your emotions control you? How do you experience this? What frustrates you the most about managing your emotions? How important is your faith in helping you deal with your emotions? Do the ideas in this post make sense to you? Are they helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 Two useful books referenced above: 

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