Too Emotional to Love

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2077If you’re single and looking to connect with other Catholic singles, we invite you to visit  CatholicMatch.com for additional resources. Today’s article was written by Lariane Bennett of CatholicMatch.com.

Do your emotions sometimes spin out of control? Do you fly off the handle at an innocent remark? Does anger or resentment get in the way of your relationships? Or do you fear strong emotions and avoid expressing your own?

Our emotions are vital to a healthy Christian life. Emotions tell us something important about ourselves, the world, and about our key relationships. Fear alerts us to danger, injustice provokes anger, and we rejoice in the presence of a loved one. As the Catechism tells us , through our emotions we intuit the good and suspect evil. Emotions are our God-given radar.

Sometimes couples will shy away from sharing their true feelings, fearing conflict. But, as Catholic attorney and mediator Mary Meade points out, conflict is actually healthy for couples—as long as they know how to discuss their differences respectfully and lovingly, without abusing, belittling, or being contemptuous. Honest expression of our feelings (even the more intense ones) is normal and healthy for a relationship.

But sometimes, our emotions can spin out of control and push people away. We burst into tears at a perceived slight or we are nearly incapacitated by fear and anxiety. We might struggle with anger (see my previous column ) or with deep resentments. Some of us over-react when criticized, while others withdraw or become emotionally distant.

I once had a colleague who would become contemptuous and hurl angry insults whenever she was criticized (even necessary, constructive criticism). As a result, her co-workers refrained from giving helpful feedback and often walked around on eggshells around her. Her tendency to over-react actually had roots in emotional wounds from childhood. As an adult, it is difficult for her to hear criticism without feeling rage.

Our emotional reactions often signal us that we need to resolve some issue from the past. An inappropriate emotional response—for example, flying into a rage over a colleague’s critical comment—may indicate that we have a wound related to neglect, abuse, or other serious trauma. Our fear or anger shows that we have some personal issues that need to be addressed. Psychologist Paul Ekman (whose pioneering work on emotions and facial expressions is portrayed in the TV show Lie to Me ) describes an occasion when he over-reacted to his wife not calling him when she was out of town on a business trip. He experienced waves of anger, fear, and jealousy while waiting for her call…emotions triggered by his sensitivity to abandonment, due to his mother’s premature death when he was only fourteen years old.

Not all past wounds are as poignant as a death of a parent, physical abandonment or sexual abuse. A child can be wounded by lack of affection, the silent withdrawal of a father into his work, or a chaotic homelife where daily battles raged. John Eldredge says that “every man carries a wound.” And that wound carries a negative message: you aren’t good enough, you’re not a man, you aren’t loveable, you don’t have what it takes, you can’t trust anyone.

Unmet emotional needs can result in fears of abandonment and rejection (which, in turn, can give rise to anxious, depressed, or angry feelings) and in shame ( there must be something wrong with me that I was abused or mistreated ). Feelings of helplessness and self-loathing take a tremendous toll on our personal integrity and our interpersonal relationships. Yet we can be unaware of this toll. It’s hard to see how our own woundedness impacts our present and future relationships. We may over-react or under-react emotionally, become over-sensitive or overly critical, fly into rages, attempt to control others or act perfect, or use alcohol or other substances to lessen the pain from the emotional wound. These wounds can hold us back from living the abundant life God calls us to.

We are all wounded in some way. It’s the effect of Original Sin. Pope Benedict says that the ultimate fear every human being faces is complete aloneness, existential abandonment. “In the last analysis all the fear in the world is the fear of this loneliness…the loneliness into which love can no longer advance.” Deep down, underneath the scars of past and present wounds, we fear isolation, abandonment, loneliness. Someone contradicts us or ignores us and the wound is re-opened.

The good news is that Christ, the Divine Physician, not only heals our souls, but also our emotional wounds. We are never too stuck or too wounded for his healing grace. Christ wants us to be healed in this life. He has come to set us free!

This does not mean that all of our problems will disappear, for Christ warns us, “In the world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). Yet Scripture repeatedly reassures us (some say, 365 times!) to fear not. Fear is opposed to love, but “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). Not only does perfect love (God Himself) free us from fear, but our own efforts to love more perfectly (that is, to love with Christ’s love) can work toward dispelling our own fears. We all want to feel safe and secure, to feel loved and validated for who we are. In our healthy relationships, this happens. But even our deepest human relationships are limited. Ultimately, only Christ can fill the “eternity-shaped hole” in our hearts and free us from fear, anxiety, and resentment. “Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness…in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment,” writes Pope Benedict. Through God’s grace and with the help of our loved ones who remain affirming, trustworthy, and loving, we can begin to transform our negative emotions of fear, anxiety, anger or shame into those of love, joy and peace.


Laraine Bennett co-authored with her husband, Art, The Temperament God Gave You and The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse (both from Sophia Institute Press ). Laraine has a BA in Philosophy from Santa Clara University and an MA in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Laraine and her husband have been married for 32 years and have four children — one of each temperament.

[1] Paul Ekman, Emotions Revealed. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003, p. 78.
[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990, 2004, p. 301.
[1] ibid. page 302.
[1] Psychotherapy may be required, especially when there is serious trauma from the past.


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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

4 Comments

  1. The article, “Too Emotional to Love” is well-written, and could apply to married as well as single people. As Lariane Bennett mentioned, the reverse situation, too unemotional to love, is also a concern in the process of growing into mature, healthy adults. Those of us who are seeking to grow in holy interpersonal relationships grow in understanding how God designed us, and what elements interfere with the process of wholeness.

    We don’t live in an emotionally healthy society. On the extreme end, there are the statistics of sociologists, child neuroscientists, and criminologists. Emotional health is a continuum that is in flux in each individual. Each age and stage presents its own challenges to the developing person.

    Yet often we are expected to be at full maturity before our bio-physiology is ready. This can prompt many to shove the unacceptable emotions further into what appears to be “the past,” with consequences of having unexplainable reactions later on. Laraine gives the perfect answer for the “’eternity-shaped hole in our hearts,” which is Christ alone; God designed us in a way that only He can fill our eternal emptiness. Once we accept this reality and begin the work of personal growth needed for healthy and holy relationships, progress is assured in incremental steps that add up over time to something even more beautiful when God is the center of these relationships.

    One of the most important things for parents of young children to remember is that a newborn arrives with an incomplete brain development. Between ages 0-5 almost all of the neuropathways are forming. Child neuroscientists are known to say that “we are who we are by age six,” meaning that by the time we are six years of age our mental patterns are set. This is not to say there can be no healthy changes to one’s personality in adulthood if the first five years had been filled with horrendous, life-damaging circumstances. It does mean that the earlier in life the damage was done, with more frequent situations, and with a reduction of balancing positive elements, the degree of difficulty increases, barring direct divine intervention with miracles. But criminologists can reasonably predict in children between the ages of six and eight, with the presence of variable “red flag” issues, if a child is headed toward crime and prison and if that child will get to those trajectories without adequate intervention.

    Especially after revelations from my maternal grandparents about concerns with what they observed in my childhood when I was 28, I am one who has spent twenty-five adult years working on personal growth and recovery from a childhood of much harm. I have had twenty-five years of healing masses, therapy, spiritual growth workshops, countless self-help books, along with dietary adjustments, and incredible amounts of prayer time. I still have core responses to sudden, hostile, intense approach from another person, as well as other life-disruptive challenges. This could be very discouraging if I hadn’t come to a greater understanding of the dynamics involved in childhood PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), sibling abuse, childhood grief, real limitations of parents (mine grew up in the 1930’s and ’40’s when psychology was not a popular term) coupled with the real and overwhelming true needs of every child (my parents had ten in all), and the unique issues of children from large families. Some things just have to be managed while the journey of healing intertwines with the journey of living. In truth, none of us is too anything to love. We are all a work in progress! I can testify along with Lariane that with the grace God shares with us, we can still be loving even before we are perfectly healed. With God, there is always, always good news.

  2. While I appreciate you article, I am not sure if I appreciate the first paragraph:

    If you’re single, or have a family member or friend who may be leading a single lifestyle, please share this article with them and refer them to CatholicMatch.com for additional resources. Today’s article was written by Lariane Bennett of CatholicMatch.com.

    I am a very happy single who wants to remain single. Catholics may be familiar with the term ‘celibacy’. Some people live a celibate live, without being or wanting to be a nun or a sister. A lot of modern people living in our current culture don’t understand celebacy or the wish to consacrate oneself to Christ. I get pestered by a lot of goodwilling friends with the suggestion I should look into online dating, because as a single, they can imagine I must feel very lonely and sad and left out.

    Guess what? I’m not. I am a very happy single, who never feels single, alone or left out in any way. I don’t want to date or look into dating sites. I’m sorry if I sound miffed, but it’s just one of my pet peeves: assuming that one who is a single, must be looking for a relationship. I think the suggestion to send single people stuff they didn’t ask for about relationships and dating is almost offensive, at least it is to me.

  3. While I appreciate you article, I am not sure if I appreciate the first paragraph:

    If you’re single, or have a family member or friend who may be leading a single lifestyle, please share this article with them and refer them to CatholicMatch.com for additional resources. Today’s article was written by Lariane Bennett of CatholicMatch.com.

    I am a very happy single who wants to remain single. Catholics may be familiar with the term ‘celibacy’. Some people live a celibate live, without being or wanting to be a nun or a sister. A lot of modern people living in our current culture don’t understand celibacy or the wish to consecrate oneself to Christ. I get pestered by a lot of good-willing friends with the suggestion I should look into online dating, because as a single, they can imagine I must feel very lonely and sad and left out.

    Guess what? I’m not. I am a very happy single, who never feels single, alone or left out in any way. I don’t want to date or look into dating sites. I’m sorry if I sound miffed, but it’s just one of my pet peeves: assuming that one who is a single, must be looking for a relationship. I think the suggestion to send single people stuff they didn’t ask for about relationships and dating is almost offensive, at least it is to me.

  4. Inge – wow, I would certainly never want to be insensitive to anyone who feels called to a single lifestyle as a vocation. I will certainly edit that first paragraph and be more careful about being more sensitive in the future. Thanks so much for stepping forward and reminding me of the importance of heeding everyone’s unique vocational calling in life.

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