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Handling Your Emotions (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 02/22/2013

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Author Lysa TerKeurst provides insight on understanding and controlling your emotional responses in a discussion based on her book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. (Part 2 of 2)

Episode Transcript



Mrs. Lysa TerKeurst: And then 10 minutes passes and I'm at the front door and two of my five kids are at the front door, but then here's one that can't find her shoes. And I say, "What do you mean, you can't find your shoes? I mean, what kind of human loses their shoes? They're either on your feet or in your closet. Where else would your shoes be?" "I don't know. I don't know where my shoes are." "Well, if you would've put your shoes where they belong, then we wouldn't be having this issue. But because you have issues with your shoes, now you're makin' me run late." And I'm mad, mad, mad because I don't want to be late.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Well, we're not trying to pile on your day, but maybe you've (Laughter) experienced something like that. That's Lysa TerKeurst and you're gonna be hearing more from her today on "Focus on the Family" about handling anger and emotion when everybody around you seems determined to push your buttons. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Oh, man, I think every parent has faced that shoe situation with their kids or maybe their spouse (Chuckling). It's makin' me laugh. Last time we started a great conversation about why different people and situations cause us to get angry and why God gave us emotions in the first place. And this is to better experience life and embrace our humanity, probably to teach us some lessons along the way.

We learned that Jesus Himself felt these emotions and yet, managed to respond in healthy ways. And He's our example, right? We closed last time talking about the two reaction styles--exploders and stuffers--and that's where we're gonna pick up the conversation today.

John: And if the terms "exploder" and "stuffer" don't mean a whole lot to you, then you missed the first part of the conversation. Go back and hear it online. Get the CD; download our app so you can listen on the go, all of that at Well, Lysa TerKeurst is the author of a number of books and the one that forms the basis for this conversation is Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. And let's go ahead now and hear the second part of the conversation.


Jim: Let's quickly recap. Last time we talked about the exploder and the stuffer and how you see life in this way. Give us those four characteristics.

Lysa: Yes, so I shift my reaction based on who I'm reacting with. And I can identify with all four of these reaction types, because in different relationships at different times, I can be all four of these. First, there's the exploder who blames others. If you wouldn't have done this, I wouldn't feel this way. But because you did this, I'm justified in feeling this way. I'm mad and you're gonna know about it and it's all your fault. That's the exploder that blames others.

Then there's the exploder who shames themselves. They intend to have a really good reaction, but they get swept into the emotion of the moment and then beat themselves up for it later.

Jim: Give us an example of that.

Lysa: Well, I mean, this happens to me often. Maybe it happens like in public with the lady who's checking me out at the cash register in the grocery store. Now I'm not gonna be the kind of exploder that's gonna yell and create a scene in the grocery store. I'm not. But if she does something that's so annoying and maybe even I feel like unfair or against the rules, I have this real strong sense of justice. So, I will think to myself, the justice of the world hangs in the balance right now and I've got to make this right and I can't not say what just has to be said.

And so, I'll say it and then later I think, "Oh, Lysa, come on. Why do you always feel like you've gotta prove a point? Why do you always feel like you've gotta say the last word?"

Jim: So, that's the guilt part of it.

Lysa: Yeah and I just start shaming myself. That's the exploder that shames themselves.

Then there's the stuffer who creates barriers. I can be this way sometimes with someone who I just don't want to have the drama of addressing an issue or maybe I don't want to take the time to address the issue or I think it won't matter. This issue's always gonna be there.

For example, if I have a friend that's always running late, you know, I will make excuses why I can't ride with them before I'll address the real issue of them being late. And in essence, I short circuit the potential that, that relationship has, because I don't bring honest communication to the table.

Jim: Hm.

Lysa: I'm not talking about being blunt and being rude and being accusatory. I'm talking about going to them and saying, "Hey, I have this issue. I panic when I'm not on time. I know; it's my issue. And sometimes you like to be more, I don't know, creative with your time. And so, if you're in a more creative time management mode, let's just meet there and I'll save you a seat and we'll both be winners. Or if you feel like that you're running on time, then we can ride together."

But either way, do you see how instead of lying to her and making excuses and just never ever riding with her and how that could start to make her feel insecure and kind of, what's goin' on with the relationship? When I bring honesty, I pull down those barriers and create a deeper, more wonderful relationship.

Jim: Well, let me ask you this question, because it's the honest one to ask. In those relationships where you have dealt that way, what's the scorecard? How have those relationships fared for you?

Lysa: Well, honestly, the relationships for me that I bring open and honest communication to, they are so much more healthy than those relationships that I just navigate someone else's issues. I've decided one of the core values in my life is to stop tiptoeing around other people's issues. And if I come to the table and it's hard for me; this is not easy, because I'm a[n] encourager at heart, so it's hard for me to address the issues.

But what I've learned is, if I don't address the issues, I'm gonna tiptoe around them and walk on egg shells the rest of our relationship. And that will wear me out in this relationship and eventually, I won't be in relationship with them anymore. And I've seen too many relationships die in my life, not because I addressed the issues, but because I refused to. So the secret is, before I go and address their issues, I have to approach it by admitting to my own issues. What do I contribute to this?

Just like I just gave the example. I go to my friend's who's running late and I say, "I have this issue. I panic when I'm running late. I just do. I own that part of it. And sometimes you like to be more creative with your time." You know, I'm not accusing to her; I'm not attacking her. I'm addressing the issue and that's important.

Jim: Okay, but here is the follow up, why especially for us as Christians, why is it so difficult for us to be honest with each other?

Lysa: Because in times of conflict, these feelings accompany conflict. And this is a conflict, you know, if we're having to navigate around someone else's issues, call it what you want, but it is conflict. And conflict occurs when one of two things happen. Either we feel exposed or opposed.

So, either we feel like someone's threatening to expose our vulnerabilities, our inadequacies, our insecurities, or someone's opposing us, like we want what we want, when we want it and how we want it. And if we start to feel exposed or opposed, conflict will happen.

And I know when I go and if I'm addressing an issue with you, you're gonna feel a little bit exposed and a little bit opposed and conflict will be sitting right there. So, I have to keep that in my mind as I'm coming to you. And that's why, you know, if you're addressing someone and they're an exploder, an exploder wants to be heard. So, if I'm coming to you and I'm gonna say, "Hey, John, we need to talk about this," if you're a typical exploder in our relationship, I need to keep in my mind, I need to listen about 75 percent of this dialogue here, keep my mouth shut, let them know that I'm hearing that, 'cause that's important to an exploder.

If you're a stuffer and I'm coming to you, a stuffer wants to feel safe. So, I need to keep in my mind, hey, we're gonna address this issue, but I'm gonna do everything I can to reassure you I love you. I'm here for the long haul. Our friendship is secure. This issue is what we need to address.

Jim: Uh-hm.

John: Well, I appreciate that perspective. Talk to a parent who has a child, maybe a teen or a young adult child that is gonna blow up.

Lysa: Hm.

John: And maybe it's a single parent.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

John: Then what do I do?

Lysa: Well, I have five kids, so you know when you live with five different kids, it's like a laboratory of emotions at my house, you know.

John: Uh-hm.

Lysa: I get to see all different kinds of reactions. We have exploders; we have stuffers. We have the whole gamut and one of my daughter is definitely one of those that I have to remind her constantly, yes, part of what you bring, the dynamic of who you are is this emotion. But you're not a slave to that emotion. And what you have to understand is, I'm gonna help you navigate this issue, but we're gonna have some ground rules for talkin' about it. And if you start to cross over these rules, then we're gonna stop the conversation until you can go gather yourself, come back and we can talk about it more logically.

Now does it always play out that clean? Oh, no, absolutely not. It doesn't. Sometimes I will be having the most logical conversation. I will feel so prepared and all of a sudden, she says somethin' that pushes one of my buttons that before I know it, I am right there with her. And I'm screaming; she's screamin'. And my sweet husband walks in like, "Can you guys not just get it together?" And I turn my head, "I'm not part of 'you guys.' (Laughter) I'm the mom. Don't talk to me like I'm the child." (Laughter)

John: And he's the next victim.

Lysa: So, I know it's not so clean and so succinct. But here's what I know. Get yourself into a position where in a non-emotional moment, you can talk about those ground rules, so that when the conflict comes, you're both operating off the same page. And just make some progress in this area.

Because if we just throw our hands up and say, "This is hard; it's always gonna be this way," we're never gonna make any progress. We've got to make sure we know it is possible to make wiser choices. We just have to talk about it in times where the emotion isn't so thick.

Jim: Speak to us again. Last time you talked about imperfect progress.

Lysa: Hm.

Jim: I mean, that's all of our stories as Christians and non-Christians.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: I mean, I think at the heart, everyone's wanting to do better, I think for the most part, though some that would not. But what is that imperfect progress that you talked about in Unglued?

Lysa: Well, imperfect progress is saying, I'm gonna get a little bit better in this. I'm gonna have one better reaction. I mean, think about it. I'm a woman who struggles with this, having raw emotions. I explode. I stuff. I struggle with this. And then I have the bright idea to write a book about it (Laughter), that now my kids have ammunition against me.

Jim: And it's publicly.

Lysa: They're like, "Oh, mom, I think you're coming a bit unglued right now."

John: Oh, no.

Lysa: "Mom, there's a book that you could read called Unglued." So, you can imagine (Laughter), so I made sure I started the book out giving a call to imperfect progress and I wrapped the book up at the end of acknowledging that when you're dealing with conflict and relationships and emotions, it's a bit like nailing Jell-O to the wall. It's so complicated and slippery and things change. And it's not as perfect as what you can write down on paper. You've gotta give yourself permission [to] make imperfect progress.

Jim: Now let's tackle that, 'cause last time we talked about spending time in the Word and prayer in order to reorient your responses in these moments, to better know your heart, a stuffer or exploder.

Lysa: Yes.

Jim: What else can we do? Give us two other things that we might be able to do to move ourselves down in a positive direction on that journey.

Lysa: Well, one thing that I teach people in Unglued is to go ahead and plan out your reaction. Like go ahead and get a little strategy. For example, in the book, for some reason I seem to be a magnet for getting ugly e-mails. You know, I know you probably (Laughter) never get ugly e-mails, Jim.

Jim: John gets lots.

Lysa: You probably never get any, John. (Laughter)

John: I take 'em for you.

Lysa: You know (Laughter), for me, sometimes I get these ugly e-mails. And I got an ugly e-mail from a fellow middle-school parent one time. And oh, it just made me so upset. The minute I opened the e-mail, I was just like, ooh! And so, I know in that moment if I react out of how I feel, things are gonna be compounded. Things are gonna be made worse, because my feelings are gonna take me to a place where I'm just gonna make the issue even bigger than it needs to be.

So, I sat down and I really wanted to know, how can I write an e-mail that would give the grace that I desperately need and at the same time, still be honest in addressing what needs to be addressed. And so, I worked a really long time on this e-mail template.

So, now I have a biblically based e-mail template and I force myself to take my feelings, set 'em right here. Those feelings are good. They're indicating something needs to be addressed, but my feelings are indicators, not dictators. So, my feelings are here. They've indicated; they've served their purpose, but I'm not gonna let those raw feelings dictate how I respond.

And so, I have this little e-mail template and I use it and I included that in Unglued, because I wanted people to have a very practical way to know how to respond even when their feelings are begging them to do something different. So, that's one example. Think through your responses before the ... the raw emotions cause you to want you to react out of your feelings.

Another thing that I really encourage people to do is know the kind of reaction that you're typically gonna have in this relationship. If you're an exploder that blames others, remember that you've got to bring something to that moment right before you react in the conflict. And there is this decision moment. Most of us rush past it and think, oh, I'm just gonna react out of my feelings. But there is a decision moment.

So, the exploder who blames others needs to bring a pause. The exploder who shames themselves, they need to bring perspective. The stuffer who builds barriers, they're gonna let go of something in that moment. And in that moment, they've gotta make the choice to let go of pretending. I'm not gonna pretend in this conflict. I'm not gonna say I'm fine when I'm really not fine. And the stuffer who collects retaliation rocks, the fourth reaction, they've gotta let go of proving.

So, knowing those strategies--pause, perspective, that's what I've gotta bring, letting go of, I've got to let go of pretending, let go of proving, trying to always prove how right I am and how wrong they are. And when I know that in that moment, that decision moment, right before I decide how I'm reacting or as I'm deciding how I'm gonna [be] reacting, using those four simple little tools will really help me change my reaction.

Jim: Lysa, these principles and strategies that you're talking about are found in your book, Unglued. Let me take it to a deeply spiritual application. I'm thinking of Stephen in the New Testament. His reaction to that crowd that stoned him to death if profound to me.

Lysa: Oh, yes.

Jim: And the Scripture talks about it being so profound that the Lord stood up in that moment.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: Because he responded as he's being killed by these people that hated the Lord, hated the message of the Gospel, he responds, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." That takes profound concentration and a profound rootedness in our heavenly Father.

Lysa: It does.

Jim: That is not a human response in that moment.

John: Hm.

Lysa: That's right.

Jim: And I think as we look at a cultural application to what you're talking about today, the thing I'm so concerned about, that in the culture are we grooming ourselves in our Christian walk to be more like Stephen? That in that moment when we get slapped or hit, we don't respond with a stone, but we respond in a Christ-like way. But it's hard.

Lysa: Uh-hm, it's really hard and here's the thing. I've read that Stephen story so many times, because what really strikes me about that and you pointed it out, is how Jesus stood up. It was almost like He was saying, "Stephen, I'm right here and I'm going to take the focus that you're giving Me and I'm gonna enable you to [go through this]. Yes, your body is gonna be killed, but your spirit will not."

And I find it so amazing that Stephen had that kind of focus on the Lord. But there is something about Jesus standing that I think was profound in that moment. And I often think about, as I'm having a reaction, that it's not just me and my husband there, but Jesus is right there.

He's standing and He's saying to me, "Hey, Lysa, it is possible, it is possible for you to have a biblical response right now. I know that your flesh is begging you to react out of your feeling, but it is possible right now, Lysa, right now. The best way to shame Satan back to hell is when a godly person says, "I'm gonna honor God in this. I'm gonna take my feelings and let them indicate that something needs to be addressed, that my feelings are valid. But I'm not gonna react out of my feelings. I'm gonna honor God and have a biblical response. And when we do that, we honor God, but we also honor that relationship.

Jim: Hm.

Lysa: And it's beautiful.

Jim: And that is true strength. That is Christian strength. And when you look at this, Lysa, and I'm really gleaning a lot from this, so I appreciate the effort that you've put into writing the book, Unglued, because I think there is a bigger application than merely your relationship with your spouse or your kids. There's a deeper relation issue here. And when you think about the pull for us to look good, to be right, to live it so well, there's something in that, isn't there, that's not healthy when we're tryin' to be the Christian family or the Christian marriage, that is simply about looking right, but behind the scenes, there's all this turmoil.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: And this is how you irritate me. And Jesus hit that head on with the Pharisees, 'cause that's what the Pharisees did.

Lysa: Uh-hm, that's right.

Jim: They looked right, but they weren't right in their heart. And I think when I look at Unglued, that's really the deeper message. It's this message of, what is your heart all about?

Lysa: Uh-hm. Well, and it's also putting my craziness on display. I think when people finish reading (Chuckling) Unglued, I think they go, "Whoo! I feel so much better (Laughter) about myself." (Laughter)

Jim: Oh

Lysa: But here's the thing. I think demonstrations of us receiving God's grace and admitting, hey, I desperately need God's grace, therefore I can give it and that's what imperfect progress is all about. Imperfect progress are is [the] slow steps of progress wrapped in grace.

Jim: Hm.

John: Well, I appreciate that so much, Lysa. Speak to the person who blows it, knows that they've blown it, but wants to respond in a godly manner.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

John: What are some things I can do to gain some perspective on what just was a really ugly incident and I was the reason for it?

Lysa: Uh-hm. Well, first of all, I would say I understand, because I've had my fair share of those experiences in my life and I write about them in this book. And I definitely put on display the messier side of being a Christian woman. I love the Lord with all my heart. I love my family with all my heart. But I am so messy sometimes. My reactions are so messy.

And so, I would say that maybe you've had a bad moment, but a bad moment doesn't determine a bad person, you know. Maybe you've had a bad mommy moment. Having a bad mommy moment doesn't make you a bad mommy. It means you had a bad moment. Maybe you've had a really messy wife moment (Chuckling). And boy, l have; I had my fair share of those.

Jim:Diet Coke!

Lysa: Yes (Laughter), exactly. You think I'm fat and ugly and you wish you would've never married me! But just because I had a bad wife moment, doesn't make me a bad wife, you know.

Jim: Hm. Lysa, one of the heavy areas in my heart is this idea of negative self-talk. You know, the Scripture--

Lysa: Oh, yeah.

Jim: --talks in John 10:10, that the enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy. And there [are] overt ways, like abortion.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: And then there [are] subtle ways like just this self-negativity. And I think women particularly hear those voices in their head. I don't know that if it's the testosterone, men are competitive, whatever that nature is, it seems like we'll take it and even if it's true, we're not gonna believe it.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: And we're just gonna keep runnin'. But for women, it's deep; it's profound. I see it in my own wife. It's one of the things that again, it just saddens my heart because I know how that can affect her, that I'm not good enough.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: I don't measure up. But it's profoundly evil.

Lysa: It is. I call it in the book "negative inside chatter." And I was having that conversation with my son one time and there was this lull in the conversation and I said, "Hey, what are you thinkin' about?" He said, "Nothing." And he really meant nothing, like he was literally able to think about nothing.

And I thought to myself, how do you think about nothing? Because if there's a lull in the conversation (Laughter), I'm analyzing. Is what I said good? Was it bad? Oh, I think that I sounded really dumb when I said that and all this negative inside chatter.

Jim: It just starts pouring in on you.

Lysa: It just starts pouring in. Or I'll walk away from a conversation with a friend and I'll think, oh, you sounded so dumb when you said that. Why did you say that, Lysa? Why did you do that? You know, and all this negative inside chatter. So, I recognize that if I was doing it, maybe some of my friends were having this after having conversations with me.

And so, I called a friend one time after having lunch with her and I said, "Hey, I just want you to know, when you walk away from a conversation with us, you don't need to be held captive by any negative inside chatter, because all I'm thinking about right now is how awesome you are, how much I love you and I'm not psychoanalyzing anything you said or judging you for anything you did." And she said, "Oh, I feel so relieved! I just feel so relieved." And I thought, what a gift, you know; we need to give that to each other.

Jim: Express it.

Lysa: Express it and um ... and encourage one another and spur one another on. But then also challenge ourselves, that we don't have to let that negative inside chatter just be the constant tape that plays in our background. And if it is, we need to get active instead of passive with our thoughts. We need to take an active role in commanding our thoughts. No, you will not go down this path, because I know where this path leads. It leads to discouragement and defeat and I'm not gonna let you ... I'm not gonna let my thoughts take me to that place.

I'm gonna take an active role in this passive conversation. And I'm gonna step in and redirect my thoughts. And maybe it's as simple as putting on some praise music and making my mouth start to sing something positive and worthy and praising God and um ... engage my thoughts there. Or maybe it's something that I need to address with a relationship in my life, but taking a more active role, active participation in that ... that conversation that's coming into our minds constantly and redirecting our thoughts to things that are more godly, more truth-filled, more praiseworthy and it'll make a difference.

Jim: Uh ... those are good words. Lysa TerKeurst, author of the book, Unglued, you've done a wonderful job. It's been great to have you here. We're gonna have to invite your husband, Art back out sometime soon and we'll get the rest of the story.

Lysa: Oh, yes. (Laughter) And there will be a "rest of the story" for sure. (Laughter)

Jim: Let's do that. Take care.


John: Lysa TerKeurst has been a great guest and I know that I've been challenged to strive for that imperfect progress that she talks about and we hope that, in a good way, you've been challenged, as well. Now in a couple of weeks on May 9th and 9th, we're gonna have more from her. Her husband, Art will join Lysa and they're gonna talk about emotions in the marriage and how you can increase your communication with your spouse.

Jim: Well, I love Lysa's heart and her vulnerability and I hope that you've been empowered today, when your emotions start spinning out of control, to stop, pray and allow God to work through you to have healthier responses. That's the goal.

If you've been impacted by the program, we want you to get a copy of Unglued from our new online store. Every book and resource you order from us allows us, beyond the cost of the resource, to invest right back into ministry those dollars that you spend. And in fact, this is what you're investing in. Let me read this note that a mom sent to us.

"I found you five years ago when I was really lost. I was pregnant with my fifth child, raising four children on my own, working a full-time position with a long commute. It was tough. I cried every night. I began listening to your broadcast about raising children in a broken home. I began taking notes and reading books. Your broadcast changed me. I learned that I have value as a child of God. As His marvelous creation, I am taken care of. I learned very slowly that I had to let go and let God. I am still a single mother of five and working full time, but I am no longer swimming in my circumstances. Through you and other Christian ministries, I am here. I am me. I am a child of God and my children are children of God."

Wow! I mean, Let me thank you for investing in Focus to reach this single-parent mom and changing her life forever and her kids' lives for eternity. That's what the ministry is all about, coming alongside people at their point of pain and giving them hope.

John: Yeah, that's a really powerful reminder of what happens when you purchase resources from Focus on the Family and you donate to the ministry. You're helping change lives. And you can make a financial contribution and get your copy of Unglued at or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459. In fact, we'll send a copy of Lysa's book, Unglued, to you when you make a generous contribution of any amount today.

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth describe an ongoing challenge in their lives and that is, their marriage relationship.


Steven Curtis Chapman: And so, here I am sayin', you know, pretty quickly, you know, "The Bible says don't let the sun go down on your anger." And we're angry and so, the sun's goin' down. We gotta fix this," 'cause I'm the fixer. "We gotta fix this right now."

End of Excerpt

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Lysa TerKeurst

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Lysa TerKeurst is the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries and the co-host of her ministry's national daily radio program. She is also a public speaker and the author of more than a dozen books including Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith and Am I Messing Up My Kids?  She has five children and resides in North Carolina.