Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Boundaries for Your Soul {on emotions, and how not to deal with them}

via Pixabay
Emotions are intangible chains.

They slip through your fingers; they refuse to be pinpointed. And yet they trouble your soul. How does one wrestle something that cannot be locked up or fought down?

If I were to pinpoint one of my largest battles, it would be in the area of emotions. The war often takes place inside where no one can see it. Many times I'm a fairly even-keeled person. But underneath are struggles with anger, irritation, obsession, and guilt. And lurking underneath lives the voice,  Hey, you're finite. They're bigger than you. They're stronger. 

(Just for the record, I have lots of happy moments too.)

My main impulse is to stuff negative emotions. But I know that's not really an answer. So when I saw an advertisement for the book Boundaries for Your Soul, I jumped on my review program immediately. And sure enough, there it was. I got it. At first, I was excited, but as I read, the overall steps for taking a You-Turn from your emotions didn't sit right.

Thinking through books is a process. Because I have to review a book within 30 days, I'm putting my initial thoughts here. But time has a way of giving greater understanding, so I'm writing with the caveat that maturity and thought may nuance my perspective. I'd welcome your comments below!

In a nutshell, authors Cook and Miller divide the soul into four parts: firefighters, managers, exiles, and the center core: Your Spirit-led self. Managers tend to be the harsh parts of your souls: the critical inner voice, the emotion that pushes you to excel and do better. They keep you from making mistakes. Firefighters kick in after you've made mistakes. They reach for pain-killers: drugs, binging, or behaviors that dull pain. Exiles are the softer emotions that tend to be shut out and not processed: pain, guilt, and fear. These emotions work together to keep you safe: sometimes in sinful ways, but sometimes in good ones. As you lead these areas from your Spirit-led self, you can take the negative over-reactions or stuffing and provide a place of compassion and empathetic listening so you can teach your emotions to process life in healthy ways.

God is a God of emotions, and he created us with emotions. To take an unhealthy emotional behavior and turn it into a healthy one, Cook and Miller advise four steps: Focus on your emotion. Befriend it with a gentle exploration of why it's doing what it's doing. Invite Jesus to draw near to it. Unburden the heavy weight of it to him. And Integrate the emotions of your soul into healthy behaviors. Through this method and with a trusted counselor, they advocate that you can learn to handle them correctly. This method is taken from the Internal Family Systems of counseling.

In the beginning of the book, Cook and Miller address the concern that by dealing with your emotions in this way, you're excusing sin. "You might be concerned that we're suggesting you befriend your sin, but that is not so. Instead, we encourage you to embrace the part of you that's sinning and that needs help changing, much as you would help a young child learn right from wrong." (Boundaries For Your Soul, pg. 28.) This is a helpful point, and perhaps I should have come back and read that section more than once as I read the book.

From the pages that followed, I read their method of compassionate conversation with emotions, finding healthy ways to put them to work and inviting Jesus to draw near to them. But I'm concerned that this system of counseling, even though it tries to have a Christian perspective, ends up teaching that the heart is inherently good. That emotions inherently have good intentions. That may not be what they're trying to teach, but that's what I took from it. The heart is inherently sinful, and there wasn't mention of battling sin. I think it would have helped not just to have a theological mention of sin at the beginning of the book, but to have that woven throughout the book. The words were intended to be reassuring. But they didn't strike deep to reassure me on a heart level. I would have loved to see more Scripture verses about emotions as sinful reactions. The compassion they advocated is so important, but I don't think it was enough. To have compassion grounded in Scripture and truth is ultimately a more substantive and lasting compassion. It can still be tender. But it has to include sin, or it is incomplete.

Again, I'd like to caveat that this book might require a second read-through or a conversation with a wise Christian. Maybe I took it from the wrong angle. Maybe I missed something the first time through (I can easily do that.) But this method of processing emotions didn't sit right; my spirit was troubled by it, and I couldn't take it in.

That being said; I did find it helpful in the latter chapters of the book to read the sections about the benefits, needs, and dangers of emotions like anger, envy, anxiety, etc. Because I tend to stuff emotions rather than understanding them, it is helpful to read the positive benefits that big emotions can serve.

Have you read any helpful books about handling emotions? I'd love to get your recommendations!

I received this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own. A positive review was not required.


  1. I've always been so thankful for your kind, balanced, truthful way of reviewing books. The problems you mentioned here are the issues that I have with a lot of books and resources too, but you articulated it a lot better than I can. XD Thanks for this review!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Katherine! Thank you so much for your encouragement (and btw, I really enjoyed your book recommendations post on your blog recently!) :)

  2. I’ve had a decent amount of training in family systems theory, if you want to discuss it ever. (Long time reader of this blog and seldom commenter here!) I’ve found family systems theory incredibly helpful—something about “there’s a reason you’re behaving so badly today” was incredibly freeing for me personally—it let me go from a legalistic “don’t do X” to “why am I doing X?,” and from there it’s so much easier to get to the sin at the root of the problem rather than staying at the surface—like the difference between cutting down weeds and actually pulling up their roots. But your reaction is really common and makes sense.

    (In case you can’t tell, I LOVE family systems theory!)

    1. Alina, I so appreciate your comment and your experience with this. This makes me want to read the book again and re-consider it--maybe with a slower read I could find similar reactions. I would love to chat more with you about it! Thank you so much for stopping in and sharing, I really appreciate the different perspective!


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