how I stopped worrying and learned to love the Psalms, part two

pain scale
[Hyperbole and a Half‘s Pain Scale“]

After I’d been removed from the stifling atmosphere of my church, after I got out of the controlling relationship with John*, and after I’d graduated from the fundamentalist college that continuously reinforced all of those lessons, I was left without any real means of understanding or productively engaging with my emotions. The only message I’d successfully heard and absorbed was that being emotionless was the ideal for a woman. The only response I’d learned toward my emotions was to suppress them in an attempt to “rule my spirit.”

Almost three years after I graduated, I was finally in counseling. During the first time I spoke with her, in her mint-green office with the wingback chairs, she opened her Bible to the Psalms and asked me if I minded reading one.

I shifted in my chair, my nervousness and discomfort rising. I stared at the floor, and tried to figure out what to say. Reading a psalm… out loud? The whole idea was distasteful. I gave a quick shake of my head.

“Do you mind if I read one, then?”

I met her eyes, and something about her prompted me to be honest. “I don’t really care for the Psalms.”

Her eyebrows lifted incrementally, and she quickly smothered a brief moment of confusion. “Why not?” She asked, her voice somehow even more soothing.

I didn’t have an answer. Why don’t I like the Psalms? They’re the Bible, after all. She waited while I tried to piece something together, and I eventually just burst out with the first thing that came to mind. “They’re just so . . . well, too emotional.”

I watched realization enter her face, and just the tiniest sliver of frustration. She’d heard this before, and suddenly, I listened to what I’d just said. They’re too emotional. I don‘t like David because he’s too emotional?

“Why do you think they’re too emotional, Samantha?”

Again, I was at a loss. Where was that coming from? “I guess . . . I don’t really know. David just seems . . . out of control, somehow.”

“He doesn’t do a very good job of ruling his spirit, does he?” There was a quirk around her lips– she knew exactly what it was I was talking about. I felt the corner of my mouth tip up a bit at her humor. “Emotions aren’t bad, you know.”

My response was instant, reflexive. “I know that.”

She waited, just a moment. “Do you?” After what felt like an agonizingly long pause, she asked another question. “How often do you cry?”

I shrugged. “Not very often, I guess. Mostly at sad books or movies.”

“But not about something that really matters to you?”

“Not usually . . . it takes a while. I have to be really tired, or just really overwhelmed.”

“So you cry when there’s really no other option? You get it all out, then just move on?”

I nodded. “I guess so.”

“Because being all emotional is just a silly reaction, right? It doesn’t do anything, doesn’t help anything?”

Again, I nodded.

“That’s a lie, Samantha. You’ve been lied to about this.”

My mouth popped open. I couldn’t believe she’d just said that. For a second, my brain couldn’t even really process it.


I didn’t walk out of her office after an enlightenment. I didn’t leave after experiencing a “Eureka!” moment. I had absolutely no way to process what she’d said. I didn’t have any framework for it, I had no context. There was nothing for me to tie this to. And I was confused. Intellectually, I knew emotions weren’t “bad,” but that knowledge didn’t stop me from viscerally avoiding anything to do with emotions in my actual life. I avoided any real emotion like it was the plague– and I’d learned to cover up my temperance with a weird form of exuberance. I, like Jane Austen’s Emma, argued passionately for things I didn’t really care about. I told stories with drama and wild emotional swings I’d never felt.

I’d learned to play-act. I’d learned to pretend to have emotion, because, somehow, I knew that actually being emotionless was odd. Yet, I still valued the ideal of a cool, tranquil, detachment.

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

  • I get so sick of the saying in Christian circles “It’s not about feelings.” It’s like they want to divorce you from your feelings. I can feel myself automatically going numb when that happens. But is that how God really intended us to live, divorced from our feelings?

  • Reblogged this on An Open-Minded Journey and commented:
    I can totally relate. For the longest time I believed that controlling your emotions to the point of not showing them was the superior way of operating. Allowing yourself to cry or lose control was a sign of weakness, and I certainly didn’t want to be weak. I’m not sure where I picked up that way of thinking, but it’s been very hard to shake. It’s also been very harmful to me.

  • Carrie

    One of the things I have come to love most about the way Jesus is portrayed in the gospels is that he is wildly emotional. Jesus is no stoic.He gets angry to the point of throwing furniture, weeps at the death of a friend, cries out when he’s in pain, laughs with children, gets frustrated when his students are slow, is “deeply moved” by small acts of faith or kindness. Jesus knows how to feel, and deeply.