This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Amping up our emotions

As a person who has always been surrounded by music, I’ve learned to appreciate many different genres. Truth be told, I can listen to most things, at least for a little while. Sure, I have my favorites, but I find the diversity and variety intriguing.

I’ve seen and experienced this beauty my whole life. My mom was in the local orchestra growing up and I always loved it when I got to go hear the concerts. I started playing trombone in fifth grade and participated in jazz, orchestral, and marching bands.

My wife is a music major and constantly fills our house with her beautiful piano skills, singing or guitar-playing.

All great music shares several great qualities, but one in particular can help us understand our own lives better: dynamics.

There’s nothing more annoying that a orchestra that only plays at one volume and speed. What makes music beautiful is the variety. Some parts are quiet, others are loud. Some are soft and soothing, others are quick and daring.

A personal story

I remember sitting at an orchestra concert once when I was little. The soft and smooth section lulled the 8-year-old me to sleep. During the next section of music, I was resoundingly awoken so quickly I fell out of my chair. They instantly went from soft and quiet to loud and booming. The drums were thumping, the cymbals were crashing, and the instruments were blaring. As I gathered myself back in my seat, I tried to play it cool (but having never been cool a day in my life, it was a little difficult).

Those dynamics can significantly impact our understanding of emotions. As life happens, we feel and process all that’s happening to us. When we’re stuck, it’s helpful to acknowledge those emotions. Sometimes, they are soft and smooth. It’s quiet, relatively free of disturbances. Think of an amp, maybe the sound is only around a two or three.

Other times, things are crashing and swirling. Things are a mess. We are angry, hurt, sad or scared. Suddenly, the volume is louder. The amp is more around a six or seven.

And when we’re feeling that way, it can actually be a helpful experience to turn the amp up. Processing those deep feelings needs to happen. Too often, we want to stuff them down and pretend they don’t exist, but that doesn’t work. It makes us more irritable, more stressed, and more likely to lash out at others.

But in processing those emotions, understand where you’re at, and like an amp, slowly turn it up.

Processing emotion

Say something happened at work that upset you. Maybe your anger level is at a six.

Start asking questions:

What does the six feel like?

What would you like to say or do? (Of course, you probably shouldn’t…)

What’s the “geography” of your body? Are you tense? Are your fists clenched? Where is your body tight? Were do you feel the stress? Are you ‘hot’ or ‘cold?’

From here, turn up the emotional amp a little bit.

What does a seven look like? How does that feel? Is that more appropriate? What new problems or solutions does this make?

Now pretend that you’re feeling an emotion at an eight. Repeat the questions.

Pretty soon, what we find, regardless of the emotion, is that this helps us process and understand the hurt better. Often when I do this with clients, we’ll amp it up to a seven or an eight, occasionally a nine. Usually by then, they say, “Okay, that’s enough. I’ve processed this and now it’s at a two.” There’s something simple about acknowledging our emotions rather than stuffing them, and it helps us understand what’s going on inside of us.

The benefit

When we allow ourselves to process and feel our emotions, we acknowledge our humanity, grow our emotional intelligence, and learn how to handle conflict and uncertainty better.

Too often, our problem lies in not acknowledging that we have these emotions. Then suddenly, one small thing takes us from a one to an eight and we explode on someone. This is poor leadership and poor self-management. Processing emotions allows us to stay healthier, lead better lives, and have greater influence in our leadership.

Justin Hiebert is a Mennonite Brethren pastor in the Denver metro area. He studied Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership at Tabor College and completed his M.Div. at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He blogs at, where this post originally appeared.

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