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Repression! The word conjures up images of wretched souls in chains, oppressed by thoughts and emotions that have been locked deeply within them... thoughts and emotions that are looking for avenues of escape at any cost.
Contrast that with another expression: Emotional maturity. This phrase is not so emotive. The mental picture here is of someone who has their act together, who is leading a stable, productive life because they are able to think through issues and able to keep their emotions in control as they do. Emotional maturity comes from being in control of your emotions. And merely repressing emotions is not really being in control.

Repression is reactive. We repress thoughts and feelings because we think they are inappropriate or unacceptable. We know that we risk rejection by letting them out, so we push them aside, without ever resolving them.

Some people think the way to prevent repression is to express every hurtful thought or emotion that enters their heads. They do untold damage to their relationships in an effort to unburden and "express" themselves. These people are still reacting, and they are still being emotionally immature.

Emotional maturity will only result when we make conscious (and consistent) decisions to act in constructive ways, based on our principles and values, rather than just reacting emotionally to circumstances.

The old "count to ten" adage is helpful only if those ten seconds are used to assess the situation, in an attempt to find the response that will best address what is happening. If we do this, a purely emotional reaction can be replaced with a constructive solution.

In the space of time between the incident and our response, we need to do several things. We must first exercise self-awareness, i.e. step outside of our own shoes and evaluate what is going on. We must do it, based on what our conscience is telling us, and in accord with what our overall vision is.

Then we need to discipline our will to put that plan into action, in such a way as to control our emotions. We do it because we realise that our emotions alone will not help us to achieve our desired goal.

The first step mentioned above was self-awareness. We need to be able to understand ourselves, in terms of why we feel the way we do; and this may also involve being able to understand the other person's perspective as well. This ability to understand ourselves is called self-awareness, and it is a specifically human ability that needs to be cultivated if we are ever to achieve emotional and spiritual maturity.

Take time to look at yourself in a mental mirror, and to understand what is making you tick. (Understanding the other person's perspective is just an extension of our own self-awareness, where we understand that other people feel the same things and have the same needs that we have.)

The second step was to follow our conscience. Before we can successfully control our emotions, we must have developed specific principles and values (e.g. the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12) to use as spiritual and moral guides during times of emotional crisis. These principles and values help to develop our conscience, which is our link to God. If we abuse or neglect our conscience, it will diminish. We will lose touch with God, and we will lose our integrity.

Within our community, we have tried to make the teachings of Jesus our spiritual and moral guide. But if people do not internalise those values and apply them in emotional situations, then they will end up reacting instead of acting maturely when the heat is on.

Along with a strong conscience, we need to have some kind of blueprint or vision for our future, and for our family or community's future. This may sound irrelevant, when considering a spur of the moment incident; but it is not. Long term goals for ourselves which are consistent with a united team plan, provide a physical structure from which to operate, in much the same way that our principles give us spiritual guidelines to use from day to day. Both of these can help us to overcome emotional hiccups.

As an illustration, the UK team has a long-term goal to distribute tracts to 2% of the population of every major city in England. So when they meet someone who wants to take a lot of their time on the streets, they invite the enquirer to help them distribute tracts. In that way, the long-term goal is not hampered, and they can still discuss their queries over a relaxed lunch after the work has been done. Thus, they fulfil their commitment and deal with the enquirer in a non-reactionary way.

Finally, we have our will to deal with. God has given us a will, it seems, because he wants us to freely choose to serve him, and to freely choose what is right over what is wrong.

Our will gives us the power to take action, but only if we exercise it. It seems that the more practice we get making difficult decisions, the better we get at it. People who never learn to say no to delicious food, for example, may also have difficulty saying no to illicit sex or saying no to harmful drugs. A weak will in one area of your life may lead to a weak will in others. And a strong will in one area can lead to a strong will in others.

Now let's put all of these together and see what we get: We are going to exercise our will, by choosing to subordinate our initial impulses and emotions to the wisdom that has been generated by our awareness of what is going on inside of ourselves, by our conscience, and by our vision for the future. When we do this, then we will have emotional maturity (i.e. self control) rather than repression. The choice is ours!

(See also Total Control.)

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