Some people have emotions that are steady and manageable. Some people are never knocked over by their emotions.
I’ve always had BIG emotions. And not in a bad way—I love a lot, so that brings BIG pain. Sometimes the pain comes when I lose someone, and sometimes it’s just because they are in pain. I feel things.
Patriarchy would tell me that emotions are bad and weak, but the Bible shows even God has BIG emotions. God gets angry in a BIG way (read Ezekiel). God gets sad BIG too (read Jeremiah). And God loves BIG (Jesus).
BIG emotions themselves are not bad, but I don’t always process them well.
BIG Rage against COVID becomes yelling at my kids.
BIG sadness becomes isolation.
I recently received a grant to write a book about how rituals help us as humans. I’m integrating theology, ritual, and psychology. I came across an amazing article on the Psychology of ritual, and I want to share a quick idea that can be practical for us.
Rituals can help us with BIG emotions because they allow us to process the emotions in community (when possible) and in a safe, contained space and time. When it’s contained to one space and time, that means it limits the spillover of BIG emotions into negative actions in our lives.
There’s distance from the actual circumstances that are causing the BIG emotions, but the symbols used in the ritual clearly connect to the circumstances. When people place a rose on a coffin in a funeral ritual, it’s clear that they are remembering beauty and love and participating in saying goodbye. Doing so offers a contained and safe place to process BIG emotions in community. It does not process all the grief, but it helps a lot.
If your BIG emotions are spilling over into negative action like mine, what can you do to help process them?
The ritual doesn’t need to be elaborate. It can be really simple. Welcoming Prayer is my simple daily ritual through which I come back to my body, stop judging, welcome God, and let go of control. It usually takes less than one minute and I do it at set times each day. I first learned about it in this podcast, and it’s also explained here.
I also find that making something helps me process—that is a ritual, too. Here’s the most recent project that helped me process a deep loss at the beginning of the pandemic.
I think I need more rituals. My emotions are getting BIGGER and threaten my daily life.
I need something to process online education that’s not just watching this video. My online son has interrupted this blog post so many times, and I tried not to attack him with my BIG emotions!
I need a 2020 Thanksgiving and Christmas ritual, because boy, emotions around that are BIG.
I’d love if we came together as a community to do this. Please let me know if you want to do this with me!
This is the article that helped me learn this: Wojtkowiak, Joanna. “Towards a psychology of ritual: A theoretical framework of ritual transformation in a globalising world.” Culture and Psychology 24(4) (2018): 460-476.