What is wrong with controlling your emotions?
If anything, being in control of your feelings is a sign of emotional health; controlling your anger at other people, for example, is a good thing, whereas constantly losing your temper may reveal a lack of respect for others and an incessant need to get your own way.
Emotional control is needed in life, even when your emotions themselves are positive and healthy. For instance, you may be very happy that your adult child is getting married, and certainly that’s a positive and healthy way to feel. However, if you let that happiness get out of control, you might then talk so incessantly about wedding plans and your potential grandchildren that you begin to alienate friends and family who might wish that you would tone it down just a bit!
Since emotional control can be very healthy, why can it be said that requiring congregants to stifle or display certain feelings and emotions are signs of a cult?
when emotions are bad
Many cults and even mainstream religions tend to portray certain emotions as bad or negative. This usually includes anger, grief, hatred, sadness, etc.
Some religions teach that it makes you a better, more righteous person if you eliminate those emotions altogether; you’re more pious if you “turn the other cheek” and avoid feeling anger at someone, as an example.
A religion may also teach that it somehow shows a lack of faith in god, or a lack of faith in the teachings of the religion, if you display any type of excessive sadness or grief over someone’s passing, as another example.
Some cults may even teach that joy over certain events is not good, as being happy about something in your life is selfish; you’re not taking time to recognize the suffering of others, you’re too concerned about mundane things, and so on. A cult-like religion especially may criticize that joy by saying that you’re putting your own life at the center of your attention when you should be thinking about god, the church, and your ministry.
Along with trying to curtail or shame certain emotions, many cults and controlling groups will actually demand that you always feel a certain way; typically, these groups might expect you to be constantly happy, joyful, and positive.
Cults, religions, and even abusive families will do this as a way of maintaining a façade with outsiders; if members of a cult always seem happy, potential new members may be more interested in joining. If children and spouses always act positive, this can make other people assume that the husband or wife is a good person and that the parents are doing a fine job in raising the family.
Some religions, even families, may also demand their members always feel happiness and positivity as a way to avoid dealing with negativity, or having to help those in need. For instance, if a congregant in a religion is required to always feel happy, they may be less likely to seek out assistance from elders or priests for feelings of discouragement, depression, and so on. Parents won’t need to offer reassurance to their children if those children are required to always act happy.
Some religions may even connect your positive emotions to your overall “spirituality,” or approval from god. They may teach that a “godly person” will always have a “positive spirit,” or will say that god “blesses” those who are happy. In turn, a person may try to always force happiness, joy, positivity, and other such emotions.
in defense of emotions
While it’s easy to think that emotions like anger or jealousy should be avoided if not outright eliminated, it’s also good to understand that these feelings are natural, and may even be healthy. Anger is a normal response to something upsetting; for example, is it wrong to be angry at someone who abuses a child? Being angry at abuses and injustices shows compassion and caring toward others, so your anger may then be a sign of emotional health.
Other supposed negative emotions can also be healthy and natural; grief means that you miss someone or are feeling a loss of some sort. Not grieving that loss may seem disrespectful, as if someone or something was not important enough to make you feel sad, now that they’re gone.
Jealousy can also be healthy, to a certain extent; if you didn’t care about your partner or relationship, you wouldn’t be jealous of the time or attention they give to someone else. Are you jealous when your coworker flirts with someone? Probably not, as your relationship with a coworker is not particularly intimate. However, being jealous when your spouse flirts with someone else is natural, as you might feel that he or she is sharing something with that other person that they should only share with you.
Emotions, especially negative ones, can also be a barometer that alerts you to needed changes. If you’re always angry, for example, you may have unresolved issues from your past that make you impatient and irritated today. Uncontrolled or constant jealousy may signal a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, or that you have trust issues needing attention.
keeping emotions in their place
Since emotions can be healthy and natural, and can be indicators of underlying feelings, why are they often unpleasant, and even downright dangerous to relationships and your own mental, emotional, and physical health?
The key is to control emotions and keep them in their place. Feeling anger is not bad; letting that anger dictate your actions so that you lash out at someone is the problem.
Happiness over a child’s impending marriage is good, but if your happiness becomes a near-obsession, you then alienate friends and family with your narcissism, always trying to steer conversations toward that event or tuning out people when they want to talk about other things.
You may even become insensitive to the pain of others; obsessing about your pregnancy in front of a childless friend, as an example, or going on about your retirement plans to someone who has little means to retire shows great insensitivity. By not keeping your own emotions in check, you then become outright rude.
Eliminating emotions is not the answer, but controlling them, balancing them with respect, sensitivity, and an awareness of how we affect other people around us are the keys to overall emotional health.
Trying to force or fake emotions is the opposite side of this coin; since emotions are natural responses to what’s happening around us, trying to force them is not healthy. If you’re not happy with your home life, as an example, putting on a show of happiness does nothing to address the underlying causes of your unhappiness.
Always pretending to be positive when you’re actually struggling with mental and emotional issues can mean never addressing those issues, so that they eventually cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and a host of other physical symptoms.
Keeping emotions in their place, having a healthy expression of emotions, means not allowing them to control your life and your actions, while not forcing or faking them either.
cults and emotional control
Now that you’ve considered a bit of information about emotions and their place, consider how this relates to cults. Controlling emotions, or insistence that congregants either stifle or show certain feelings or emotions, is an earmark of a cult.
The cult leaders are not concerned with whether or not members are truly emotionally healthy, but are only concerned with their outward appearance, with how they act and are perceived by others. Those leaders want members to appear happy and joyful and never show sadness, anxiety, or grief, no matter their true emotions.
This is because the appearance of cult members reflects on the cult itself and how it is perceived by outsiders, so this façade of happiness is more important than the actual emotional health of its members.
However, how do you know when a group or individual has crossed the line into actual control, versus encouragement or good advice? While this can be very subjective, compare these two statements:
- “God loves you no matter what.”
- “Happiness is a sign of having god’s blessing.”
The first statement might make a person feel genuine, sincere happiness, thinking that there’s a higher power who loves and accepts them. Who wouldn’t be happy knowing that?
The second statement, however, demands happiness, even if it’s not genuine. If you don’t feel happy, god is withholding something from you, or you can get that blessing from god by acting happy no matter how you really feel.
This type of test can also apply to controlling relationships. Again, consider two statements by way of comparison:
- “Why are you always sad?”
- “Stop being so depressed; it bothers me.”
The first question allows you to get to the root of your sadness, whereas the second statement tells you how to feel, and says that you shouldn’t feel sadness just because the other person says so! Yes, if your depression is causing issues between you and someone else, and certainly if you’ve become neglectful or abusive, then this behavior should be addressed. However, simply demanding that you no longer feel a certain way is very controlling, and not healthy.
This is typically how cults and abusive or high-control religions, groups, and families operate when it comes to emotional control. Rather than creating an environment that naturally results in healthy emotions, or encouraging you to have better emotional health overall, certain feelings are just forbidden or demanded.
This control may even extend further, with a cult reminding you to always seem happy and positive when performing services for them, or when in the company of those not part of the cult. Religious leaders may incessantly demand that you seem positive, but especially when identifying yourself as belonging to the religion.
Not only are these demands overly controlling, but they may also indicate that the organization itself is not as positive as it seems. After all, if the religion was truly a force for good and offered many positive benefits, and if you were happy to be part of it, then you wouldn’t need to force a smile when talking about it!
However, rather than addressing any concerns congregants might have about the religion, a controlling cult will simply demand an outward show of happiness, and not actually create real happiness among followers.
A positive religion or other such group is similar to a healthy, happy relationship and home life. Real emotions are safe in such a family, with root causes of negative and harmful emotions explored and addressed, rather than demanding that such emotions simply “go away.” Real happiness will be created or come naturally, not faked. Anything else is abusive, controlling, and a potential sign of a cult.