Are negative emotions wrong?

Myth or truth: Suc­cess­ful men are always positive. How about this one: It is unspiritual to show negative emotions.

In his book, “Men’s Secret Wars,” Patrick A. Means writes about common misconceptions regarding male behavior and how they are encouraged to leave them behind in their search for healing and wholeness.

For years, Means practiced a Christian version of the first myth for years. Instead of facing his pain and dealing with it, he writes, he tried to envelope himself in a wraparound “happy” environment.

“I listened to Christian music and inspirational tapes, I read positive-thinking books, and discouraged my co-workers and family from ‘polluting’ my environment with ‘negative nuggets.’”

It all came tumbling down in less time it took to walk from one hotel room to another room, where he was confronted with the raw, unvarnished truth staring at him less than a few feet away.

Years earlier, Means, deeply involved in ministry, was having an extramarital affair. In the end, he lost his position in ministry and eventually lost his marriage and family.

The journey back toward spiritual and emotional health has been long and difficult, he writes. Fortu­nately, he had help along the way. Therapists and fellow Christian believers walked alongside and were available as he began to rebuild his life.

Along the way, Means met pastors and others who shared stories of their own secret wars. He discovered patterns were emerging, predictable factors that lead to crisis showing up again and again in their lives.

Well on his way to recovery and wholeness, Means sensed God leading him into a new ministry for Chris­tians in recovery, and later evolving into assisting men to recognize weaknesses and strengthen their lives, their marriages and family relationships.

While engaging men in the seminars, Means learned some troubling facts. In a survey of participants spanning the last three years prior to publishing his book, one in five men suffer from serious burnout. Two-thirds struggle with secret sexual sin or addictive behavior. Twenty-five percent of married men admit to having had an extramarital affair since they had become Christians.,Many said they never sought help, though they knew it was wrong. Embarrassed, they were afraid of what others might think.

The final, but most startling fact was these were the “cream of the crop” of the Christian community. Leaders, pastors and dedicated laymen.

The following quote used by Means in his book, brings clarity to the topic.

Aleksndr Solzhenitsyn writes: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing the good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

It is true, we are ruthless and coldhearted when someone falls from grace. I cannot recall one incident in all my years, in this community, where someone was surrounded by people willing to not only administer tough love to a person, but also to walk alongside and minister to them in ways that restores them to full spiritual and physical health.

We have bought into the myths of our hero-worship culture. Successful men are not always positive. Means writes truly successful men don’t repress or ignore their negative feelings. They face them and deal with their causes. Repressed emotions only migrates to merge elsewhere, creating more havoc in our lives.

We have also bought into the myth that it is unspiritual to show negative emotions. If only we could drive away those things by a simple prayer. But it doesn’t always work like that. Means writes that we do others a disservice when we imply that they can skip over the pain, sadness, anger and grief, work that is essential to real change. We heal by owning our anger and dealing with its source.

Finally, Means suggests we recognize that feelings suggest something is wrong. It is not being a “sissy” to know why we feel this way, but refusing to look into it means we will be blind to the ways that poisons relationships along the way.

Sadness and anger are not wrong. It is what we do with it that matters. We own our anger. To deny it exists turns anger into hatred and bitterness.

Sadness, like anger, has a healing purpose in our lives. It is an emotional response to loss. It is a part of grieving, before we can move on.

The biggest take-away is this book provides helpful advice and understanding for anyone wanting to understand the secret battle that rages on within the lives of men. It also can be a lifeline for men who are searching for a way out and find healing and restoration.

Paul Penner farms in the Hillsboro area. He has been active statewide and nationally regarding agriculture policy.