Subordinates and Emotions

Have you noticed that a certain stripe of Christianity is uncomfortable with feelings? More precisely: it is uncomfortable with subordinates feeling anything except happiness… and since women and children are always subordinates, they especially are out-of-luck.

That may be overstated. Subordinates may HAVE emotions besides happiness, they just aren’t allowed to EXPRESS them. Now, most will say that they allow expression, but if you hang out with them very long you’ll soon see that there are certain rules and rituals subordinates must follow when expressing emotions (and all of these rules and rituals are designed to dampen the emotion). Raw emotion is never allowed.

Why is this?

I have theories, and none of them are complimentary to those in the positions of power. I know that when I’m the authority figure, that my desire to shut-down others’ “big feelings” is rooted in selfishness and self-centeredness. I don’t want to have to stop MY “important” work or interrupt MY leisure time to deal with their feelings. Their big feelings are messing up MY day. They should just suck it up and be quiet! (It’s really embarrassing to admit to this kind of knee-jerk entitlement.)

One of my related theories of why raw emotion is not allowed is that emotion is considered feminine and/or childish. And since women and children are always in subordinate positions in conservative Christian culture, well… being emotional is acting like a subordinate. So males in institutions and congregations who want to one day be considered for positions of authority must also squelch their feelings — because expressing feelings might be remembered and might permanently place you in the subordinate category.

Feelings are messy. Allowing “subordinates” to express feelings is an act of love and kindness and an acknowledgment of relationship. (I placed subordinates in quotes because I disagree with the hierarchy found within conservative/fundamental Christianity. I do not think that the way it is understood and applied is Biblical, but that’s a post for another day.)

This topic really applies to me personally in my parenting — in how I treat my children when they are feeling anything besides happy. I have a tween girl, and I’m getting MANY opportunities to examine how I handle the feelings that aren’t shiny-happy.

Long ago I rejected the the parenting “experts” within conservative/fundamental Christianity that told me that happy is the only acceptable emotion. I pray churches and para-church organizations will reject this notion as well.

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1 Response to Subordinates and Emotions

  1. Wow. This is so true. I’m getting a lot of practice lately with helping my “subordinates” aka kids handle big emotions. You’re right, it *is* really easy to wish that they would just suck it up and stop being inconvenient. I’m thinking that this is the most challenging part of parenting, the part that requires the most amount of thought, empathy, and creativity.

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