Stuffing Your Emotions

with: Lysa TerKeurst

When it comes to emotions, do you usually stuff them, waiting for the right time to share? Mother of five, Lysa TerKeurst, talks about the tendency we have to stuff our emotions, but warns that we must be careful if we’re smiling on the outside and screaming on the inside. Those emotions are likely to escape, she says, most likely at the wrong time and the wrong way. Lysa talks about some of the friendships she lost because she wasn’t willing to talk honestly with her friends about her feelings. Find out what Lysa recommends you do if you’re married to a stuffer.

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Lysa TerKeurst About Lysa TerKeurst:

Lysa TerKeurst is a New York Times bestselling author and speaker who helps everyday women live an adventure of faith through following Jesus Christ. As president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa has led thousands to make their walk with God an invigorating journey. For over 15 years, her message has enabled women to:

  • Make the Bible come alive whenever you read it.
  • Discover how to develop inner peace and security in any situation.
  • Replace doubt, regret, and envy with truth, confidence, and praise.
  • Stop unhealthy cycles of striving and learn to love who you are.
  • Sense God responding to your prayers.

Lysa’s personal adventure of following God captured national media attention when she and her husband adopted two teenage boys from a war-torn orphanage in Liberia, Africa. They never imagined their decision would start a chain reaction within their community, which inspired other families to adopt over 45 children from the same orphanage! Lysa’s amazing story led to appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, The 700 Club, USA Today newspaper, Woman’s Day magazine, and Focus on the Family radio.

Today, Lysa and her ministry team at Proverbs 31 encourage 500,000 women through their daily online devotional. In addition, she co-hosts a 1-minute inspirational radio program aired on more than 1,200 stations around the world. Lysa’s blog averages over 80,000 avid readers per month. Plus, she touches hearts through their monthly magazine, P31 Woman.

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Bob: Have you ever been angry about something; but when your spouse asks you, “Are you okay?” you answer by saying, “I’m fine.” Lysa TerKeurst says, when you do that, you’re on a dangerous path.

Lysa: When you say you’re fine and you’re really not fine, you shut down the communication. When you shut down the communication in a relationship, you start to shut down the intimacy in a relationship. When you shut down the intimacy in a relationship, you shut down the potential that that relationship has. When you shut down the potential in a relationship—and it starts to lose hope, and things start to get real apathetic, and isolation starts to occur—you shut down the potential and you shut down the relationship.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today forTuesday, November 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So, how do you have the conversation when things aren’t fine?—without coming unglued? We’re going to hear about that today from Lysa TerKeurst. Stay tuned.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I am glad you can’t see our house right now because our house is pretty much a disaster, at this moment in time.

Dennis: You’re getting some fresh paint—

Bob: We have been—

Dennis: —on the house.

Bob: We kind of had set aside years’ worth of work that needed to be done.

Dennis: Like how many years, Bob?

Bob: How many? Let’s see—our oldest child is 31. So, it’s been about that long. [Laughter]  We—we’ve just had—we’ve been busy, as parents! And we’ve been putting aside a bunch of projects.

Dennis: Bob is loving his wife, folks. He is—he is loving his wife by splurging. He’s splurging on her in the kitchen.

Bob: We’re getting a little bit of remodeling work done on the home. As a result, at this current moment, our house is a disaster.


And for my wife, that is a particular challenge—a house that looks like a war zone. You don’t know where anything is because it’s in a pile in some other room.

I said to Mary Ann, just the other day—I said, “You know, I know this is hard on you.” It’s harder on her than it is on me. I said, “I understand—I don’t feel it exactly the same way you do, but I understand it’s harder.” But I said, “I also know that you are coping—you’re dealing with the disruption today a whole lot better than you would have five years ago,”—just the evidence of God’s work in her life.

 It’s not that she’s not feeling it, but it’s her response to what she’s feeling—where she has shown some remarkable growth. With that said, I’m still anxious for the house to be put back together!—[Laughter] to get back to normal pretty quickly.

Dennis: But we are talking about how you—how you manage the emotions in the midst of, well, situations and circumstances— that could set up the conflict.


Bob: —disruptive situations.

Dennis: —that could set up a conflict. And to help us do that, Lysa TerKeurst joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Lysa—welcome back.

Lysa: Thank you. It’s a joy to be here.

Dennis: She has written a book that has become a New York Times bestseller. It’s called Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Lysa, you and your husband have five children.

Lysa: Yes.

Dennis: I think I heard you say four teenagers right now?

Lysa: Actually, all five of them. Well, my sons are in their early 20s, but we’re still counting that we have all five teenagers. You can interpret that however you want to. [Laughter]

Dennis: Just don’t tell them. [Laughter]

Already, this week, Lysa, I mentioned how you say in your book there are two types of ways that we deal with emotions. Some people explode—others stuff. I made—it wasn’t an unkind statement about Bob—I just mentioned that, probably for me, I tend to be more on the exploding side—although, I have grown in this area, over the past 40 years in our marriage.


Bob, on the other hand, I said, very casually—

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: —that he’s probably a stuffer. To which, Lysa, you made the statement—

Lysa: I have a verse for that!

Dennis: You have a verse for that!

Bob: And I just want to say, before you share that verse that you have—can I just step in here and say that stuffing is the more sanctified approach to dealing with conflict. I just want to get that out in the open. It’s really much more spiritual than what you guys do with your exploding.

Lysa: Right! Well, that is what the stuffer tends to think, for sure. [Laughter] But, in all seriousness, we do have a lot of stuffing in the Christian community because our propensity is—if we’re exploder—we feel like the more Christian-thing to do is to stuff.

Dennis: Oh yes, we do.

Lysa: The more Christian-thing is actually to process in healthy ways. But it’s so easy to swing that pendulum from exploding to stuffing. It’s the same thread of chaotic emotion.


It’s just—instead of pushing it out—you are pushing it internally. There are so many studies—medical studies—to talk about the dangers of stuffing down chaotic emotions and what it does to us—not just spiritually and emotionally—but what it actually does to us physically.

But here’s our verse. It is Proverbs 10:18. It’s from NIV—just if you want to check it out later.

Bob: Alright. Thank you.

Lysa: “He who conceals his hatred has lying lips.” Verse 21of Proverbs 10 goes on to say, “The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.” But it’s that verse 18 of Proverbs, Chapter 10: “He who conceals his hatred has lying lips.”

See, this is the thing. We have to be—if we’re going to stuff, we have to be very honest with what we’re stuffing. A lot of times we can be smiling on the outside, but screaming on the inside. We have to listen to that internal scream because that’s telling us it’s the same chaotic emotion, and it’s just as unhealthy.


Pushing it externally will create chaos outside, but pushing it internally will create chaos inside.

One of the stuffer labels that I put in the book—that I can, sometimes, be this way. In Unglued, I wrote, “There is the stuffer that collects retaliation rocks.” It’s like I can smile in the moment; but all the while, inside, I’m collecting proof I’m going to use against them later. What does that lead to?—bitterness, resentment.

So, we can follow where that can lead us. We can trace that path of decisions right into some of the most daunting Scriptural warnings about bitterness, and about anger and resentment, and all those things that can collect inside of us. Just like an oyster taking in a grain of sand. It gets coated, and coated, and coated—only what I’m forming, when I do this, is no pearl.


It’s a rock of retaliation. I will stuff, and stuff, and stuff, and stuff, and stuff; and then, one day, all those rocks of retaliation—all that proof that I’ve collected—will come out and create so much damage in that relationship.

Bob: Like a volcano going off—

Lysa:  Yes, it is.

Bob: —all that stored-up pressure in a person’s life. I do think that stuffers can also tend to move in very passive/aggressive kinds of ways to: “Okay; alright. Fine, I got this.” [Laughter]

But there’s a—my friend, Bryan Lorritts, talks about the silent assassin—the one who’s—will just kind of stuff—but behind it, there’s the plotting that you’re talking about—that says, “I’m going to find a way to get back at you that there’ll be no fingerprints left.”

Dennis: You call this: building barriers—

Lysa: Yes.

Dennis: —that stuffers can use all their brain power and emotion to think of other ways they can get back at people—remove the relationship from them, let other people endure silence, don’t talk.


Lysa: Exactly, and the danger with building a barrier—see, the classic stuffer-answer is—you’ll say—like if Bob’s a stuffer, and you two get into a conflict; okay? So, you, Dennis, will say to Bob: “Hey, man! You okay?” Like, “Everything okay?” And the classic stuffer-answer: “Oh, yes. I’m fine! I’m fine.”

Bob: Well, no, wait. “Fine,”—I know—“I know you’re saying, ‘Fine,’ but come on.” Let’s just be honest. How many wives have said that to their husbands over and over again—when exactly what it means is, “No; I am angry, but I’m not saying a word.”

Lysa: That’s right. So the classic stuffer-answer: “I’m fine!” But when we say, “I’m fine,” we’re really not fine. And here’s the dangerous part of that—is when you say you’re fine, and you’re really not fine, you shut down the communication. When you shut down the communication in a relationship, you start to shut down the intimacy in a relationship.


When you shut down the intimacy in a relationship, you shut down the potential that that relationship has—and when you shut down the potential in a relationship, and it starts to lose hope, and things start to get real apathetic and isolation starts to occur—you shut down the potential and you shut down the relationship.

Bob: When you were a young mom, you had a friend who—the two of you didn’t exactly do parenting the same way. She would point out to you where you were making mistakes; right?

Lysa: That’s right. I don’t want to say that she had ill-intention. It’s just we parented very differently. This dynamic can happen with so many moms. It is like: “I’ve chosen to breast feed.” “Re-ally. Well I just read a study about bottle-feeding,” or, you know, “We let our child sleep with us.” “Oh, re-ally. Well, you know, the experts say you should never, ever, ever…”

And so, all these things—is that, when you’re trying to figure it out as moms, you become very passionate about wanting to do it right. When you find people that do it like you, you feel validated. When you find people that do it differently, then you can feel a little insecure.


Bob: Well, this mom-friend of yours would come to you and say, “I can’t believe you let your kids…” and then whatever it is you were letting your kids do; right?

Lysa: Yes! I felt like I just never could do anything right in her eyes. Now, here’s what I should have done. I should have sat down with her and just had a really honest conversation—where I started off by telling her: “The way that you parent is absolutely amazing. But here’s the thing—just because I do it differently, it’s not my statement that what you’re doing isn’t amazing. It’s just I happen to do it differently, and I think there’s actually two amazing ways to do this thing.”

That would have hopefully opened up a dialogue. I didn’t do that. What I did is—I started to pull back. I started to get quiet. I started to not accept her invitations. I started to ignore her phone calls. I shut down the communication. I shut down the intimacy. I shut down the—

Bob: —the relationship.


Lysa: —the hope for that relationship. I shut down the relationship altogether. And here’s, I guess, the real point. I have lost relationships before because I refused to address issues. I have not lost relationships where I was brave enough to address the issues; but, in our brain, we think, “If I address this issue, it’s going to create all kinds of dynamics that I’ll lose the relationship.” I have to say, “Maybe, that’s true;” but in the vast number of cases, I think relationships are shut down and lost because we refuse to talk about stuff.

Dennis: We put a post on my Facebook® page about this interview and what we were going to talk about. We listed all four of the various ways that we tend to handle our emotions: The exploder who shames himself or herself, the exploder who blames others, the stuffer who builds barriers—as we were talking about with Bob [Laughter]—the stuffer who collects retaliation rocks; okay?


Bob: I’m starting to collect a few of those as you keep drilling around this idea. [Laughter]

Dennis: We asked our friends on Facebook, “Which one do you tend to be most like?” One woman wrote—she said, “I tend to be a stuffer who builds barriers.” And she made this statement—she said: “Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I recognized this being the root of the dissolution of the relationship. Years later—I’m working and praying for guidance on how to share my thoughts with others instead of just agreeing to keep peace.” She’s a peacemaker, at all cost; and that’s not healthy either; is it?

Lysa: Well I would say that probably what she’s learning is that she’s a peace-faker.

Bob: Yes.

Lysa: There’s a big difference between a peace-faker and a peacemaker. And I understand that and I can talk about it so honestly because I can do that. I can fake the peace. But internally, stuff just is happening. I’m shutting relationships down and creating so much trauma and turmoil.


It’s so much healthier to learn how to have a good reaction by having healthy discussions—not exploding—or swinging the pendulum all the way to the other and stuffing—but just having some good honest discussions. That’s really why I wrote Unglued. I’m sure there are some, who are listening to this, thinking: “Well, what am I? How do I figure it out?”

You can take a free assessment if you go to Ungluedbook.com. You can take an assessment there. Of the thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people that take assessments—what do you think—of those four reactions you just read—what do you think is the most popular result for people? You know, which reaction do we most have taking this test? What do you think?

Dennis: Bob, go first.

Bob: I think it’s all of the folks who are like me. I think the stuffers who build barriers—I think that has to be number one.

Dennis: That’s what I was going to guess.


Lysa: You’re absolutely right—by far! The stuffer that builds barriers represents—I think it was close to 60 percent of all people taking the test. Then, the other 40 percent was shared by the other three reactions.

But it’s a big problem. I knew, in writing Unglued,I couldn’t just write about times of coming unglued when you explode. That is valid, and we need to talk about it. I do talk about it. I’m very honest. But I really felt like the secret silence of the stuffer needed to be addressed and talked about. So, that’s why I went there, too.

Dennis: Okay, let’s say you’re in a marriage—where it’s been reduced to where this woman, who wrote me, was in their relationship. It sounded like it cost them their marriage. What would you advise a woman to do if she’s in a marriage where the husband doesn’t want to talk about it. All he wants to do is sit back quietly, and seethe in silence, and build his barriers.

Lysa: I think, for me, my husband is a classic stuffer. He pretty much is a stuffer, across the board.


I can fluctuate. I can sometimes be an exploder—sometimes be a stuffer. But, with my relationship with my husband, I’ve had to learn how to ask really good questions that will help him open up. It’s not that my husband doesn’t want to talk about things. It’s not even that he doesn’t want to be honest. He just doesn’t want drama. He doesn’t want to step into an emotional space that he feels ill-equipped for.

So, when I engage him, and try to help him open up so that we can talk about issues, and help him not stuff, I have to ask really good questions. But the questions have to be, not finger-pointing questions, or not putting him in a space where he feels like it is way too emotional, but using language that’s just healthy. A question like: “Hey, Art, help me understand. When you said this, unpack the meaning of that for me.” Rather than: “Why did you say it like that? You made me feel…” You see the difference there?

Dennis: Sure. Sure.


Lysa: So I’ve learned—if I can really, with all honesty, ask some exploratory questions, I can actually get him to open up and talk.

Bob: You see, I think part of what’s going here is that—when there is that conflict with a stuffer—part of what the stuffer is feeling is that the other person is saying, “My love for you and my respect for you is in question right now.”

Lysa: Yes.

Bob: So, in those moments, the stuffer wants to run to a place where that question is removed. We’ll behave however we need to behave to re-validate love and respect.—

Lysa: Yes!

Bob: —Okay. So, we’re going to do our best to stuff so that we’ve got—again, a faked-up peace—because, at least then, we feel like we don’t have to worry about whether there’s love or respect going on in the relationship. That’s why the approach you’re taking is an approach that says: “Let’s verbalize. Let’s substantiate. Let’s make sure it’s clear. Love and respect are still in place—”


Lysa: Absolutely.

Bob: —“as we unpack the dynamic going on here.”

Lysa: Yes, remember a moment ago, when I was using an example where I said to my husband—what I should have said is, “I think you’re an amazing man.” You know, starting off with that. That is not in question at all: “I think you’re amazing.” Because the reality is, in that moment of conflict, maybe, I don’t have those feelings—like, “You’re so amazing!” you know—but that is the truth. I’ve already defined the reality in my life—is I think my husband is an amazing man. He is an amazing man, no matter how I feel, in this moment. If that is understood—and brought out and encouraged in the relationship—then, the conversation that we have—as long as my questions are true, exploratory, and not accusatory—we can really get somewhere.

Dennis: And in those moments, at least with Barbara and me, one of the things I’ve learned to do with her is—I’ve said: “You know, you have a different approach to this than I do. It’s like loading the dishwasher. There’s more than one way to load the dishwasher.” [Laughter]


Bob: No, not at our house there’s not! No—

Lysa: Ohhh!

Dennis: Well, if you want it loaded by somebody else,—

Bob: Yes, that’s right.

Dennis: —there may be more than one way; but different isn’t wrong. It’s just different.

Lysa: Different. You know, I think that what is so fascinating is teaching people strategies—how to have better reactions—because, when you can have better reactions, you really will have better relationships. At the end of the day, if we have better relationships, our life is rich. It actually serves to feed a less unglued environment.

We’ve just gotten amazing testimonies with women who have read Unglued and make their husbands read it with them—or families that are reading it because it gives them a common language to talk about these issues, and to really foster a healthier, better reaction, as a family relationship.


It’s dynamic, and I’m so excited about it.

Dennis: You mentioned earlier that—what was it?—60 percent?

Lysa: Yes—over 60 percent.

Dennis: Over 60 [percent] are stuffers. I’m trying to find it in here. I’ve been—I just decided to spend some time in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s amazing how much Jesus unpacked in one sermon. I mean, he gave more than three points in a poem in this. But he talked about—in Matthew, Chapter 5 through 7—how the person who has the log in their own eye should first remove it before going and addressing the speck in their neighbor’s eye. That’s really what you’re calling somebody, who’s a barrier-builder, to do—is first look, internally, and go, “How am I reacting here?”


“Am I building my case, building a barrier, being passive / aggressive, removing the relationship?”—the various ways that we can become very cunning and very smart about doing it—instead of taking a step back and saying, “Okay, in this situation, God, I know my spouse is 90 percent wrong; but would you help me in addressing my 10 percent, which may end up being 90 percent—”

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: —of the issue.”

Lysa: That’s right. You know—a good little quick snippet to tag right into that. I wrote this quote in Unglued. It’s probably one of the most-quoted statements from the book—it’s that: “Feelings are indicators, not dictators.” Feelings can indicate: “There’s something to address here;” but my feelings don’t have to dictate how I react.

Bob: Yes. I love that. I really love some of the very practical strategies you’ve outlined in the book, Unglued—which, by the way, we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I hope our listeners will get a copy of the book and read through it.


Maybe, go through it together, with a group of women, as part of a women’s study.

Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how you can get a copy of Lysa TerKeurst’s best-selling book, Unglued. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order online; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. 1-800-358-6329, that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

I want to read you just a portion of an email we received, recently, from a listener who said:

I want to thank you for your ministry. I am a pastor preparing to teach a parenting seminar this weekend. I was going back through a book that, Dennis, you wrote in 2002.

He said:

That was the year my wife asked me what I thought about having more kids. I told her I thought she was crazy. We had a new home. We were involved in a ministry in a growing church. We had two beautiful little girls.


I worked part-time in the Emergency Room at the hospital; and I thought, “We are busy enough. I don’t know why you’d want to mess with a good thing.”

And then, my wife said, ‘Well, could we pray about it?’ And as the associate pastor for youth and families—I didn’t figure I could say, “No,” to that. So, we really prayed together for about six months; and I started noting what God has to say about kids, as I was reading the Bible each morning. I also listened to a tape series you guys did, which included material on how many kids to have and the different camps of thought on that.

In my quiet time, one morning, I remember reading a chapter about raising masculine sons in one of the books you’d written, Dennis; and I thought, “I think the Lord wants me to have a boy.” And today we have two sons, along with our two daughters. So, I’m just writing to say, “Thank you for the impact that your ministry has had on our family.

You know, we get notes like that from listeners, and we share them with the whole team. It’s just encouraging to know how God is using the ministry of FamilyLife Today in people’s lives.


I want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who are a part of this with us—who invest in this ministry—you pray for us—you provide the financial support we need to continue doing the ministry that God has called us to here. Thanks for your financial support.

Let me encourage you, if you can help with a donation this month, we would love to hear from you. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today, P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And our zip code is 72223.

And when you make a donation this month, of $25 or more, we would like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a holiday gift pack that’s got some resources that Barbara Rainey has been working on—designed for the holidays. You can find out more about those resources when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the “I CARE” button.


Or you can ask about them when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Just mention that you’d like the holiday gift pack when you make the donation, and we’ll be sure to send it to you.

I hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We’re going to find out what you do, as a wife, if your husband is calm and cool in the middle of conflict. It just feels like he won’t engage with you on this issue! That’s how it is for Lysa and her husband. We’ll find out how she does in that setting. I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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