A Major Relational Mistake and What to Do About It

Okay, this is going to be a difficult one. It’s a bit difficult to explain and even harder to follow. Here is the general principle:

You CANNOT manage the emotions of other people! You can seek to understand them, but you cannot manage them. You can’t control the emotions of others, but you can influence them.

That’s hard, because we want to manage and control others’ emotions. We want to do that because we don’t like (none of us do) receiving bad emotions from others—we only want to be on the receiving end of good emotions from others.

I recently saw an old episode of The Big Bang Theory where everyone was mad at everyone else. Everyone was shouting. There was conflict everywhere. And Sheldon, the emotionally constricted figure, just went catatonic. He couldn’t control the emotional turmoil around him.

When you try to manage and control the emotions of others, you are, at that moment, in a precarious spot. You have taken on a responsibility you are not meant to have, and you simply do not have the resources to manage or control the emotions of others, so you will begin to use the wrong means to do so.

You’ll try to manipulate, pressure, coerce, plead, whine, beg, intimidate, threaten, withdraw, punish, (and continue adding any other words you like) to manage-control the emotions you don’t like seeing in others.

You can’t do it. You shouldn’t do it. (See the end note about parenting.)


Here is what you can do.

You can recognize that we now live in a cultural season where we know more than ever about emotional intelligence, but perhaps we practice it less than ever. We have lost the social systems that are the healthy places of forming healthy emotions and relational skills. Anticipate bad emotional practices as a common occurrence.

You can manage and control (by God’s grace, love, wisdom, and power) your OWN emotions. And as you probably know, that alone is hard enough. But God has given you a spirit of power, love, and self discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

You can (again by God’s grace, love, wisdom, and power) change unhealthy emotional states and responses in YOU, for healthier ones. You can put off YOUR anger and put on peace. You can put off YOUR rudeness and put on gentleness.

image: mindful.org

You can, through steady choices, develop emotional intelligence. That means you are self-aware of your own emotions. You are spiritually managing your emotions. You are aware of the emotional cues/states of others. And then you move to appropriate emotional response to others.

You can choose to live, act, and speak in ways that are described by the Apostle Paul as love in action (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) and in ways described as the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Through your words and actions, you can create an environment for another person to choose to manage and control THEIR own emotions, but THEY are responsible to choose emotionally good behavior.

You can invite another person to control and manage their own emotions. You can set boundaries to prevent the harmful emotions, and the actions generated, to not impact you.

You can pray for God’s Spirit to bring self-awareness to another person.


In no way am I suggesting we are not responsible for one another. We are our sisters and brothers “keepers,” as Cain failed to be. We are responsible for right living, speaking, and relating with others. Take FULL responsibility for that. But they are responsible for their own responses and choices. Do what you can to set the stage for great relationships, then trust God, sails up, catch the wind, and follow the leading of God’s Spirit.

Pastor Brian

P.S. Parenting is a different matter. Emotional intelligence and maturity must slowly grow and develop. Good parenting involves many practices of helping our children understand their emotions; creating safe, secure, loving environments where their emotions can develop; and creating boundaries and consequences of inappropriate emotions (an absolute must). The earlier you start, the more likely you will be used by God for the shaping of emotionally healthy children. As they grow older, a teen and young adult have increasing responsibility for managing THEIR emotions and making good emotional choices.

Brian Rice