Asking Questions to Discern Emotional Health

By Rick Lewis

Why ask questions about emotions?

Emotions in themselves are not susceptible to moral evaluation; they simply are what they are, neither wrong nor right. Yet it’s important to track emotions in Christian mentoring. There are several reasons for this.

First, they can be predicated on an accurate or an inaccurate reading of the circumstances that give rise to the emotion. If they come from an inaccurate reading, then those emotions may be inappropriate.

Second, they are often very powerful, behind-the-scenes drivers behind our actions, our decisions and the way we perceive and relate with others, and those things do bring us into moral territory.

Third, they can indicate a trajectory towards personal health and thriving or toward dysfunctional and unsustainable patterns of living.

 

In such a huge field, where do you begin?

Our human emotions are so many and varied it’s hard to know where to start to ask about a person’s emotional health. Which emotions are we trying to track?

One very popular mnemonic is ‘mad, sad, glad, scared’. If you can get a reading on these four fundamental emotions you are most of the way there to having a useful understanding of a person’s emotional health. However, I have found it helpful to add a 5th category of ‘keen’ to explore emotions that relate to desire, enthusiasm, passion and hope. The following questions might provide a springboard into investigating ‘mad, sad, glad, scared and keen.’

Mad

  • What has been making you cross lately?  
  • When have you recently had to consciously keep your anger in check?  
  • Over what things has your irritation spilled out in the last few weeks?  
  • How are you responding to injustice in your circle of influence?  

Sad

  • When was the last time you wept, and what was that about?  
  • What losses are you dealing with at the moment?  
  • Who do you know whose suffering breaks your own heart?  
  • What proportion of your typical day is spent thinking sad thoughts?  

Glad

  • What brings you delight?  
  • Who has affirmed you recently and what did they say?  
  • What is the most fun thing you’ve done in the last month?  
  • What is your most satisfying recent achievement?  

Scared

  • Who are you suspicious of or cannot trust?  
  • Have you had any disturbing dreams lately? What were they about?  
  • What do you worry might happen to members of your family?  
  • How do you fear Satan might try to wreck your ministry?  

Keen

  • What are you most looking forward to in the week ahead?  
  • If you could manage it, what would you love to give more time to?  
  • What part of your current role are you most passionate about?  
  • If God gave you one wish, what would you ask for?  

Each of the fundamental emotions we have considered – anger, sorrow, joy, fear, desire – could lead a person in a positive or a negative direction. There is such a thing as appropriate and inappropriate, helpful and unhelpful instances of each of those emotions.

Therefore, a mentor might follow up the questions above – which are non-evaluative, information-seeking questions – with openly evaluative questions such as these:

In what ways does your anger reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?

In what ways does your sorrow reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?

In what ways does your joy reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?

In what ways does your fear reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?

In what ways does your desire reflect God’s character and in what ways does it not?

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