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Emotional Chastity - May 2018

posted May 8, 2018, 1:24 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review

By Cassandra Brouillard '18

“What are you writing about?” my grandmother asked me with curiosity as I sat typing away on this article. “Emotional chastity,” I said, as I watched the puzzled look that began to form on her face. In the past couple of weeks, I realized that not too many individuals have heard this phrase before. However, we have probably heard it in other ways: how to “guard our hearts,” expressing prudence in our speech, and even speaking “appropriately” for our settings.

           So what exactly is emotional chastity? Lisa Cotter helps to put Pope John Paul II’s words from Love and Responsibility into everyday language:

There are two types of attraction, sensual attraction and sentimental attraction. Sensual attraction has to do with the material value of a person, what we find physically attractive about them (she’s hot). Sentimental attraction has to do with the non-material value of a person, what we find emotionally attractive about them (he’s fascinating). Both of these types of attraction can spark in us the instant we meet someone or grow with time and they are both necessary for attraction to turn into love.

Cotter continues to explain how just as we must take care to use prudence in our sexual relationships (which is another topic altogether!), so we must also use prudence in our emotional relationships. It can be as easy of a temptation for us to use others to satisfy our emotional needs as it can be to use others to satisfy our sexual needs. Both can be equally destructive to our relationships.

Take ABC’s show The Bachelor. Often during the season finale, the bachelor is severely conflicted about which girl to choose. He claims that he is in love with two people, and because of this, no matter which decision he makes, he ends up hurting one of the women. Was it ever justified for him to be dating so many women from the beginning? Of course doing so would lead to complications, drama, broken hearts. Regardless of whether or not this man is physically tied to more than one woman at once, emotionally, he has invested serious feelings in too many women. So how exactly are we to discern whether or not we are using another person for our own emotional gain in an unhealthy manner? We need to distinguish which emotions are appropriate for which relationships in our lives.

To state the obvious, there are differences between the relationship I have with my sister and the relationships I have with my good male friends. Let’s start with the relationship between my sister and me: We are both adults and we are sisters. We know each other’s faults (well, most of them!). We know each other’s weaknesses, great struggles, and great joys. To keep it short, we share most of our emotional, spiritual, and mental feelings, thoughts, and questions with each other. I can cry with her, laugh with her, and open up in depth about my deeper spiritual struggles and emotional challenges as a woman.

This relationship differs dramatically from one that I share with one of my male friends. I would not share with him the same thoughts and feelings that I share with my sister. Our conversations would probably be more centered on the activities and interests that we share—school projects and tests, inside jokes from our favorite movies, or memories. To be clear, I am not saying that it would be wrong for me to have deep and meaningful conversations with my male friends, but rather that I am always aware of my intentions behind such conversations. Am I seeking to learn more from my brothers in Christ in order to advance the Kingdom of God on Earth?  

Furthermore, as a woman, God has certainly put me in their lives to encourage them in their own journey. Are my conversations an encouragement in their lives, or are they merely a temptation to play with emotions?  God created us so as to encourage one another to move ever closer towards Him. First and foremost, then, our greatest call in life is to love God first and to love others second (Mark 12:29-31), although with differing and appropriate levels of affection depending on the relationship.

Thus, the intention of our words and thoughts becomes the most important tool for us in discerning whether or not we are using others to meet our own personal emotional needs. Philippians 3:14 encourages us to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The reality is that we will never truly be satisfied until we are united with Christ in Heaven. Even when we are married, although we will have a deeper emotional attachment to our spouse, it is important to realize that we should not use him or her in order to fulfill our greater emotional and physical needs. Only God knows our heart in its fullest sense. In recognizing this profound truth, we are able to give ourselves more fully to our spouses as well as our families, because God is at the center of these relationships. The goal no longer is self-gratification, but rather, self-giving, to draw the other into Christ.

So how exactly do we move forward in the hopes of living out emotional chastity? Here are some helpful questions to start: First, am I going to benefit from telling this person this information? In other words, will telling this person relieve me emotionally or create more complications in the process? Second, is the other person going to benefit from hearing it? Is it fair to share my feelings and emotional burdens with this person? Will it burden them or create an unnecessary attachment? Third, boundaries are important.  They allow us to distinguish our relationships from one another. They also give us the freedom to decide who we desire to share our hearts with and how deeply we desire to do so. In limiting the amount of information that we share with one person, we give our hearts the space to share more intimately and fully with another individual (ie. in a committed relationship, marriage, and even the consecrated life). As always, this involves a great deal of discernment (which means time in reflection or prayer) as to what level of attachment is appropriate for a relationship. This can help us to avoid many problems, teach us where we want to invest the bulk of our time and energy, and more importantly, with whom we want to share and entrust the most intimate pieces of our heart.

Having different people whom we can confide in for our mental, physical, psychological and spiritual well-being can be helpful in caring for our whole persons, but also in understanding that only God knows our whole heart. In setting boundaries and guarding our hearts (Prov. 4:23), we can begin to give our hearts most fully to Christ (Phil. 4:7).