There’s a myth that there are good feelings and bad feelings. It’s a tall tale that helped survival, but not true thriving. It corrals feelings into the locked files of therapy offices.
In this myth, fear, anger, loneliness, shame, guilt, grief, and
doubt are among the “bad” ones. The myth dictates inner messages telling us to minimize, hold back, deny, or hide the feelings. Sometimes we try to “fix” feelings of others in order to speedup their end.
We all have our stories about emotions, particularly about sadness, fear and anger. We were handed messages about feelings by families and societies doing the best they could, or, we interpreted things in a way that resulted in ignoring, minimization or stuffing feelings.
For example, my childhood story about fear was that I had to keep it locked inside. I couldn’t share it with anyone. As I hated and feared fear, it grew and became more powerful. I felt that because there was so much fear, there was something wrong with me. Because I naturally felt uncomfortable when others expressed anger, I decided that I’d never be angry.
The myth creates more and more suffering inside ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Feelings trapped in vaults start oozing out, at a bare minimum, as feeling “bla” or grumpy. Or there could be a surprise outburst. It’s not the feelings that inflict against ourselves or others, it’s what we do with them.
Are there times when you try to hide or deny your feelings? What do you tell others about the expression of their feelings? When do you try to fix the feelings of another, or try to quickly glide onto something else? Are you afraid of certain feelings in others or yourself? Do you have different standards for boys and for girls?
Emotional resilience for ourselves and the children in our lives, means breaking free from this myth.
The truth is that we, as ordinary human beings, have an array of diverse feelings, which include doubt, fear, shame, sadness, and anger. Feelings deserve to be respected. Part of being or expressing from our authentic adult, or child, is honesty about feelings. They give us important information that helps us connect with our bodies and with each other.
Psychological and brain research shows that avoiding feelings, any feeling, doesn’t help us. The relief of avoidance and denial is only temporary. With acknowledgement and acceptance of the feelings, comes more ease. Parts of the brain that are in charge of intuition, empathy and decision making become stronger simply with acknowledgement of feelings. We then move closer to choices in how to express and cope with the feelings.
Brene Brown author, popular TED speaker, and well-known researcher on human vulnerability takes it even further, “When we numb [hard feelings], we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.” She has found, in other words, that the vulnerability of admitting and acknowledging and appreciating sadness,anger, and shame, helps us experience joy! All feelings enrich life and add to happiness and sense of wholeness.
How does this relate to the children in our lives?
- Relay a sense of safety and security by “seeing” feelings. As they get older, children, girls and boys, who feel safe talking about their feelings around their parents, are much more equipped to talk about what’s bothering them. They feel safer coming to their parents.
- Be aware of the verbal and nonverbal messages you give about feelings. Observe if the messages given to boys is different than the message given to girls. Because it’s not about perfection, if we do cut off or try to fix a feeling in another, we can always go back and admit it by simply acknowledging the feelings and what happened.
- Remember that meltdowns and outbursts can come from bottled up feelings and needs.We can use the information to get curious about what feelings were unseen and stashed away, and if there’s a way to preempt a similar situation in the future.
- Simultaneously accept the big feeling and believe in the capacity of the child. Be ready to walk beside the child who is fearful, grieving, or angry, while listening, encouraging, respecting, believing. Push a little, while supporting and believing the child will move through it in her own time. Patty Wipfler of Hand-to-Hand Parenting expertly tells a story about a parent who helps a child handle a “chunk of fear”.
When we acknowledge feelings, all feelings, including feelings such as embarrassment, grief, shame, anger, and frustration, we begin to bring the “pieces” of ourselves together. We acknowledge ourselves as whole human beings doing the best we can to live and love in this world. Feelings, as hard as some may be to experience, actually are stepping stones to wisdom, insight, love, and richness of life.