As I’ve gotten older (and wiser), I’ve come to learn that some of the traits I had been most proud of for so many years are the very ones that are to my detriment. I believed that when I was upset or angry, brushing it off and moving on was not only helpful, but healthy. What I failed to understand is that in doing so, I never took the time to truly become aware of all of my emotions. Thus I did not allow myself to feel my emotions.
Many years ago, when I began seeing a therapist, I boasted about my ability to not let things bother me. Each time I relayed a story that I said angered or upset me, my therapist would ask how I felt at the moment the situation that I was describing happened.. “I don’t know,” I’d always respond. Then she would ask what I felt as I recounted the situation to her. “Nothing really,” I’d say. When my therapist told me she had dozens of patients who wished they did not feel anything, I secretly laughed, feeling proud of what I had accomplished all of these years – just forging ahead.
Over time, I came to learn how these actions weren’t helpful to me, or anyone around me. They weighed me down (literally and figuratively). So I decided to make a concerted effort to become more aware of my emotions. I began to identify them. And after I felt like I mastered awareness, I took the time to notice how these emotions felt in my body. It was not an easy process (and something I continue to work on). I don’t know how long it took, nor can I pinpoint precisely when it happened, but once the floodgates were open, I began to understand why my therapist said her patients wanted to be more like me. Feeling emotions is not easy. And staring them down the face is outright scary.
As my work continued in therapy – and in my day-to-day life – it became evident that self-awareness and expressing emotions is crucial to one’s health – physical, emotional and mental. When we pay attention to how we think and how we feel, we begin to better understand ourselves and our behaviors. And when we are self-aware, we are less likely to let our feelings affect unrelated things. While it’s unrealistic to think that we will be perfect in this regard, the good news is that even if our emotions affect our behavior, we are more likely to understand why.
For example, after yelling at my children, I try to take a step back and think about the situation and if my reaction matched the circumstances. Inevitably, I sometimes noticed that I overreacted. And if I dug deeper, I would occasionally realize that feelings like anger, frustration or sadness were from other unrelated things. I totally displaced these feelings on my daughters. It would be easy to ignore what transpired and simply pretend that my behavior was no big deal. But in situations like this, not only did I feel compelled to apologize, I believed it was a teachable moment and shared what was behind my unwarranted behavior.
By apologizing and sharing with our children how our own emotions about other things affect our relationship with them, they can gain many important life lessons, such as:
- A simple apology, and perhaps an explanation, can get things back on track.
- People are not perfect. And when mistakes happen, the world doesn’t come crashing down. And those who love you can forgive you.
By sharing our own feelings with our children, we give them permission to feel their feelings. And we open the door to being able to teach and speak with them about their feelings.
When our daughters are upset or angry (or feeling any negative emotion), as their mother we often feel compelled to help them feel better. But this is a disservice. It sends the message that they should brush off their feelings, which is the complete opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. Our goal is to validate our daughter’s feelings. We want them to know that we respect what they are feeling, and understand it may be difficult to manage those emotions. When your daughter feels that she is being seen, heard, and valued, you are giving her the sustenance and strength she needs to move forward.
Let’s look at an example of how not to respond versus how to respond.
After getting cut from the team, your daughter may stomp her feet or pound her fists as she screams, “It’s not fair!”
- Yeah, I’m not sure why they cut you, but your friend (insert name) made it. You are better than she is.
- Don’t worry, you always have painting. You’re an incredible artist.
- Life isn’t fair. The sooner you realize it the better.
- These things happen for a reason. I’m sure something good will come out of it.
A helpful response:
“I hear you stomping your feet and crying. You must be angry. It must have been upsetting to get cut from the team, especially after you spent so much time practicing.”
In this response, you are connecting feelings (anger and sadness) with the situation (working hard and not succeeding), as well as actually naming the emotions. This approach fosters your daughter’s development of emotional skills.
After our daughters are able to identify their feelings, they will then need to learn how to deal with these uncomfortable feelings. Click here for 10 Healthy, Actionable Coping Mechanisms – Ways to Calm Down.