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The importance of expressing negative emotions/feelings

August 5th, 2014

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The topic for this week has been inspired by a great book I am reading at the moment, it is called: "Siblings Without Rivalry" by Faber and Mazlish. As a mother of 6-year-old twins, I have to deal with my kids' fighting and bickering and sometimes it drives me off the wall (I am sure many parents can relate). Being a single child I had no experience with having a sibling, so I really wanted to understand my kids and especially find ways to help them improve their relationship in every possible way.

siblings

As it turns out, I am learning many fascinating things about the dynamics of having a sibling, and how the relationship with a sibling can affect the rest of our life, for good or bad. Our parents, as well as our siblings become our first and closest teachers, so the way we interact with them will deeply shape the way we relate with other people and situations later in life.

So, I wanted to delve a little deeper into one of the main messages in this book: The importance of expressing negative emotions! It is quite simple but really profound.

I have always been a strong believer in expressing our emotions, all of them, even the negative ones. However, most people, when they are growing up, are taught to keep those emotions under control by simply repressing them, they are made to feel ashamed of them, to feel something is wrong with them and therefore, on top of having to suppress those emotions (hard enough for a child), they add more negative emotions to the mix: shame, guilt, inadequacy, etc.

Apparently, siblings are the first trigger of negative emotions during childhood because of the inevitable rivalry that arises between them. Experts in the field agree that at the root of siblings rivalry is each child's deep desire for the exclusive love of his parents, simply because parents are the source of all security for a child (food, shelter, warmth, affection, a sense of identity, a sense of worth, etc.) So, the sole presence of another child threatens that security.

So, those feelings are NORMAL and to a certain extent healthy (from a preservation point of view if you wish). Now, the way children learn to deal with those feelings is extremely important for their future, and parents can help a great deal in this learning process. The very first thing to do is validate the child's negative emotion, and that can be very hard for parents.

If a small child says he hates his baby sister, he does not mean it of course, but he is expressing a deep frustration. A very young child may not even have the words to actually say what he is feeling, so he may just push or hit his little sister for no "apparent" reason. In these two scenarios, most parents are likely to respond as follows:

1.- If child says he hates his baby sister:

What a parent may say What the child actually hears and feels
Do not say that! I can't say what I feel (feels repressed)
That is not nice! I am not a nice person (feels guilty, ashamed)
Of course you don't hate her My feelings are not real (feels he cannot trust his feelings)

2.-If child hits his sister:

What a parent may say What the child actually hears

Don't be mean! or
You are a bad boy!

I am a bad person (feels guilty and ashamed)
What is wrong with you! Something is really wrong with me (feels inadequacy and fear)
You can't do that! I can't express what I feel (his feelings are wrong)

So, as a child grows up, he learns to keep his emotions under control by suppressing them, and he internalizes all those messages of guilt, inadequacy, not been good enough, not trusting his feelings, and so on.

Instead, parents could help the child find creative ways to channel his emotions, by first allowing them to be, validating them and letting them know that they understand what he is feeling, without judgment nor criticism. It is very important to make a distinction between allowing feelings and allowing actions. Parents can permit children to express their feelings, but they can't permit them to hurt each other. Parents can help children express their negative feelings without doing damage, and there are many effective ways to do so.

Many of the frustrations and repressed feelings we have as adults came from these childhood moments where we learned that we could not expressed what we felt, whether it was anger, sadness, etc.

Another typical example that causes so much damage (especially in men) is the urge to have boys hold their tears, to learn to suppress them with comments such as:

  • Boys don't cry
  • Don't be a girl (this one is even worse, as it carries within it, a message of great disrespect to girls and therefore to women)
  • You are a big boy now, it is NOT ok to cry (suddenly they are not allowed to feel sad anymore, just like that!)

Ignoring a child when they cry is also very negative, because it gives them the message that their feelings (in this case their sadness) is not important, it's not worthy of attention. Even though as adults we may feel that their crying is over something unimportant, from a child's perspective that something may be truly important.

It is all about simply acknowledging and respecting their feelings, regardless of where they came from.

As adults we will still feel sadness, anger, frustrations, etc. many many times, so we need to first be ok with our feelings, acknowledge them, respect them (self acceptance) and, then know how to channel them in a non-damaging way (self control). These two simple things will give us enormous peace and control over our lives! Remember that Control is not the same as repression.

Also, as adults, if we are not in touch with our feelings (if they are so badly repressed that we don't even feel them anymore), we will not be able to truly relate to other people's emotions, so we will be less capable to establish deep, intimate relationships, and be emotionally present for others.

So, if you want to learn more about the ways you can help your kids and give them some vital tools, or if you wish to better understand the hurts of your own past, I really recommend this book. Click here to see it in Amazon.

And last but not least, it is very important to realize that we are NOT our emotions, we cannot be defined by them, but we ARE entitled to feel them, and we CAN channel them positively!

Have a great week!

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