We are relational beings. As we grow up, we know ourselves by how our parents and the adults in our environment help us to organize our experiences.
Some of us were fortunate enough to receive this kind of reﬂection, empathy and organization, and some of us were not. What we experience early tends to have repercussions later in life. This self-esteem ‘ripple effect’ emerges from contact with others with whom we bond. As others close to us form their perceptions of us, they, in turn, help us to see ourselves.
In my last article, “Earning Security” published in the Love & Marriage Works September newsletter, I examined one of the most important needs we have as adults: working with ourselves to earn security and to raise secure children. This is how we organize our feelings. Organizing feelings is such an important topic that I wanted to dive deeper into.
“Organize: To focus attention on; to take responsibility for arranging and putting in order.”
As I described in Earning Security, some of us easily focus attention on hunger. ‘I feel hungry; I need to eat.’ We can also easily organize our feelings of exhaustion. ‘I feel tired; I need to sleep.’
Just as importantly, we can help organize these experiences in our children. ‘Honey, you’re feeling tired. After you take your nap, and you’ll feel so much better.’ Once we have learned to recognize our own basic needs and emotions (anger, sadness, fear or guilt), we will more easily be able to do this for our children as well as for those with whom we share other close relationships.
Damaging ways to organize feelings and words to your little ones include:
- “Big girls don’t cry.”
- “Big boys don’t cry.”
- “Boys don’t cry.”
- “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
- “You don’t feel that.”
- “Stiff upper lip.”
- “What is wrong with you, why would you feel those feelings?”
- “That is a stupid feeling to have.”
- “Get it together.”
- “I’ll give you three seconds to stop those feelings, three… two…one.”
Constructive ways to help them organize their feelings include:
- “It is okay to feel that.”
- “Let yourself feel that.”
- “Take all the time you need to feel that.”
- “You are feeling ............ (anger, sad, afraid, guilty) because…......”
- “It’s okay to have your feelings, let’s make sure you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.”
- “It is not okay to hurt yourself or anyone else.”
- “This is a safe place to have your feelings, this is not.”
- “I will stay with you while you are having these difficult feelings.”
Guidance, education and problem-solving are all important tasks to pursue after helping to organize our children’s experiences.
Feelings are energy. Energy moves because that is its nature. When we suppress emotional energy or distract ourselves from it by over indulging in alcohol, work, food, shopping, etc…, that emotional energy doesn’t simply go away. In time, it can make itself known in negative ways such as hostility, depression, anxiety, shame, abandonment, exhaustion or misery. This is why it is so important to make the distinction between feelings and the behaviors that may emanate from them. While feelings are energy, behaviors represent the ways we choose to express our emotional energy.
For example, anger is a feeling (energy); abuse is a behavior. Rage is a feeling (energy); violence is a behavior. Because we feel rage does not mean we will choose to be violent. We can’t choose our feelings, but we can choose our behaviors. When a young child has a tantrum, he or she is moving emotional energy. Life can be challenging and frustrating at times, so it’s not all that inappropriate to have a tantrum from time to time. Once that emotional energy has moved, however, we return to a state of love. Love is the natural state of human beings. We can see how easily our children do this by observing our children’s expression and movement, especially when they perceive something to be wrong. As we help them organize their experience, it allows them to move this energy in safe ways, returning each and every time to a state of love.
Writing, talking out loud, crying, movement, rapid breathing, yelling, and other similar behaviors are all ways to move our emotional energy or feelings. Anger, sadness, fear and guilt are important feelings to recognize. By giving attention to our emotional energy and allowing it to move, we can return to a state of love. And it is after the externalization of emotions that we can begin to really understand our needs.
We all are responsible for managing our own emotional energy. The more adept we become at attending to and organizing our feelings and experiences, the more balance and joy we will feel in our lives. As a lovely consequence of mastering this in ourselves, we can more easily help our children organize and understand their emotional experiences.
When people are in a state of love and balance, they rarely go to excesses. If, however, we indulge in alcohol, drugs, food (over-eating or under-eating) to excess, we can be sure we are experiencing feelings that have not been expressed, realized, nor organized.
Reaching this state of love and balance involves using our Emotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence is in play when we are aware of when and how we are avoiding our true, core experiences, all the while possessing the tools to indentify and externalize our feelings in healthy, appropriate ways.
Do you remember seeing your parents expressing anger, sadness, fear, guilt, joy, happiness, gratitude, or pride in healthy appropriate ways when you were growing up? Or, were some of these feelings judged as bad and wrong? How did you learn to control your own nervous system? Many people grow up unable to express all of the joy, happiness, ecstasy and pleasure that they were feeling. How did your parents react to your feelings?
Our goal is to teach and demonstrate to our children healthy ways to express emotional energy. We want them to find safe places and safe ways to move emotional energy by not hurting themselves nor anyone else. Don’t punish yourself for having feelings and don’t punish your children. Instead, teach them how to be safe with their expression and then help them to organize their experiences. It is scary for young children to have chaotic feelings. They need someone to help them understand what is going on.
We can see the need emotional intelligence as adults, but our partners need it from us as well. Imagine not having had to learn this as adults. Where else would we be putting our attention and energy?
FINDING BALANCE, JOY & LOVE
Neurosis has to with the avoidance of suffering. It is also about avoiding addressing and allowing emotional experiences. A primary need of human beings is to grow and change. Change is natural and brings feelings to the surface that must be addressed. How do we know this when it happens? Symptoms (behaviors) can surface when growth and change are inhibited, such as self-medicating with addictive substances and/or processes.
When children are fighting growth and change, they simply behave differently. They don’t yet possess the skills to express to you that they need attention and often send miscues by……. (please explain what this means…).
Wholeness, health, balance, joy, are all about externalizing our feelings by coming to know ourselves. As I mentioned earlier, our children come to know themselves by being known by us. If you have any questions about how to do this, I encourage you to take my class, Raising Secure Kids, or attend my upcoming group, Wired For Joy/ Wired for Freedom.
“Wired For Joy,” Laurel Mellin
“Love and War in Intimate Relationships,” Stan Tatkin
“Parenting from the Inside Out,” Daniel Siegel
“The Way to Vibrant Health,” Alexander Lowen