Few parents have the emotional intelligence to teach their children how to process their own emotions properly. Seems there are a lot of people walking the Earth who don’t know why they have emotions, and don’t know the proper response to those emotions.

My parents had no idea how to deal with their own emotions so they were not capable of teaching me what to do with mine. In fact, as a child I learned that my emotions were powerfully destructive – they had the power to cause a lot of chaos in my home and usually brought anger, retribution, and rejection my way.

As a result, when my strong emotions surface I have had a tendency to overreact to them. I have reacted out of fear – my emotions are NOT OK. All of this has been hidden from me for decades. I have not understood that I was having an anxiety response to my emotions, in effect adding a layer of stress and confusion to every feeling because I had a childlike, immature, hidden belief that my emotions are dangerous and scary.

Now that I have realized what is going on, I have learned how to process my emotions and parent myself through anything that comes up. I know that my emotions, even the very strong ones, are not dangerous. They are OK and normal.  As a result, this has brought a lot of peace and strength into my life and eliminated a lot of fear and chaos.

I have learned that my emotions are not a call to action. They are a signpost of something that has already happened, so I should not react to emotions. When I feel an emotion, I need to give it permission to exist, feel it, and let it move out of my body. Then I need to consider why that particular emotion has come up in me in case there is something I need to learn from it.

I have learned that emotions cannot be shut down, stuffed down, or ignored. Unexpressed emotions live on in your body and fight for release. If they are not expressed, they will come out “sideways” in the form of stress and disease.

As a parent it is my job to teach my kids how to process their emotions, and a big part of that is accomplished when I do not react negatively to my kids’ emotions. My role is to create a space for them to process their emotions until they are mature enough to be able to do it themselves.

A toddler might get angry if I have to separate him from a pleasurable activity. Trying to shut down that emotion is not the right response. Instead, acknowledging that anger and showing him a proper way to express it, then holding him and showing love and quiet confidence in the face of his powerful emotion – that is the right response. It shows the child that his emotion is valid, that he can deal with it appropriately and then let it go, and that his emotion is not dangerous.

If this is not how you learned to handle your emotions, try this technique with yourself the next time a strong emotion comes up. Parent yourself with love – you will start to see amazing changes.

Written by Tina Gasperson

2 Comments

Jim Grey

Your story sounds similar to mine. My parents are children of alcoholics and responded to their chaotic childhoods by creating a pretty controlled and sedate home. My strong emotions, especially non-happy ones, tended to be greeted with horror, and so I learned to stifle them. I ended up being a pretty flat person, emotionally. It got to the point that when I had emotions I efficiently stuffed them and was left with a constant feeling of anxiety. And then I got married and chose someone who was a bully, and her constant nonsense left me eventually numb — and sitting on a mountain of latent rage. It took me years (post divorce) to sort this all out and start to recognize and honor my emotions again. And by honor, I mean like you describe above — to use them as signals, and signals only. They’re like the idiot lights on my car’s dashboard — they give me information I need to help me decide what to do, but I must also use logic and reason with those emotions to find the wisest course of action. Strong emotions really do pass, usually pretty quickly, if I let myself feel them. And then I can think about what activated that emotion and its trigger, and decide what, if anything, to do about the trigger.

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tinagasperson

It’s good that you could figure all this out – it’s a lot of work. I think it is interesting that your parents are ACOA because my parents were the alcoholics, they just responded in kind to my emotions. I’ll see your temper tantrum and raise you the rage of doom, stuff like that. 😉

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