The material in this series of 24 x blogs with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network. They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.
Feelings can be uncomfortable. This is true of the feelings we have ourselves as well as the ones other people show us. We often find feelings difficult to cope with because we were not allowed to show them when we were little. Keeping feelings locked away is not healthy – it is much better to be able to show them in ways that don’t hurt others. It is also often valuable to help others express their feelings too – especially those closest to us, like our familes.
Feeling good about ourselves
We can’t help anyone else feel good about themselves if we don’t feel good about ourselves. We need to like who we are and what we do.
We can help ourselves by making sure that we do things we enjoy and that make us feel good. Those close to us can also do nice things for us and help us, but we can’t expect them to mind read, so telling them what we like and want is important.
Another way we can improve the way we think about ourselves is by replacing the voice in our heads that tells us off with a voice that says encouraging things, and by imagining ourselves strong and competent.
We never grow up
Part of making sure we feel good about ourselves is looking after the child that is always inside us. However grown up we may be, there is always a young part somewhere inside that needs to be loved and to come out to play again.
Accepting the way others feel
Many people find it hard to cope with feelings – their own as well as those of other people. Often when we are near someone getting very upset or angry, or perhaps even being very joyful, we feel uncomfortable or awkward. Sometimes another person showing their feelings triggers similar emotions that we usually manage to keep locked away inside ourselves – often feelings that it was not all right to show when we were little. Our discomfort NOW may be related to the discomfort we felt then, when we learned to deny or `put away’ the way we felt.
Keeping our feelings locked away is not only uncomfortable, it is also not very useful. At best it makes it more difficult for us to relate to what is going on around us, and at worst, we can be so out of touch with our feelings that we don’t even recognise what is going on inside us.
It is important to acknowledge the feelings those around us – those they express as well as those they try to hide. By listening to those around us, and when we acknowledge their feelings, we send out a message that says `you are important’. We make them feel the way we would like to feel ourselves.
When dealing with children, it is even more vitally important to acknowledge the reality of their feelings, because the way they are treated in the present affects not only how they feel here and now, but also lay down patterns of response for their later adulthood. If we deny children’s feelings, and criticise them for showing them, not only may it teach them to bury their feelings, it will also affect the way they think about themselves. If you acknowledge a child’s pains, worries, fears and tempers, you are acknowledging them and their right to feel. If you deny them and their right to feel, you will make it difficult for them to feel good about themselves.
Most children, and many adults find it difficult to express their feelings appropriately. In these cases we can help them recognise the way they feel by saying it the way it looks to us – for example: “You look upset”, “You seem sad”, “Boy, you sound angry.”
Destructive feelings pose a slightly more difficult problem. Feelings need to be expressed, and not denied – but sometimes creative solutions are needed, for instance: “You sound really frustrated. It’s okay to show it, and I think it’s unfair to take it out on us. How about going and shouting somewhere else?”
Or: “I can see that you’re very angry, and I’m sure you must have a good reason to feel that way, but perhaps if you went for a little walk outside you’ll come up with a more constructive way of resolving this issue.”
When we were forced to deny our feelings as children, we never learned positive or alternative ways of coping with them, and this pattern can persist into adulthood. The emotions our parents had difficulty allowing us to express usually become the emotions we struggle to deal with in others. Examples of these situations:
- A father who is frightened of his own anger may have difficulty dealing with his child’s temper.
- A mother who was never allowed to run, tumble or climb freely, may have difficulty in accepting her child’s physical energy.
Manipulation of Emotions
The patterns of response we have as adults were probably taught to us by our parents while we were children. For example, a dislike of insects probably came from the reaction of a parent or a significant other in our lives when we were young.
We watched others react in a certain way, and because of our love and respect for that person, we `believed’ their reaction, and adopted it as our own. Some of these patterns were very subtle, while others may have been quite overt, and in the form of clear messages.
There are two things to be learned from this. In the first place, if we have children, or deal with children in any way, we can cultivate an awareness of the way we influence their feelings, and the way they express their feelings. We can consciously `allow’ them to have their own feelings, and not `give’ them ones they don’t have.
Secondly, by gaining an awareness that our original patterns of response were learned in the first place, we discover that we are able to change the ones we don’t particularly want or like, and we can keep the ones we do like. We become aware of the powerful fact that we have the freedom to choose, in many cases, how we feel about things.
Accepting your own emotions
As you start to get into the habit of accepting other people’s feelings, it is also important to become more accepting of your own. Just as we suggested you acknowledge the feelings of others, you could usefully do the same with your own at times.
Saying “I’m fed up” or “I feel great”, even without any explanation is a good way to let others know what is going on. It will not only get you more in touch with yourself, but send the message that it’s okay to say how you feel, and those around you will begin to feel more comfortable about being honest about the way they feel.
Labels and expressing feelings
Some people tend to label other people’s behaviour because they don’t find it easy to express their own feelings instead. They might say : “You are rotten” when they really mean “I really feel hurt by what you’ve just done.” So when they try to stop using labels and just describe behaviour they feel frustrated.
When Jim’s secretary didn’t type an important letter he needed desperately, he bravely controlled his exterme irritation and said “You still haven’t typed the letter” instead of shouting and calling her ‘stupid’ as he would have liked to have done. But he found that he grew even more angry and frustrated. He hadn’t been able to express or give vent to the way he felt either by labelling the secretary or by saying how he felt …
He would probably have felt better if his response had been:
“That was an extremely important letter, and the delay at getting it in the post may havwe serious consequences for the business. I feel very frustrated and angry at the moment!”
A sad but very true thing about labels is that they tend to be self-fulfilling. If you tell someone often enough that they are stupid, they will doubtless become stupid before too long.
The act of labelling does offer some relief to the one doing the labelling. That is because labels are usually negative, and expressed in anger. Being able to label or name something can therefore have the effect of relieving some of the stress, anger or tension in the person who feels wronged, but it invariably creates great distress in the other party.
The most desirable outcome is for the angered or upset party to express how they feel without labelling or causing distress to anyone else. At first this may seem quite difficult, but the dividends in terms of improved relationships makes the effort at creativity worthwhile.
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The material in this series of 12 x blogs with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network. They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.