Big emotions. F*ck yeah, I’m going there.
**Personal Note: Before we get started, I need you to know that I had written this whole post and then foolishly forgot to click SAVE, and then I lost it all. I cried many tears and felt sad and angry. Then, I took a moment to pull myself together, got a hug from Jason, and started this post all over again. I had been working on it for about three days when I deleted it, and this post pulls on a lot of my personal emotional strings. All of that is to say that this was a difficult post to write, but my hope is that it inspires a lot of “aha” moments for you. I have a firm belief that understanding and teaching our children to understand feelings and emotions is critical!**
Get ready to feel very uncomfortable while reading this post. I’m going to break the seal open on BIG EMOTIONS. This conversation comes up in about, uh… 100% of my coaching client sessions. Through years of working with families, I have come to realize that my mission in life is to help families understand and move through mega emotions. That is my calling. So, I am answering. Here’s the debut post on this tricky topic. Maybe I’ll call this post“Emotions and Feelings 101.” In this post, we will identify who is in control of emotions and feelings, discuss the difference between an emotion and a feeling, and take a brief look at all the different feelings we feel!
Who is responsible for your feelings? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I would like to build this blog upon two foundational understandings:
1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
This is the first of ten axioms of William Glasser’s Choice Theory. My coaching is firmly rooted in this theory. Simply stated, no one can “make” you feel anything. Learning how to own and move through your emotions and feelings is in your control. (Same goes for your children.)
2. The only person’s emotions/feelings we are responsible for are our own.
If we are only in control of ourselves, that means we are now only responsible for controlling our own emotions and feelings. You cannot “make” your child feel anything. You are responsible for creating space to respond and listen to your child’s feelings rather than trying to fix them.
Now that we are all on the same page about who is in control, let’s break down feelings versus emotions. These are two-sides of the same coin, but they are still very different from one another. Understanding both and how they work is a pretty magical tool on it’s own. (Learning to say “I feel…” not “I am…” is another amazing realization that I will dig deep into in a later blog.)
According to Merriam-Webster:
EMOTION (noun): a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.
FEELING (noun): an emotional state or reaction, (adjective) showing emotion or sensitivity.
In other words, an emotion is evoked by a trigger. A feeling is the expression of that emotion. Emotions are pretty standard and set, but the feeling is unique to the person. Consequently, understanding the difference and how they apply is HUGE when working with any other person, and especially when working with children. We all have the emotion “sad,” but how each person experiences feeling sad is vastly different.
Finally, I want to look at ALL the different feelings that we can feel. While doing this research, I was reminded of a chart that I’ve always used. This chart is a visual chart of feelings with tiny cartoon faces emoting the labeled feelings (see above). When I went to look back at this chart, I started to take notice of the positive, negative, and neutral feelings. (Neutral can be either sad or happy depending on the emotion that is evoking it. So, you can be feeling “hysterical,” evoked by either sadness or happiness.)
If you take a look at all of the many feelings that we feel, you’ll see that about 75% are negative feelings. Five out of thirty are obviously positive (happy, confident, lovestruck, hopeful, and ecstatic), three out of thirty are dependent on the emotion evoked (surprised, hysterical, and shy), and twenty-three out of thirty are negative feelings (shocked, anxious, bored, jealous, lonely, hopeful, overwhelmed, depressed, smug, cautious, ashamed, enraged, frightened, disgusted, mischievous, embarrassed, sad, frustrated, angry, suspicious, guilty, confused, and exhausted).
I had this exact chart hanging in my classroom. I’d be willing to bet this chart hangs in a lot of classrooms. Clearly, we are aware that these feelings exist, yet we adults work really hard to push children back into feeling “happy” quickly. I strongly suggest that we adults needs to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. We need to help children identify the difference between all their feelings and teach them how to move through them consciously.
Think of how many times someone around you is hurting and how fast you say “Oh it will be okay, don’t worry" with all the right intentions. Or if you’re child falls and gets a scrapped knee, you say “Get up, you’re okay. You’re tough.” By doing this, you are dismissing their feelings quickly in an attempt to move them back into feeling “happy”. Children’s feelings quickly get discounted as not being real, often leaving them feeling confused and self-doubting. Then, we grow up. Still feeling these emotions and unsure how to process through them positively.
This is the space that Be Kind Coaching occupies. I work with parents to help them understand that their children’s feelings are valid. Then, we work together to build the processes to work through these feelings. This is the work that I do time and time again. Humans feel lots of feelings, and the desire to teach others how to work through them in healthy ways is at the core of my very existence. To me, you cannot decorate the house until the foundation is rock-solid. The foundation is social and emotional health!
Growing up, I spent many years as an out-of-control, explosive child. I remember having HUGE outbursts of poor behavior. I was sent to my room many times, spanked, grounded, shamed, and blamed. These were all tools that my parents were using to try to force me to comply to them. It just made things so much worse, and it ultimately fractured my relationship with them. I was left feeling confused, angry, lonely, misunderstood, and unloved. It wasn’t until I started working with children as an adult that I learned that when a child is having a tantrum, they are communicating an unmet need or a misunderstanding.
I learned that when you can work towards understanding what is going on first and then build a system that helps children gain control over their choices and the consequence of those choices, truly amazing things happen. Children who were explosive and misunderstood instantaneously start to feel calm and understood.. With a LOT of patience, flexibility and compassion, tempers started to calm. Outbursts became few and far between, and connection truly blossomed. Validating someones feelings is so important for healthy connection to grow.
Thinking about the value of understanding our emotions and feelings as human beings remind me of what one boss said to me when I turned in my two weeks notice.
“MegAnne, it’s not always about your feelings. That’s not how life works.”
And to be honest, I could not disagree more.