Start with the Heart: Responding to Our Children’s Overwhelming Emotions with Love.

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I remember, at age 9, I declared I would never forget what it felt like to be 9. Each year after, I reminded myself…..I will never be one of those adults who can’t remember how it feels to be a kid.

I often felt, misunderstood.

I often felt out of control.

I felt voiceless.

I felt angry.

I didn’t feel I had a right to…..FEEL.

My misguided attempts at showing how I felt at any given time, were met with anger, discipline, and usually a blow up big enough that I learned my lesson……feeling was not okay. I needed to get it together.

This was not the lesson my parents wanted me to learn. Of this, I am sure. They wanted me to show respect. They wanted me to know my place. They wanted me to deal with my feelings, in a healthy, productive way. The problem was….they didn’t deal with their feelings in a healthy, productive way. They weren’t taught healthy coping skills, so we weren’t taught healthy coping skills. I mean, let’s be honest, “healthy coping skills” weren’t a top priority in a lot of families when we were growing up. But when you know better you do better right?

Now we know…. it’s a cycle. If we fail to recognize the cycle, we fail to connect with our children.

The reality is….many parents aren’t comfortable with feelings.

“Calm down”.

“Stop crying”.

“Don’t get so worked up”.

“Go to your room until you can get a hold of yourself”.

“Relax”

These are all ways we discard the uncomfortableness of feelings. These are all statements to give us the perception that we have control. We don’t.

Feelings are feelings. They aren’t bad, or good….right or wrong.

They just are.

We get taken off guard by feelings, when they come from our kids. Considering we have been having feelings since we were born, one would think that we would go straight to empathy…..one would be wrong. Our reaction can be largely dictated by how we were received when we had intense feelings. Were we taught that our feelings were expected….even welcomed?

Yes, of course….good feelings are always welcome aren’t they?

We welcome happy.

We welcome proud.

We welcome loving.

We welcome excited.

But it’s how we deal with the not so positive feelings that define us as a parent. What are the messages our children are receiving about their negative feelings? Are they allowed to have negative feelings?

How do we deal when our kids are sad? “Stop crying”.

How do we deal when our kids are mad? “Do you need to go to your room to calm down”?

How do we deal when our kids are frustrated? “You need to relax”!

When my kids were little, dealing with their feelings, seemed much easier. Smaller children don’t have as much expectation on them to “handle their feelings” in an appropriate manner, that we deem acceptable. We tend to expect the tantrums, and the meltdowns. They even give us a chance to shine our parenting light! Let’s use that knowledge we just brushed up on in the parenting book we were reading. Looky there…..it works! That isn’t to say it is easy, by any stretch of the imagination….just different.

Then, our little sweet buttercups become tweens and teens. Their feelings become a bit more convoluted. Their feelings aren’t so easy to figure out. Their feelings show themselves in behavior a bit more. That behavior can look disrespectful and just like that, our sweet little buttercups have turned into sassholes.

Those sassholes can elicit bad behavior from us as parents….depending on how comfortable with feelings we are. Time to ask ourselves some hard questions.

What are the cycles in your family of origin around feelings?

How did your parents deal with their own feelings?

Are you proud of how you deal with your own feelings?

Do you mistake mad, sad, or overwhelmed for “disrespectful” before it ever gets to that point?

Do you make room for negative feelings in your house?

Have you taught your children coping skills for negative feelings?

Do you get in a battle for control?

You guys….negative feelings take up a lot of space. If we don’t handle our own negative feelings appropriately, then how can we expect our children to know how to handle theirs?

I work with many kids in my practice as a psychotherapist, and a phrase I use a lot is “start with the heart” when helping them identify what they are feeling.

In my home, I am raising a 14 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. On a regular basis, I get attitude from my teen and tween. This is the norm. I wish I could say, it doesn’t happen in my house because I am all buttoned up.

Nope. It happens.

We love each other through it.

First I take a deep breath. I get to the root of what I am feeling. Because until I am under control, I can not be expected to have a mindful lens to look through.

Then….I start with the heart……

What might my child be feeling underneath all that sass?

What might have gone wrong in their day to elicit this meltdown?

How might they feel out of control right now?

I kneel down to where they are (or up in the case of my 5’6 teenage son).

I put my hand on their back, their leg or wherever they will allow.

I create a connection….remind them they are loved, no matter how they feel right now.

Then, I take all of my good advice. All of my “fixing” behavior….and all of my umpteen years of psychology education and I stuff it.

I choose instead to just name their feeling for them. Just reflect with them on how hard it is to feel this way. I talk about the emotion instead of shining a light on the behavior and how wrong they were for talking to me that way. For a moment, I am in their feeling with them.

Slowly, they soften. We begin to change our alliances. We are working together on figuring out these things called feelings.

We are on the same team.

They have just been validated.

We can now learn new coping skills around these feelings.

This doesn’t eradicate all bad behavior. This doesn’t turn our sassholes into buttercups forever.

What this does, is help preserve the coveted relationship with our growing children.

What this does, is help our children understand that we all have feelings, it’s what we do with those feelings that determines our path in life.

What this does, is position us….as parents in the role of mentor. Look at me….I too, have overwhelming feelings, and I too have to have healthy coping skills to deal effectively with those feelings.

What this does, is create a partnership on their journey. It opens the door to talk about our feelings instead of wish them away or act like they don’t exist.

What this does, is…..pave a path for empathy. The more empathetic we are to our children’s feelings, the more empathetic they will be towards themselves and others in the future. Thereby making relationships easier for them down the road…..all relationships, even the one with themselves.

That’s the goal isn’t it?

 

 

A Beautiful Life Includes Rain

Hospital

Isn’t it amazing, how programmed we are in life? Over and over again, we let our anxiety get us worked up, knowing for damn sure that worry changes nothing. NOTHING. Our bodies are programmed to react with fight or flight. Our cortisol shoots up, our bodies tighten, and our brains are on fire, with worry.

Yesterday, I had a medical procedure done that made my body shudder with fear. Just the name of the procedure, sent shock waves through my entire being. I was scared, no doubt about it. However, my brain knew that rationally I would be fine. Rationally, the pain would be momentary. Rationally, I would get a couple days of rest and relaxation after, and we all want that right?!

It didn’t matter what my brain was telling me, my body knew better. For weeks, I dreaded this procedure. For weeks, my body messed with my brain. I noticed my stomach being tight…. for no reason. My throat constricting….for no reason. My heart racing…..for no reason.

You might be saying to yourself, but you practice Mindfulness, why are you experiencing these reactions still? Because I am human. Mindfulness helps me on a day to day basis, with lessening my reactions to everyday stress. However, we are still human. We still have fear built into us. We still fight to be mindful, when our fear is at its worst, especially if we don’t set a plan for keeping mindfulness on track.

Yesterday was a fight.

The fight reminded me, I am still on a journey.

The fight reminded me, I will still have fear.

The fight reminded me, I am only human.

The fight reminded me, I fear death.

The fight reminded me, I love life.

I…..LOVE……life.

What a beautiful message to land on. I love life. With all of its adversity, fear, negativity, and hardships……I love life.

While I laid on the table with doctors over me, Mindfulness brought me to the place of loving life.

I breathed in gratitude, love, and acceptance. I breathed out through my area of pain. Releasing, fear, anguish, worry, and the fight.

Instant relaxation. You see, while Mindfulness has reprogrammed my brain over the last few years, I hadn’t set any intentions for how I would deal with worry over my health. So my body reverted to old stories, old reactions and old habits. I was a worrier. I feared death, so I worried. My body remembered this, and reacted accordingly, telling my brain to worry. Going forward my intentions are different than how I dealt with this instance of fear.

I will take in information about my health, knowing that it is just more knowledge than what I had before.

I will recognize that knowledge is power.

I will use that knowledge, not to fuel my fear, but to fuel my resolve.

I will use that resolve to calm my body.

I will utilize a calm body to coach my brain.

I will employ my brain, to remind me I LOVE LIFE.

Even these parts of life…..the worry parts, the hard parts, the scary parts. Because, they are going to come friends.

A beautiful life includes rain……a beautiful life includes rain. Lean in to this. As it can guide your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

I finally reached that mindful place, right there on the hospital table. I felt my brain relax, and lean into the pain. I felt my body  release its programming, and I felt my heart swell with a deep, abiding love for my life, for the people in it, and for the future.

I beat fear yesterday, and I realize my peace could have come sooner, had I prepared appropriately. Had I set my intentions, and been mindful of following those intentions, I could have saved myself from days of fighting fear leading up to this.

Intentions are a plan, a plan to succeed. In life, in fear, in adversity. Intentions lay the foundation for a love of life.

My hope for you, is that you are able to use your love of life in all situations of fear.

Meet fear with love. Let love inform your body. Let love inform your brain. Let love lead your fight. Don’t beat yourself up for having fear…..invite the fear in, and meet it with love.

 

 

 

Pieces of Me: Introducing Me to Me.

Ties that bind

Recently, I wrangled my 43 year old ass onto a mountain bike, and faced a fear that I had no idea was a fear until that moment! I felt my anxiety rising, I know this because I began to bark at my husband. I am unteachable in these moments, my mind is shut and I am angry at what I can’t control. My aching rear end continued to feel each rock underneath me and my mind panicked at the large roots that rose from the ground, creating an obstacle that most mountain bikers welcome. I was determined to not let this beat me, determined that I could do this, and determined that I would not grow old quietly!  Well…..it beat me that day, but I managed to find something valuable in it…..and isn’t that what it’s about anyway?

When I was 5 years old, I was playing in the front yard of our home, when our neighbors pulled up to tell my parents that my 7 year old brother had been hit by a car, while riding his bike. What followed for me, was like I was in a dream. The memory truly feels foggy. My sister and I were taken to our neighbor’s house until our Grandma and Grandpa could pick us up. We were unaware at this time, that our brother was being life lined to the Children’s Hospital….and that his life and ours would change forever.

We arrived safely at our Grandma’s house and continued to live there over the next couple months, while my mom and dad stayed at the hospital with my brother. We visited my brother a couple of times during this period, and I recall feeling strangely disconnected from reality during this time. I believe I dissociated. His little fists were balled up, his eyes closed due to severe head trauma that had rendered him in a coma. Bruised from head to to……his lifeless body lay there. Yet all I can recall with certainty that day is my sister sobbing as we walked down the long hallway to return back to our grandparents…..and I remained stoic, independent. A dreamlike state. My life remained as normal as possible. My grandpa drove me back and forth to school, while I pried him with questions that leave adults feeling helpless. “When are mom and dad coming home? Is my brother going to die?” Grandpa did his best to redirect with his always welcome sense of humor. I asked my Grandma if I should start calling her mom now? She quickly hushed me, and encouraged me to never talk about this again, lest it hurt my own mom’s feelings.

Out on the mountain, with my anger yesterday, I met my 5 year old self. My mom always lamented at how independent I was from an early age. It often hurt her feelings, and I was very aware, and am now equipped with a healthy dose of guilt and shame. The story goes, that at age 5, in the spring of the year, while walking to school….I looked at my mom and said “you no longer need to walk with me anymore, I can do it myself”. She was hurt and dejected….and I was free to walk alone, from that day forward. I said this…..after they returned from the hospital with my brother in tow. I had experienced freedom and independence and at age 5, was pretty sure that I was in this alone. The troops had rallied for my brother, and at a selfish young age, this meant I no longer had the spotlight. This would become a theme in my family….there was always a problem, much bigger than me. A problem much too loud to hear what I was saying. Hence, she becomes a writer.

It took a mountain bike and a whole lot of mindfulness for me to meet and understand this part of myself. This bitchy, irritable, impatient self. I have always been fiercely independent, I don’t like to be taught…….anything. I want to learn on my own, at my own pace, in my own style. Yes, I am a joy to behold. This has been a gift and a form of self-sabotage my whole life.

How do I take this self awareness and use it to create change in my life?  I needed to reconcile in my head, which of these coping skills, I learned as a child still serve me as an adult?  Do any of them? Are they working  for me or against me? This required an even closer inspection of my life and my intentions with the ones I love.

  • I want to be able to learn from those I love, not be a know it all.
  • I want to be humble enough to realize the lessons that surround me, not be a closed book.
  • I want to be independent, yet able to lean in to support when I need to.
  • I want to forgive my mom for needing so much when I was a child, not carry resentment.
  • I want to process trauma, not let it guide the decisions I make with my children.
  • I want to parent out of wisdom, not out of reaction to how I was parented.
  • I want to continually challenge myself, not isolate from risk.

I used Mindfulness to look at my irrational fears, raise my self-awareness, and instead of being angry at myself and berating myself over it, I chose to have empathy for myself. Any change I have ever created in my life, has started with empathy for myself and others, in how I came to be at this place.

This is what that looks like: My brother was almost killed on a bicycle before I even learned how to ride without training wheels. The fear that enveloped my family over this, was palpable, understandably so. But it was silent fear…..we didn’t discuss this fear. So, it wasn’t a part of my story that was logged into my consciousness. I have instilled this fear into my children around riding bikes. When I look at my story, it is obvious how I have carried this fear over! For this infraction, I must also have empathy for myself.

The second part of this lesson, is much more impactful. On my bike ride from hell yesterday, I saw myself, like a flash, asking my Grandma if I could call her mom from now on. I could almost feel the moment I disconnected. The moment I became independent at 5 years old. The moment my feelings took a back seat, and for some reason, I decided I was on my own, from then forward   I would figure things out for myself…..and I did, even though it may have taken me longer sometimes. In this, is forgiveness, for my parents, for some of the things I have put on them, that I think belonged to me. But also forgiveness for being independent. When you grow up with a mom who NEEDS, you learn to feel guilty for being independent. Today, I will forgive myself for being disconnected, independent, and stubborn. Today,  I will forgive my mom for needing. I am wise enough to know that my mom needs due to what she missed out on in her childhood. It’s a cycle friends, and we have to be self aware enough to recognize the cycles and break them.

In cultivating gratitude, I am grateful for resiliency. I am grateful for an independent spirit and now knowledgeable enough to realize no one person can do it alone….and I didn’t, and I don’t. Independence is lonely. It took a mountain bike path, and challenging myself for me to be mindful enough to recall this memory. To understand its implications and to garner the lessons I needed to learn from it. Had I resisted the challenge of getting out on that mountain, I would never have discovered this valuable piece of myself. I would never have the chance to give myself compassion, or see independent in a positive light instead of negative. These moments are valuable people. I am also grateful for parents who never left my brothers side in the hospital. Regardless of the changes it created in me, the hospital is where they belonged, and they knew it.

So, I continue to seek. I am seeking those parts of myself that are unknown to me. They are a road map to explain who I am and how I got here. Only these parts can feed the rest of my journey. I will not allow myself to walk with my eyes closed, letting life happen to me. I will face who I am…..who I really am. I will offer compassion when needed, empathy when appropriate and expect better of myself whenever I can.

What coping skills did you develop as a child and why? Are those same coping skills still relevant in the world you are living today? Are you challenging yourself enough to get in touch with those items in your subconscious that haven’t surfaced yet? Can you imagine what you might learn about yourself? Can you imagine how that might affect those in your life currently? We must have the courage to go back, and the resiliency to keep moving forward. Never get stuck my friends, always live your life as a seeker.