Processing emotions is hard for MOST people. Very few of us have been taught how to work through our emotions in healthy ways, including grief. Most of us ignore them, push them down or blow up after letting them build up inside. We respond this way because we haven’t learned healthy ways to process our emotions; we tend to repeat what we’ve learned growing up even if it’s not effective.
God created emotions to help us
God gave us emotions to help guide us, much like a GPS system. When we can see our emotions as giving us valuable information that we can learn and grow from, it helps us be a compassionate friend to ourselves. When emotions come up, it is healthy to stop and listen instead of judging or pushing those emotions away. Instead, step back and ask yourself questions such as:
- What is going on inside me?
- What do I need?
- What message is this emotion sending that I need to pay attention to?
- What can I do to address the problem my emotions are telling me about?
- How can I help soothe and calm myself in this moment?
One of the ways to help us become emotionally mature is to allow ourselves to notice and have our emotions (even the upsetting ones), name them if possible, and express them in ways that are not harmful to ourselves or others.
Being in touch with our emotions helps us stay connected
This process helps lower the intensity of our emotions and calms our system down. When we do this, we will be more connected to ourselves and others and will often move through our painful emotions more quickly. Understanding our emotions reduces confusion and helps us come up with solutions. Our feelings aren’t bad; instead, it is the actions we take when we are having strong emotions that can get us into trouble, not the emotions themselves.
How do I help children talk about their feelings?
Here’s 4 steps that will help:
1. Buy some books about feelings and read with them so they can begin to understand and identify their feelings.
2. Help them label their emotions. Our children need us to help them understand what they are feeling and what to do with their emotions. Their feelings often come quickly and intensely, and they often can’t label them. Most children are able to pick their emotions from a list.
Here’s a possible conversation:
Parent: “What you are going through is very hard. Are you feeling sad, anxious, confused, or something else?”
Child: “I’m sad. I’m not confused.”
Child: “No, it’s none of those.”
Parent: [You ponder what else he could be feeling.] “Are you feeling hopeless, hurt, frustrated, or something else?”
Parent: “Oh, I’m so sorry that you were hurt by what happened. That does sound really hard. What hurt the most?”As we help them label their emotions, we can then help them learn to have compassion for themselves and what they are going through. Click To Tweet
3. Express empathy for our children in their struggles. Ask yourself: “What would it be like to be my child in that situation?” not “What would it be like to be me in that situation?” Think about who they are as a person, what they’ve been through, and what their temperament is like.
Example: The first day of school for a child who is shy is much different than for a child who feel comfortable with lots of people.
- Validate their experience
- Don’t shut them down with platitudes
- Don’t give them a pep talk that invalidates their feelings
- Encourage them for being brave. Let them know you’ll pray for them and are so glad they shared
4. Reflect back their feelings in an empathetic way. Let them know you heard them and the depth of their pain. Say, “Oh, that was really hard for you. You were really afraid / embarrassed / sad / angry. You wish that had never happened. You are really struggling right now. You wish your friend treated you fairly.”
When kids tell us a tough story and are met with a listening ear and empathy, their feelings become more manageable. They don’t feel so alone in their pain and are able to calm down more quickly. When they feel connected to you emotionally, they will feel safer with their emotions and want to share them with you. If we respond by saying something like, “Don’t worry about that, it will be okay, that’s no big deal,” they will close up and stop sharing with you.
Don’t worry if this is a growth area for you
Here’s the good news. If you haven’t been taught how to process your emotions in healthy ways, you can learn. It’s not too late to learn more about your own emotional world and help your friends and loved ones learn about theirs. Don’t get down on yourself for having trouble with your emotions, and take active steps to learn how.
Reading books (both my books have valuable information about working with your emotions, and processing grief), seeing a counselor and talking with God and safe friends about your emotions are good places to start.
I’d love to hear from you!
What jumped out at you from this post? How do you like others to respond when you’re struggling emotionally? What’s an area you’d like to work on emotionally emotionally?
Please leave a comment below and share with those who could benefit via e-mail or on social media.