We’ve been programmed through Western thought to believe that emotions are a thing to be either suppressed or only engaged with if it’s an emotion that we deem is “good” — i.e. joy or happiness. But one thing I’m re-learning for myself as I teach Margot how to engage with her emotions is this: we are hard-wired with emotions for a reason, there is no such thing as a “bad” emotion, and it’s always how we respond to those feels that makes the difference.
Margot is nearly three and is in the throws of having all the feels all the time. And there isn’t a face on the earth that’s cuter than hers, even during a tiny melt-down. But what I’ve seen parents often do, and what I myself am tempted to do, is if it’s an emotional response that I find inconvenient, I try to squash, distract, or otherwise wiggle her and I out of that moment without actually processing through it with her and using it as a teachable moment. Here’s the thing:
Emotions properly applied and interpreted reveal what our heart’s response is to a situation. And when we learn how to mine out those depths of our hearts, we become more empathetic, attuned, and a wiser human. If Margot has a meltdown — i.e. not wanting to leave the coffee shop when it’s time to go — that meltdown is a primal response to what she is cognitively believing internally. (We ALL do this.) What she is believing could be any number of things, from “we’ll never come back" to “this book on foxes is more important than getting lunch.” The thought behind the emotion could be valid, or it could be false — but if we never actually address that underlying thought — if I teach her that we don’t actually try to understand those big feelings and process through it — I will instead be teaching her to shut down those emotions and actually do damage by making her senses dull to the depths of her own heart!
I believe we tend to shut things down because we think certain emotions like fear or sorrow are signs of weakness. The reality is, it’s not weak to engage with your own heart. That takes incredible bravery. Imagine an artist who is incapable of understanding and creating from that deep place. Or a scientist who doesn’t actually understand the formulas required to achieve a desired reaction. The more we acknowledge, understand, and respond to the things happening inside, the better we are as humans. It’s what I want for Margot, and for all the rest of us. So I’m working to give myself more grace, Margot more grace, and those around us more grace — and actually understand what’s happening inside that moment of emotion.
Simply put: Let’s have enough courage to feel all the feels, dear ones.