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Feeling all the feels

2017 July 26
by Rachel Turiel

I am sprawled on the couch in post-everything formation: post-beer, post-dinner, post-bell curve plummet of my own energy. I am reading to the kids, who are similarly sprawled at the end of their own long, lovely summer day.

“The thing is,” Rose interrupts, “part of the reason I was so disappointed is because I was so excited for Summer Soccer Fun. And then I felt like crying on the field.” I immediately close our book and breathe some space into the collapsing tunnel of my 9pm mind.

“Summer Soccer Fun” is a weekly, informal community soccer game which Dan coaches and refs, open to everyone. It’s one of the highlights of our week – all these little bodies passionately chasing a ball. (I’m always so impressed with the girls, because when a ball comes towards me, I run the other way).

Tonight was a hard game for Rose. The one other girl who is reliably there was out of town. Some intimidatingly good, new boys showed up. Her shorts split within the first quarter. She didn’t play her best.

I scroll through all my possible responses, the explanations, the reassurances, the advice-giving, none of which actually say: I hear your pain. And admittedly, there is a part of me that has a slight agenda for both of my children to be the next Dalai Lama. So, when I see their discouragement, their quickness to second-guess themselves, how they can be derailed by self-doubt I can feel disappointed that their Bodhisattva training is not quite complete.

And yet, Rose is making it easy for me by naming her feelings rather than launching small emotional missiles at innocent family members, as we all tend to do when inside the claustrophobic storm of our own pain. (i.e. my pain becomes your fault because that feels better than sitting with my pain). Great, short, funny video from Brené Brown on blame here.

“I get it, sweetie,” I tell her. “You were so excited all day for soccer, and then it didn’t go how you wanted, that made it extra disappointing. You really missed having Carson there. Sounds like it feels really supportive and more comfortable when there’s even just one other girl.”

There’s nothing to fix. Just feelings to acknowledge and allow.

We’re cool with all the feelings around here. All of them. Rose tells me about her nervousness on the first day of camp and how it feels like a stomachache. Col shares that he’s jealous when it seems other kids have parents who just take them to Walmart and buy them things. Dan told me yesterday that he felt embarrassed. The kids know that I can get overwhelmed and overstimulated when they decide to perform a Journey tribute on kazoo at 7:00am.

When the kids name rather than act out a feeling, it’s like a 911 call to my brain: Stop, listen, empathize. This is not to say that the path is always direct. Last night we had to employ some high level sleuthing to determine that Col’s verbal smackdown towards Rose was due to anger over her ending a game abruptly, hours ago. Of course it helps when I remember I’m not a Mama wolf who needs to bite my child into submission. We try to investigate the emotional missiles by looking into what needs aren’t being met in the moment. (“She ended the game. I was mad. I had a need for consideration.”) Because, focusing on the behavior rather than what’s behind it is like trailing the wrong culprit in a crime, i.e. you’ll never solve it.

Brené Brown, writes in her latest, bestselling book, Rising Strong, that acknowledging and allowing feelings is a characteristic of the most resilient people. “We cannot selectively numb emotions,” Brown says. “When we numb the painful emotions we also numb the positive emotions.”

The comedian Louis CK explains that he won’t get his kids cell phones because every time they’re sad, they’ll reach for their phone as a distraction instead of dealing with their sadness. About a sorrowful moment, he says “I cried so much. And it was beautiful. You’re lucky to live sad moments.”

Lisa Feldman Barrett, neuroscientist, has discovered that the more accurately we can pinpoint an emotion, distinguishing between alarm, concern, unease, rather than general “awfulness,” the more likely we are to manage our stress without aggression or addiction. She cites studies that show cancer patients have lower levels of harmful inflammation when they more frequently categorize, label and understand their emotions.

And really, feelings are like the engine light in your car, simply an indicator that something needs our attention. For instance, children’s boredom can be a sign that they’d love an opportunity to contribute, to know their lives have purpose; resentment can indicate a need to be heard; doubt might be a flag pointing to a wish for support and encouragement.

And just like the weather, emotions pass. If we get comfortable with temporary storms of jealousy, anger, fear and despair, giving each feeling compassion, it’s less likely we’ll act on these emotions, which is where we often cause suffering to others. If we “name it to tame it,” as psychologist Daniel Siegel suggests (by simply naming the emotion), it diffuses the charge, making us less likely to numb ourselves with food, exercise, alcohol and drugs, shopping, busyness, withdrawal or blame. It’s no wonder addiction has been called an emotional disease.

And really, this is all good news. Sitting through a rollicking emotional storm is uncomfortable, even scary at times. But, if all our efforts towards stopping the weather of our children’s emotions are put towards care for their pain, amazing things happen. When disappointment comes unbidden (losing at a board game, plans fall through), we can help our children recognize and greet an old friend.  Oh it’s you, disappointment. New neural pathways are built and strengthened. Trust is built. And the path to peace becomes more direct.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Mollie permalink
    July 26, 2017

    Love how you wrap up an inspiring message in something fun to read.

  2. Ellen permalink
    July 26, 2017

    You’ve done so much research and have had so much valuable experience, perhaps you have a book in your future on helping children be healthy and wise.

  3. July 26, 2017

    Best line: “And admittedly, there is a part of me that has a slight agenda for both of my children to be the next Dalai Lama.” :) The rest was helpful, practical, and hopeful.

  4. Molly B Wieser permalink
    July 26, 2017

    Have you been observing my daughter and I for science? How could you know our struggles so precisely? Thank you for the incredible tips for not being a Mama Wolf. Congratulations for spelling Bodhisattva and using it in a funny, touching relevant way.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      July 27, 2017

      There must be some universality in mothering the tween girl child.

  5. Just Me permalink
    July 27, 2017

    Lisa Feldman Barrett did not discover “that cancer patients have lower levels of harmful inflammation.” She cites this discovery (by other scientists) in her book, “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain.”

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      July 27, 2017

      Thanks for this important clarification.

  6. John Schiffel permalink
    July 27, 2017

    Enjoying exploring the RSA YouTube videos. Good call; including that link.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      July 27, 2017

      Oh good! As Brené Brown says, we are a storytelling species.

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