Resisting Emotion

Monday was the first full day of summer vacation for my kids. Now, the first week of break is often punctuated by adjustment bumps in the road as I try to make my work day WORK for us and the kids realize they will still have to do SOME of the things they don’t really want to do, but this Monday, WOW. My daughter was dreadful. Just dreadful. Everything was an argument. Everything caused outrage. Everything I said or did was unjust, stupid, and mean. This went on all day.

By the time her Dad got home, I was completely finished. I let him know he was welcome to take over and began licking my wounds by giving myself a foot rub with some coconut foot cream (heavenly). He got a taste of it too, which I admit was a bit of a relief. When I went upstairs to say goodnight, she seemed different, quiet and reflective rather than poised for battle.

Slide1I asked her if something was wrong. I asked her if there was something going on that was making her so angry. She took a deep breath and said: “Mommy, I’m just so sad. But I don’t want to be sad, so I keep trying to NOT be sad and be happy and this is what’s coming out instead.” Yep, there it is. We were at a funeral for my uncle yesterday, and while they weren’t close, the echoes to my Dad’s funeral a few months ago were powerful, and she felt them, or almost felt them and then did what we so often do. She decided she was not having it. She decided she would NOT be sad because she wanted to be happy. She did this by simply stuffing that sadness, trying to shove it into a teeny tiny little box, just like UniKitty in the Lego Movie. (For the uninitiated, UniKitty is a determined happy pusher who has a few clear moments of rage resulting from bottled up negative emotions.) It didn’t work for UniKitty, and it didn’t work for my daughter. So instead of being sad for a few minutes, or for a little while, she had a day of rage (rage might be strong, but it was pretty dramatic).

I reminded her that it is okay to be sad. She said, “But I don’t want to be sad!” I asked if she wanted to be angry. And then I told her about the beach ball. This analogy comes from Brooke Castillo and I really think it’s just perfect. Imagine your emotion is a beach ball. When you try not to feel it by shoving it away, it is just like trying to hold a beach ball under the water. What happens? My daughter indicated that she sits on beach balls to hold them under the water (very telling) because she’s not big enough to do it with her arms, so she puts ALL of herself into it. She resists with EVERYTHING she’s got. It’s not just an analogy; she really is that way. I asked her what happens eventually… she admitted that even with her WHOLE self involved, she can’t keep the beach ball under the water and it eventually shoots up, dumping her, and flies into the air. The resistance, holding the ball under the water, just creates pressure. The pressure builds and eventually overpowers us, just like Unikitty.

I suggested that maybe just being sad for a little while would be better than being furious ALL DAY (like, at me, kid). She was dubious but didn’t yell at me, so that felt like progress.  It was so interesting to me to see such a clear example and to have it laid out in such simple terms. Adults go through much more trouble to hide from their feelings, and usually throw some exceptionally good storytelling in on top of it: “I don’t have time for that. Feeling bad isn’t productive. I should be more positive. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just get over it?” We throw those stories on top of the feeling to be sure we get the double beat down of feeling badly AND berating ourselves for it. And then maybe we overeat or drink or get lost in a social media rabbit hole to numb out, or we explode like my daughter and take it all out on the innocents (or mostly innocent) around us. It’s like a rotten onion, layer after stinking layer.

Slide2And for what? Just so we don’t have to feel a feeling, a vibration, an emotion. Doesn’t that seem like an expensive trade-off? What would happen if we just stopped resisting how we feel? What would happen if we just felt it for a minute or two? I know, we’ve got all of these stories about why that’s a problem, but I have to say, this other way, holding the beach ball under the water, it isn’t working. Maybe all of those stories are wrong. Maybe you can trust yourself to feel for a minute or two. Maybe there’s a reason we work like that. Maybe you’ll feel better if you let that happen. Maybe then you won’t yell at your Mom and have to apologize at bedtime.

If you are pretty sure that you haven’t been feeling your feelings, but you are unsure about how to begin, I’d love to help.

 

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