My young niece and nephew were here for a short visit while their parents were out of town.
“I asked Isaac if he misses his mom and dad,” my mom said as we got dinner ready that night. (Isaac is 3.)
“Why do you ask him things like that? You’re just going to upset him!” I responded exasperated.
“I think it’s important to talk to kids about how they feel!” she defended herself. “We should have encouraged that more when you guys were little. Maybe then as an adult, Isaac will understand that it’s ok to talk about feelings!”
Her triumphant reasoning hit me hard. Talk about our feelings? Don’t push them down deep inside? Even when it’s uncomfortable? Who is this woman?
This is not really how we were raised, but we’ve all learned a lot over the past 35 years. As my mom’s family has grown older and her kids have started their own families, it has become clear that being honest about how we feel is maybe not a strength running through our blood.
We have lots of funny stories about people in our family denying the reality of how they feel or how their sons or daughters feel. My grandmother (mother of 9) was notoriously depressed. Among the memories my aunts regularly share, it’s common knowledge that Grandma was in denial about her mental health for years.
This fact made it all the more entertaining when I had a surprisingly frank discussion with one of my uncles last summer and he said, “I didn’t know Mom was depressed!”
Does this sound familiar? I’m interested in whether this is a regional, ethnic, or generational issue. I wonder sometimes if it’s like this everywhere, or just in rural America among all the sheltered white people I live with. The communities I live in generally seem to think everyone just needs to “get over” their bad day and move on. They like to think that if you “shouldn’t” feel that way, then they don’t have to validate it. There seems to be a lot of confusion when emotions rise to the surface.
Why do we go about ignoring the emotions of those we love? Ignoring our own feelings?
Here are 5 things I’m learning about all this:
Feelings are normal. God made us this way. If you feel jealous or angry or bitter or really excited about something – that’s fine. Emotions come with the package. God expects you to have them.
How you respond to your feelings is really the issue. And ignoring your anger is just as much of a response as punching your hand through a window. Pretending it doesn’t bother you when your sister says that one thing – is a response. Letting your jealousy fester and boil inside you for months and months is just as dangerous as spreading gossip about that person you’re jealous of. Eventually it’s all going to boil over and someone is going to be hurtin.’
There are healthy ways to deal with the way you feel. There are unhealthy ways. These things can have catastrophic effects on the people you love. When you tell everyone how you feel all the time, you are going to make enemies. When you don’t tell anyone how you feel ever, you will be a doormat. Both of these things are not good. Both of these things are damaging to relationships.
Kids should be taught to verbalize what they are feeling to the people who love them and take care of them. They should be encouraged to do it and taught that it is OK. It’s about security. It’s about reality.
We all need to respect each other’s feelings about things. Do we need to agree? No. But it will do wonders for your relationship if you recognize and validate the way someone feels. For those of you overbearing personalities (like mine), try this crazy idea: Don’t jump in to explain why they feel that way. Don’t belittle their emotions and dismiss them because you think it’s so ridiculous. Just make sure you understand. Then make it clear that you understand. Then leave it at that. For at least a day. See what happens. It can be a crazy experiment you try this week. Have fun.
What did I miss? Am I off base here? Is your community like this or is it just mine? Enlighten me. I’d like to know if I’m the only one struggling with this or not.