When you have a child who suffers from trauma symptoms like chronic anxiety, depression, isolating, self-harm, aggression and more, the hardest job becomes exponentially harder. Being able to bear the wide ranging and intense emotions and emotional defenses is challenging enough. Patience to respond to emotions thoughtfully and constructively may seem near impossible at times.
Our children's emotions affect us deeply and physically. Conversely, our emotions affect our children deeply. That's because emotions are contagious.
Knowledge of emotions helps immeasurably. We come to understand the importance of detaching with love while staying lovingly and empathically connected .
Emotions education helps first and foremost by correcting the many myths, misinformation, and misconceptions about emotions. Second, without tools and techniques for being with emotions, we are prone to reactivity and feeling badly about ourselves.
Love, guilt, shame, anger, hate, fear, terror, regret, disgust, joy and more, are all part of the normal human experience. We cannot prevent our emotions from being triggered in our brain and affecting our body. That is because emotions originate from the middle part of the brain, which is not under conscious control. Emotions happen reflexively because they are meant to make our bodies move with actions deemed critical for survival.
For emotional health, we need to validate and honor our emotions. Then we need to tend to them. Habitually pushing them down causes stress that affects the mind and body creating symptoms like depression and chronic anxiety. It's important to work with our emotions in pointed ways to process them fully. Although emotions are painful, they are a part of you and your truth. Accepting emotions is the first step to listening to them and allowing them to resolve.
Humans may have conflicting emotions occurring at exactly the same time. For example, you might feel grateful for the opportunity to raise your kids AND it might sadden you to know how they suffer. Or, you love your kids with all your heart and soul AND get profoundly angry at some of their behaviors. Or you may enjoy parenting AND hate how much work parenting requires. It helps to acknowledge and validate opposite emotions.
When things start to escalate with children, remember to ground and breathe and/or if possible take a break until your nervous system resets. Having techniques that calm emotions are crucial. I routinely practice grounding and deep belly breathing. I also recommend discovering the "state-changers" that work for you. A state-changer is something we do to change our emotional state or mood from bad to better. Try a walk or a run in the neighborhood, a call to a friend to complain, or get in bed to watch a funny or sad television show (with or without your children snuggled up next to you). Try a hot bath, a cup of tea, or any other activity (as long as it's not self-destructive) that that might help you shift. I suggest to my patients that that they make a list of three to five customized state changers to refer to when feeling bad or overwhelmed. It's not so easy to remember state-changers when we're upset, so writing them down and having them handy is a good idea.
Your emotions are not under conscious control so judging them doesn't make sense. All we can control is how we respond to our emotions and the emotions of others. Instead of beating yourself up when you're feeling sad or angry, work to be compassionate to yourself at all times, even when you are irritable. Cultivating compassion is a life-long process that is helpful for many reasons. I have found that when I remember to be truly compassionate to my suffering, my body softens and warms inside. If you find it hard to be compassionate to yourself, as many people do, try accessing the compassion you have towards your child or a beloved friend or pet. Then once you have the feeling, turn it towards yourself. Keep practicing.
Mothering can be a minefield of disappointments, regrets, guilt, anger, and other painful feelings. Learning to work with our emotions while striving to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and our children can help. Even when the people around you don’t fully appreciate and understand the sacrifices you make, YOU can appreciate you for your super-human patience, hard work, and unconditional love. I truly hope you will.