In Part 1 we looked at emotional “accidents” and why they may be happening. We also discussed some strategies for learning to deal with these emotions. But why do we have these problems in the first place? Why haven’t we already learned how to handle these emotions authentically? Let’s dig deeper.
This is such a powerful question. If you take nothing else from this post, then just take away that question. Ask, “Why?” all the time.
- Why do you not feel permission to authentically express these emotions?
- Why do you feel like you are lagging behind some of your peers in emotional development?
I have often felt like the odd one out when comparing my emotional development with that of my friends. I would ask myself questions like, “Why does everyone else seem to manage their emotions so easily while I am struggling just to hold myself together on some bad days?”
It can be frustrating to feel like I have fallen behind in some way. In fact, sometimes I have wondered whether there is something wrong with me.
A Legacy From Your Childhood
You were probably conditioned by your parents, or other adults, with expectations that you should not be expressing certain emotions.
I believe that most parents do the best that they can. There are some truly bad parents out there, for sure, but I think the vast majority love their children and are trying to be good parents. However, most parents rely on the methods passed down from their parents and on the social norms of the time.
We had an apple tree in the yard when I was a child. When the fruit wasn’t picked, then it would fall on the ground and rot. My brother and I were assigned then task of collecting these fallen apples and dumping them elsewhere. This didn’t appeal to us very much so we decided to entertain ourselves by plucking the fruit still on the tree and throwing them at each other (why…?). When our father came home he asked us whether we had picked up the rotten apples. We said yes. He then asked us whether we had picked any of the fruit off of the tree because he thought there was more on it earlier in the day. We said no. We must have had awesome poker faces because he totally bought it.
He sat us down later that night and told us he had pulled into the driveway and had seen us grabbing fruit off of the tree and throwing them. How did my brother and I not notice his car clearly pulling in to the driveway…? He’d caught us in a bold-faced lie. The punishment? A spanking. I don’t remember it happening, but I bet it hurt.
What was the message? I shouldn’t tell lies. Tell the truth and I may be punished, but lying and getting caught will make the punishment far worse. That is a good lesson to teach a child. But is physical punishment the right way to do it? I don’t think so.
This was not the first or the last time I would receive a spanking for misbehavior. My father got it far worse from his father and he genuinely believed he was doing the right thing by hurting me physically to elicit good behavior.
Do I believe my father is a good man who was doing his best as a parent? Yes.
Was hurting me physically the right thing to do? No.
Most Discipline Isn’t Physical
Just like physical methods of parental discipline, emotional methods get passed down as well. Even if you weren’t disciplined physically, then you were probably disciplined emotionally.
Many parents will be patient for the first few years when you are a baby or toddler. But once you begin to develop the ability to regulate your emotions, then their patience wears thin more quickly. They want you to start suppressing these emotions. I don’t blame them. I get irritated with the kid making a scene a couple tables over in a restaurant!
They want you to quit making a scene!
They want you to quit embarrassing them!
They want you to be a big boy, or girl. This is probably done by belittling or berating your emotions. By scolding you and making you feel guilty for the emotion you expressed, they hope to coerce you into behaving in a more acceptable way.
Again, these things are usually being done by parents with the best intentions. These are parents who mean well, but they may be struggling. In moments of exasperation, or frustration, they resort to emotional, or physical, coercion. This leads to new habits as parents continue to rely on their authority to coerce their children into what they believe is the right behavior.
Whatever the method chosen the result is that your parents borrowed against their position of authority to force you to behave the way they wanted. They racked up the debt on your emotional development to satisfy their needs in the moment and now you are stuck with the bill.
I was not allowed to express anger as a child. Any show of frustration, or pint-sized fury, was immediately shut down. The result was that the only strategy I learned for dealing with anger was to suppress it and transform it into another emotion–shame in my case. I would often become extremely depressed when I was angry about something. This had the desired result for my parents because I stopped displaying anger around them and was fairly submissive. But now I am having to go back, develop my emotions, and learn not only how to express my anger authentically.
We Treat Ourselves The Same
Sadly, we often coerce ourselves with the same emotional discipline that our parents did.
Within each of us is a child and an adult.
In many ways the child never changed, but the adult is a culmination of our learning and experience up to this point. Your inner adult may sound a lot like one, or both, of your parents. We tend to pick up the behaviors we see at a young age. If your parents used criticism or threats to make you “behave” as a child, then you may be doing the same thing to yourself.
What does your self-talk sound like?
Is it very negative and critical?
Do you try to shame yourself into behaving properly with the things you tell yourself?
I was surprised to discover this about myself. I have had very negative self-talk. Whenever I would feel an emotion like sadness, anger, or fear, I would immediately invalidate the emotion. I would say things like:
- “I’m better than this”
- “I shouldn’t be feeling this”
- “It is wrong to feel this way”
- “I should be ashamed for feeling this way”
I would say anything and everything to myself until I had sufficiently shamed my inner child into silence. I coerced myself into the behavior I wanted.
Be Kind To Yourself
You need to change your self-talk from negative to positive.
Don’t worry about being too easy on yourself. The world will give you plenty of criticism.
You need to be your BIGGEST FAN!
Your LOUDEST CHEERLEADER!
Think back to a memory when you were a child attempting to express an emotion, but you were silenced. Try to re-imagine the emotion. How it felt. How your body reacted physically.
Think about how confusing those sensations must have been for you as a child that didn’t know how to react.
Now picture your parents stopping you. Picture their faces. What are they saying? How does it make you feel? Do you picture yourself curling up into a little emotional ball to try to please them?
Now replace your parents with yourself. Picture yourself as the adult who is reacting to your emoting child. Instead of criticism, try to think of something positive to say or do which will help the little you. Replace the criticism with kindness and guidance.
Keep practicing this exercise. Over time you need to replace the negativity you learned with the positive guidance you really needed as a child. Become the parent you needed then for the inner-child that needs you now.
Don’t Hold Yourself Back
“The creative adult is the child who survived.” – Ursula K. Le Guin
Negative self-talk is powerful.
It will not only prevent you from expressing emotions authentically, it will also prevent you from finding your passion and your purpose. Negative self-talk is pervasive. It isn’t content to pick on a few of your emotions–it wants to hold you back from your biggest dreams and aspirations. You won’t be able to live the life you want with that constant voice of negativity.
But here is the great part…
If you can change the negative self-talk about your emotions to be positive, then that positivity can also be pervasive. Start to treat yourself with kindness and you will empower yourself to pursue what you want in life. Drop that negative weight and move forward.
You probably love your parents and, despite their mistakes which you must now deal with, they probably love you too. It is not your fault that you were not taught how to handle these emotions constructively, but it is your responsibility to help yourself and move forward. Cut yourself some slack. Silence the negativity. And be kind to yourself. 🙂
What Do You Think?
How have you been silencing your inner child’s emotions?
Let’s continue the conversation! Leave a comment below letting me know what you think! Did this resonate with you? Do you have some insight to share? Did I miss something? Also, sign up for email updates so I can let you know when your next article is ready!