Monday, December 12, 2016

Friend ALL Your Feelings

I recently wrote an article for the November/December issue of New Moon Girls Magazine - a great resource for young girls and their parents.

This particular issue is called "The All About Feelings" issue, so I was excited to contribute to this topic. My post is titled "Friend ALL Your Feelings" where I discuss emotions and the importance of recognizing and accepting different feelings. Read the post in its entirety below:

"Every person has emotions—it’s part of being human. We can’t make them go away. We’re born with emotions, just as we emerge with our five senses ready to go. We cherish our ability to see beauty, hear music, smell a rose, taste ice cream, or cuddle a pet. If we lose one of our five senses, we’ll miss out on the information it gives us.

In just the same way, our feelings give us information about the world. Think of emotions like your sixth sense! Here’s an example. Say you’re crossing a street and a car doesn’t seem to be stopping for you. Sight helps you see the car approaching, but it’s fear that makes you jump out of the way. You won’t save yourself by only seeing the car—you need the energy of fear to motivate fast action. 

All our emotions guide us toward action. They send us a message felt in our bodies that will help us best respond to life challenges. All our emotions—including the ones we often want to banish, such as sadness and anger—are actually crucial to our wellbeing.

Knowing your emotions gives you clarity about what’s happening to you. Have you ever listened to a friend who sounds upset and can’t really figure out what’s going on? As you listen, it may seem clear that she’s actually sad. Once you point it out, it’ll make sense, and she’ll likely begin to relax more. Identifying your feelings—and making that process a part of everyday life—will help you make sense of your experiences.
So why aren’t we better at this? I think it’s because we’ve often been taught that emotions are not valuable. They’re seen as disruptive or even bad. Or we’ve had the experience of being dismissed as being “too emotional.” No one wants to be seen as irrational or not taken seriously. Many girls shy away from expressing their emotions because they get criticized for being “over-emotional” or “a drama queen.” Of course, boys get this message, often even more harshly. When they’re expressing normal emotions, they’re told to not “act like a girl.”
These shaming statements make it harder for everyone to accept their natural emotions. That’s bad, because feelings are an honest barometer of how things are affecting us. We need our feelings to feel whole and take action that’s appropriate to us.

Remember in the AWESOME movie “Inside Out” (see it if you haven’t yet) how Joy keeps confining Sadness to smaller and smaller spaces? She wants to deny Sadness expression. So these feelings keep building until Sadness is so heavy she collapses and Joy has to drag her around. This is what happens when we deny our emotions. They don’t really go away, so they make us heavy, stuck, or come out in unexpected ways. When Joy realizes how important it was to let sadness be in charge for a while, things moved forward.

Here are some ways to get ALL your feelings working for you.

  • Make an inventory of which emotions you might suppress or have learned are “bad.” Do you know someone who handles these emotions well? Let them be a model for you. Observe their behavior and reactions, and think of the small steps you could take to be more like them. You could even talk with them about it.
  • Make a list of ways your feelings affect your physical and emotional health. Keeping emotions bottled up almost always gives us bad symptoms. Have you ever been angry at someone (but you deny it to yourself), only to be sarcastic and mean toward them at another time? Hidden feelings often seep out when we least expect it. Remember how Riley in “Inside Out” hid her unhappiness and ends up stealing money from her parents and running away? Avoiding our feelings often ends up making things worse. We can feel anxious, preoccupied, and less in control. Or our hidden feelings can get stuck in our muscles, giving us tight, aching shoulders, jaw, or back. They might reveal itself in stomach problems or headaches. When we hide our emotions, they get lost to us. Instead of identifying them and then being able to problem-solve a solution, we become ill. 
  • Keep a daily chart with a list of your primary emotions on it. Put a check mark on the emotions you felt that day. Notice and jot down where you sensed the emotion in your body. Ask yourself what the emotion was trying to tell you. Let’s say you tend to avoid conflict and hide your anger. As you gain awareness of when you’re angry, you can then imagine different ways you might handle it. Or you might want to ask someone you trust what she or he might do. Get support and talk it out. You’ll also notice that you feel more courageous and confident. You’ll feel more in control and more powerful.  
  • Remember that ALL your emotions are there to help you—even the ones you think are negative. In the movie, Disgust in her glittery green doesn’t hesitate to say when something’s yucky. It’s important to be alerted when something’s distasteful, but also potentially poisonous or dangerous. Shame is another hard feeling, but being embarrassed about our behavior helps us to know not to do it again.

Remember, too, that the emotions you feel at any given moment aren’t meant to last. They’re temporary, and they’ll change and often disappear when we express them and work with them. Then that will leave us with emotional space to relax, be playful, and happier."

Friday, November 4, 2016

9 Ways To Have a Healthy, Loving Marriage

Image Credit: Business Insider

Recently my son got married. In preparation for the ceremony, he asked if any family members wanted to say something. My answer was yes, but I wasn’t sure what I’d want to say. I thought perhaps I’d read a poem, but nothing I looked at felt right. Then I realized that I’d like to share my reflections about what I thought was important about living your life with each other. How do you nurture the “we- ness’ of a relationship as well as maintain a sense of independence? Both are important and needed. We are not one or the other—we are interdependent. We can’t give over everything to another or we lose ourselves, nor can we focus solely on ourselves or we lose the intimacy of connection. Below are my thoughts on how to lovingly relate and care for one another throughout marriage.
1. Love with abandonArticulate the things that are special about one another. It is a gift to see ourselves reflected positively through another’s eyes.
2. Notice each other’s thoughtful gestures. Comment on them because they build a sense of being valued and appreciated.
3. Perfect your ability to communicate well so you can feel heard. Communication comes from the Latin communicare-to make one. Understanding another’s point of view joins us together.  
4. Accept that misunderstandings happen. You are two different people with different life experiences who won’t always see things the same way. Learn to ignore small annoyances. It’s an act of grace. But if something is truly bothersome, address it quickly so things don’t fester or grow bigger.
5. Be quick to apologize. Take full responsibility for your actions and make amends.
6. Encourage each other to dream big and help one another keep those dreams alive.
7. Nurture your relationship. Give it time and attention. Make space to catch up and connect on a regular basis.   
8. Deepen your intimacy by sharing vulnerabilities so you can experience your relationship as a safe place to be supported and loved.
9. And above all, make your relationship a place of joy. Have fun, create adventures, surprise one another, be silly. Find humor in everyday things. Life is not as serious as we think, so look for the charm in life, be grateful for what you have and cultivate pleasure and ease together.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Facing Your Feelings: How To Overcome The Painful Ones

Image Credit:

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about emotions, and speaking to clients about them. I like to explain that understanding emotions and facing your feelings is important and why it is that we so often neglect them. We’re each different regarding the emotions we’re uncomfortable with, and which ones we’re most likely to deny.

One of my clients is often overwhelmed when she experiences sadness. She’s had this reaction for a long time and works hard to keep feelings of sadness out of her awareness. She’s a master at denial and distraction. But, she’s also self-aware and wants to change. So, our plan is simple. Can she approach this emotion with kindness and acceptance? Can she remember that it is just a feeling? And
can she allow herself to notice how her body feels when sad feelings emerge? If so, can she extend
compassion to herself in that moment. As she’s learned to better tolerate sadness, she can stay more

Here is the story she shared with me the other day in my office. She had just gotten off the phone with her business partner and felt very sad. She wasn’t sure why, but unlike her usual response, which would be to deny this unexpected feeling, she acknowledged it and named it as sadness. She found a quiet place where she could just sit and let happen whatever needed to happen. In a few minutes she began to cry. Then she had an image of being criticized by her mother, and along with this image came the sense of her mother’s disdain. It was a hard insight, but it felt true to her and reflected something she had always sensed. She was not a favored child, and as much as she tried to please her mother, she never could.

No one wants to look at rejection like this, but now as a 40 year old, she had the emotional fortitude to glimpse this reality. As my client allowed herself to stay with her sadness, she realized her business
partner, in their phone conversation, had a dismissive tone with her. And it was this particular tone that had given rise to her sense of sadness. Her business partner was not her mother, and although he could be tough, he was also fair, and they had a good relationship. So while she understood this logically, she also made room for the heavy feelings that weren’t so logical. These feelings were her
unique vulnerability to expressions of dismissive behavior.

We all have vulnerabilities like this. Things hat are particularly hard for us because of childhood hurts, neglect or trauma. What my client did that was different for her was make space for the sad feelings. She was able to feel upset, without being overwhelmed. Equally importantly, she extended compassion to that younger part of herself that had felt hurt and rejected.

Something surprising happened to her after this. Rather than continue to feel sad, she felt the sadness
dissipate. In fact, she reported feeling more energy during the rest of her day. Often we forget that denying emotions takes energy. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re using energy to deny, repress
or divert ourselves. Taking time to be aware of our feelings actually takes less time and preserves our
energy to experience more joy in our lives. When strong feelings happen, it’s always good to pay attention. Feelings are there for a reason.

Here are the steps that will help you stay in touch with your feelings:

  1. Notice your body's reaction
  2. Name the emotion you’re feeling
  3. Accept this emotion as valid
  4. Investigate why the emotion emerged
  5. Extend compassion to yourself

Monday, January 18, 2016

New Study Reveals Children's Spiral Towards Delinquency Can Be Prevented

Another exciting new study showed that teaching "soft" skills to aggressive young children can reduce their chances of becoming involved in criminal trouble in the future. This sounds amazing. It is yet another indication that social and emotional learning can impact lives.  

Photo Credit: Barefoot Social Work

What are "soft" skills? They're those that make us successful in life. Social and emotional skills help us identify and manage our emotions, learn to delay gratification and hold another's point of view in mind. These skills also promote our emotional well being. Without these skills, kids' untamed aggressive behavior will cause disruptive, off-putting responses leaving them ostracized and isolated.  And the lack of these skills could drive them to seek out the company of others with equally aggressive behavior patterns. Neither response pattern is optimal and could leave them unable to generate more adaptive behaviors or find healthier peer networks.

Research studies are showing over and over that social and emotional learning programs deliver positive results. This particular study, directed by Duke researchers, identified 6-year-olds who were labeled aggressive. From ages 6-11 these kids took part in a program that taught social and emotional skills along with academic skills. There were also added support for parents and teachers. Lead researcher, Kenneth Dodge says, "The conclusion that we would make is that these "soft" skills should be emphasized even more in our education system and in our system of socializing children."

There seems to be a growing realization that helping kids become successful adults requires more than academic learning. Teaching them social skills and self control along with academic learning is what leads to lasting success.