Recently a dear friend and I were sharing about conversations that we have with our grown children and how we often inadvertently dismiss their feelings in our efforts to help them.
We want to console and comfort so we quickly say “Oh honey, you shouldn’t feel that way.” And since we can’t stop there, we babble on — reciting a list of all the positives in their lives.
The reality is that when anyone we care about is hurting, angry or losing it, they are overcome with strong emotions in that moment and it would be far better to acknowledge that and offer a compassionate ear or a shoulder to cry on.
Feelings are not right or wrong. They simply are what we are experiencing in that moment.
Sometimes we are like pots boiling over, emotional flame on high and the bubbling concoction of life’s stressors heating up. What is needed is a safe place to vent.
Here’s a scenario that my friend and I discussed:
Our daughter might share that she’s feeling so hurt by a friend’s off-handed remark and we try to console her by offering “You shouldn’t feel that way”. Actually, she does feel that way and we’d help so much more by acknowledging that it feels pretty crappy when someone is rude.
In our efforts to be caring, supportive mothers we’ve dismissed our daughter’s feelings and then we charge on — offering a myriad of examples of the many positives in her life — and boom — we just laid a big guilt trip on her. That is not what we intended!
A better approach is to be kind and compassionate — acknowledging the strong emotion another person is feeling. Like taking a couple deep breaths, this affirmation is calming and soothing. Invite more dialogue by asking open ended questions or saying “tell me more…”
Both my friend and I have had some very positive experiences in our conversations with our adult daughters when we stop dismissing their feelings and encouraged a deeper exchange. We actually empowered our daughters to process their feelings and reactions on their own. We haven’t clouded their hearts and minds with our input. We’ve given them a safe place to dump out all the puzzle pieces and sort it out for themselves.
We are beginning to gain long-lasting benefits from this approach. We’re building a strong foundation of trust and safety when life throws us a curve ball and we need to let off some steam.
Best of all, it is a two way street. Now when I go to my daughter with a frustration or concern, she no longer discounts me saying I am too sensitive. She’s curious to know more about my perspective. It just feels so good to know that we are truly there for each other and that there is a deep respect for our individuality.
One thing that really stands out for me in this process is the importance of not telling someone else what they feel or how they should be feeling. I’ve had that happen to me often in a past relationship and it really created too much confusion and added unnecessary conflict. I could spend days trying to process an emotion that wasn’t even on my radar!
I’m more cognizant of my own feelings now and what I label them. It’s a mindfulness tool that calms a habitual reaction to emotions. As a result, I refrain from labeling anyone else’s emotions. They own them and they have exclusive naming rights. We each process our emotions based on our individual unique life experiences.
We only have so much energy and how we choose to use it is entirely our own decision. My daughter and I have talked about how physically exhausting it can be to have a melt down, ruminate for days, or hold in negative feelings. We need to attend to our “emotional pots” like we do the ones on the stove.
By practicing more affirmation and respectful listening, we’ve sharpened our awareness of other’s situations and are becoming more proactive in reaching out before a situation escalates. It’s like checking that pot on the stove and making sure that everything is under control.
Even strong people need support….your time, your compassion, your outreach is worth more than money
Apologize as soon as you can — the longer you wait, the more ingenuine it feels to the receiver