It’s so easy when we are young to get the impression that there are certain emotions we “should” or “shouldn’t” feel. In school and at home, we often get praised for being quiet, for being kind, for being happy and can be punished for being angry, frustrated, or crying. When we are punished, ignored, or chastised for having certain feelings or responses we can begin to develop shame around these feelings. We can feel we are too much or that we are broken somehow. We can internalize the message that our feelings should be hidden.
In reality, we need to be given space and time to learn how to deal with ALL of our feelings.
When we are given space to feel our big feelings and practice dealing with them, we learn how to continue to navigate them. But what happens when we don’t get this time as a child? What happens when the adults around us don’t model acceptance of feelings? What happens when we don’t see examples of how to regulate? As we get older and have moments of dysregulation, we don’t know how to cope. This is where practice comes in!
It can be hard to rewire these old messages, to tell ourselves, “yes, this feeling may be uncomfortable, but it is natural.” It can be even harder to sit in these feelings when we are so used to hiding them or burying them. As adults, we must become detectives of our own feelings.
Here are three questions you can ask you yourself when you find yourself getting dysregulated or overwhelmed:
What name can I give to this feeling? Is there an even deeper feeling lurking underneath? (Have trouble identifying feelings in the moment? You’re not alone! Feeling wheels can be a great resource for this!)
What need do I have that isn’t being met right now?
What can I try to meet this need? What has helped me in the past when this feeling emerged?
I am feeling really sad. Wait, actually, I am actually really lonely.
I am noticing it’s been a while since I have seen my family and I am really missing that connection.
In the past, I’ve felt better after a phone call with them when I’m not able to see them in person. I can try that. If that doesn’t work, I can set a plan to see them.
In answering these three questions, not only do we build our connection to our emotions, but in exploring our emotions as a detective, we maintain a nonjudgmental stance. By the end of the three questions, you should also be developing your ability to support yourself in navigating these emotions and building your coping toolbox for the next time they arise. The more you practice, the less overwhelming the emotions become because you realize just how capable you are!