Managing Our Emotions – Part 1 (of 2)

» Posted in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Parenting, Personal Growth | 2 comments

The Jones family in my office was in a shambles – the casualties of an emotional warzone where General Dad used the machine gun approach – rat-tat-tat-tat-tat – to take down anyone who dared to cross into his territory, and Sniper Mom used the stealth attack — the strategic weapons of emotional manipulation and the silent treatment — to achieve her agenda of control and retaining the upper hand.  The war was escalating, verbal bombs were flying, fingers were being pointed and I was getting a headache.

Unfortunately, this picture I just painted is a reality in far too many homes – instead of peace and harmony reigning, conflict, anger and out-of-control emotions are the norm.  With today’s increase in stress, disconnection in marriages and relationships, and a lack of time and margin in our lives, more and more families are struggling with regulating the emotional climates in their home.  And as I wrote in a recent post, kids growing up in these homes are ill equipped to handle life with any sort of resiliency because they aren’t learning the critical skills of regulating their emotions – lack of self-control equals a lack of success in life and relationships.  And so the unfortunate legacy continues.

It’s time to declare a cease-fire and to wave the white flag for our emotional and relational well-being; we need to learn how to manage our internal world in a way that is healthy and balanced.  As I said in my previous post on teaching our kids how to regulate their emotions, managing our emotions isn’t about stuffing it, or letting it all hang it.  Both of these approaches can lead to a myriad of negative outcomes (see my previous post for more information).  It is about learning how to take control of our own emotions in a balanced and healthy way.

To help us remember what we need to do in managing our emotions, I’ve developed a little rhyme that will hopefully help you understand and manage your emotions so that you are controlling your inner world:

Name It,

Claim It,

Tame It,

Never Shame It

NAME IT means to KNOW how you feel, and that means you have to pay attention to your inner world.  God gives you emotions as an alert to something going on, and therefore, you need to pay attention to what’s going on and do something about it.  Ask yourself, What am I feeling right now?  Test out several labels:  Am I angry?  Sad?  Hurt?  Lonely?   Keep in mind that sometimes, anger is a secondary emotion which helps us protect ourselves or avoid feeling our more vulnerable emotions – meaning that there’s sometimes an underlying primary emotion that is triggering our feelings of anger, for example, hurt, humiliation or rejection.  And very often, we will feel a combination of different emotions, and so it’s important to take the time to sort through all of them and “name” them.

If you’re trying to help your kids learn these skills, teach your kids to know HOW they feel by regularly labelling for them what they’re experiencing.  For example, “I can see that you’re very disappointed that I’m not buying you this candy”, or “I know how embarrassed you must feel that you missed the ball”.  You can also label your own emotions for them as they see how you’re responding to a given situation, for example, “I’m just feeling really worried right now because your grandpa is in the hospital”.

There are many wonderful workbooks and games you can play with your kids if you prefer having a more structured way to help them with their emotions.  Your local bookstore will have many of these resources.  You can also watch TV programs and movies together, and comment on the emotions that you see being displayed on the screen.  Regardless, make it a regular part of the way you do life with your kids to talk about emotions.

CLAIM IT means to own your emotions, and to give yourself permission to feel – to accept your experience of that emotion without judgement, and to try to UNDERSTAND why you feel what you do.  It also means giving yourself the time that you need to process through and FEEL that emotion while choosing not to take any action until you’ve calmed down enough to respond wisely to a given situation.  I also take RESPONSIBILITY for my emotions and I stop blaming others for how I feel.  They may very well be the trigger but they are not responsible for how I feel.

In trying to teach our kids, this is an important part of teaching self-awareness because it’s about taking ownership for our own emotions.  Our kids need to learn that, these are MY feelings and no one else’s; they belong to me.  While there are many reasons why we feel the way we do and people and events in our outer world regularly trigger us, it’s important for kids to learn that their emotions are their emotions, and no one else’s.  It’s not helpful for them to blame others for how they feel – the “you made me feel this way stance.  While it’s true that others play a part in it, it’s a very powerless way to handle our emotions.  It essentially means that we can’t help ourselves and have no control over what we feel, that our emotions are under the control of and what others do or say.

Teach your kids to say I statements, so rather than saying, you made me mad, they can learn to say, I’m angry that you took my toy.  A key part of teaching our kids to take personal responsibility for their own emotions is how you role-model how you handle your own emotions.  If they regularly see you blaming others and expecting others to do things to make you feel better, then that’s what they’ll learn to do as well.

Remember that kids will take what you say as the gospel truth, so if they experience you blaming them for how you feel on a regular basis, they will grow up with unhealthy guilt and shame that can cripple them.  They will also tend to get into relationships where they are the enablers who feel it’s their job to cajole others out of their anger and bad moods, and they won’t understand the healthy boundaries between others’ emotions and theirs.  And so we need to teach our kids to take responsibility for their own emotions and not for others.  They need to learn that while they are responsible to respond appropriately to others, they aren’t responsible FOR others’ emotions and well-being.

Another aspect of CLAIM IT that we need to teach our kids is how their emotions don’t give them latitude to do whatever they want.  They can feel very angry, which is absolutely okay, but it’s not okay if they hit or hurt someone or break something in their anger.  They need to learn to separate their emotions from their choices, and so you can discipline them around their behaviours without suppressing or minimizing their emotions.  So for example you can say, I know you’re very angry that your sister took your toy and I don’t blame you for being angry – I would be angry too.  That’s not right of her to take your toy and I will deal with her about that.  But it’s not okay for you to hit her so you will need to have a time out.

A simple way to remember how to respond to our kids when their emotions lead to bad choices is to use your WORDS to empathize and understand their emotions  (which helps to soothe and calm their raging emotions) and then use your ACTIONS to deal with their behaviour – including setting limits or imposing consequences for unacceptable behaviour.

Want to know more about managing your emotions?   Stay tuned for Part 2 of this two-part series on Managing Our Emotions, coming this Wednesday, September 26, 2012.  In the meanwhile, feel free to comment or ask questions!

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  1. Hi Merry –

    I really liked this post and got to it from the Internal Boundaries postings…all of these posts are very interesting to me as I definitely have issues with internal boundaries…I am finding it difficult to wrap my brain around all the in and outs of internal boundaries, but I will be reading, researching, and talking to others about this in order to try and sort it all out. I think my brain needs re-wiring and my self-talk severe editing and it is, I am finding an extremely difficult task. I am trying not to get discouraged in the process. I think this will also be helpful for our kids.

    • Good for you for your willingness to do the reading, research and learning that you need to develop these boundaries! That is awesome! It’s true, it’s very hard work but it will be so worth it – not just for your kids, friends and family but for yourself. And as you learn it, you can teach and model it for your children. There really is freedom at the other side of this work so I would encourage you to keep going forward and not to give up.

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