Aha! Parenting Blog

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Want to Stop Being Upset? Change Your Mind.

"Dr. Laura -- Your 'Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche' series says that all emotion comes from our thoughts, so if we change our thoughts, it will change our emotions. But one of the most important things I've learned from you over the years is that we need to acknowledge our emotions and "feel" them, rather than ignore or stuff them--both for ourselves and our kids. I’m confused." -- Corinne

This is a great question. The short answer is that there's a difference between honoring our feelings, and preventing them.

Once we’re feeling an emotion, we have no choice except to breathe our way through it without taking action.  You feel the emotion, in the larger context of calm, which heals it. That's how we release upsets and move beyond them.

This is also why acknowledging your child's emotions helps her to let them go. Your empathy helps her accept and feel the upset, while your calm witnessing helps her heal it so she can move on.

But many of us find that we’re repeatedly swamped with upsetting feelings.  Sure, we can spend all of our time breathing through them and releasing, but there’s another way – go to the source to prevent them. And the source of an emotion is usually a thought (or a collection of thoughts, sometimes known as a belief, viewpoint, or conclusion).

So while we have no choice but to honor the emotions we’re already feeling, we can completely sidestep many upsetting emotions just by noticing the thoughts that are creating our emotions.

  • "My son should love his brother and not get so mad at him."
  • "My toddler has constant tantrums and it's so embarrassing. I know people think I'm a bad mother.”
  • "My kid would lose his head if it weren't glued on. Maybe a better punishment would motivate him to remember."
  • "I must be a terrible parent."

Once you start paying attention to your thinking, you'll be amazed at how many of the thoughts that show up in your mind about your child are negative. Guess what kinds of emotions those thoughts trigger?

The worst part is that so many of our conclusions aren't even true. The following thoughts are actually more true.  Notice how much better they make you feel:

  • "Everybody gets mad sometimes, even at people they love. It’s normal for kids to squabble.  Where’s that book on sibling rivalry so I can give the boys some help with their feelings?”
  • "I refuse to be embarrassed by a tantrum. She's allowed to have her feelings. Every parent has lived through this and they’re all sympathizing with me right now.”
  • "He does seem to be forgetting things a lot. Is he overwhelmed? Can I help him develop a better system so he’ll remember?"
  • "I'm doing the best I can. Two steps forward, one step back still takes me in the right direction. I am more than enough. I love my kids and I'm learning all the time how to regulate my emotions better."

Notice that reframing your thoughts still requires you to solve problems. But there's nothing wrong with choosing thoughts that make you feel calmer and more optimistic. In fact, that's part of learning to regulate your emotions. Which makes it a lot easier to find constructive solutions!

This isn't easy, but it gets easier every time you do it. As Anais Nin said, "We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Why give negative thoughts the power to send you into a downward spiral? Instead, try changing your mind.

***

With this post, we're moving toward wrapping up our series "Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche," which has been interspersed with our regular posts for a few weeks. Here the preceding posts:

Spring-Cleaning for Your Psyche

Don't Believe Everything You Think

5 Strategies to Tame Your Inner Critic

Don't Worry. Be Happy.


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