"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, the healthiest response is always to breathe our way through that feeling without taking action. You feel the emotion, in the larger context of your calm, compassionate, observing self, 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 compassionate witnessing helps her heal the inner turmoil so that 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 a better way. We can go to the source to prevent those emotions!
The source of an emotion is usually a thought (or a collection of thoughts, sometimes known as a belief, viewpoint, or conclusion.) Often we aren't even consciously aware of these thoughts and beliefs. As we become aware of our thoughts and beliefs, we have more choice about believing them, and therefore about the emotions they trigger.
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'm sure 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."
Notice the negative assumptions in all these thoughts? 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 and your parenting (and yourself!) 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 resist the temptation of negativity; they're accepting and empowering. And they have just as much truth to them. 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!
Reframing to resist negativity isn't easy, but it gets easier every time you do it. And you'll find that it changes the way you experience your world, opening up more positive options. 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.
In the next few weeks, we'll be interspersing more Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche with our regular posts about kids and parenting. Also in this series:
Want to Stop Being Upset? Change Your Mind (this post)
6 Steps to Vaporize Your Negative Beliefs and Heal Your Self Criticism
Transform Your Inner Critic Into Your Inner Nurturing Parent
Go Out of Your Mind...And Into Your Body
How to Love Being with Your Kids? Dive Deeper.