As a nation we seem to be very down on extreme emotions – it’s not the done thing to be too sad and certainly not cool to be too happy! Melancholy, stress, exuberance, crazy singing and dancing in the street – are all signs that we obviously can’t handle our daily lives and need some help to flatten out our emotions so that we can fit in and not make anyone else feel uncomfortable.
This weeks theme is ‘Happiness – is it all it’s cracked up to be?’. For me I’ve thought about this for many years actually (I know, too much time on my hands). When I started the coaching journey 9 years ago I came into contact with the concept of really experiencing our emotions. We tend to want to live without too many radical ups and downs but just a steady even keel bundling along the middle range of our emotions. I’m not talking about those who suffer extremes clinically like depressive illnesses – but the every day emotions we experience like sadness and joy.
I’ve found that as people we very often are uncomfortable around other peoples emotions. When people are sad we want to make them happy, and conversely when they are happy we sometimes want to contain their happiness and bring them down to our level of unhappiness! What is it about this phenomenon? Why is it so hard to sit with people in their emotions however extreme they are?
If you have ever felt a strong emotion such as grief or incredible joy and then been with someone who doesn’t validate that emotion, it can feel completely dismissive, that what you feel is not important and that there’s something wrong about staying there for a while.
One of the parenting models we are encouraged to use when parenting adopted children is by a Child Psychologist called Dan Hughes. Part of this model talks about truly accepting where the child is at in their inner world. Something I wish we would all do more of. So when they come in from school upset saying “no-one likes me” and we say “that’s not true I like you”, or “I’m sure that’s not right, everyone can’t dislike you” – those expressions just make the child’s feelings wrong – we are saying that what they feel is not valid. It dismisses some very strong emotions that doesn’t allow them to really share those emotions with us. The feelings certainly don’t go away with our words of wisdom. They may still feel paranoid and lonely at school and now they have no-one to really share those incredibly strong feelings with.
Instead Dan Hughes recommends you stay with them in their emotions – linger a while. This is something we learnt in coaching also and I have seen it work in powerful ways with clients and also have known it for myself. So in the example above you might say to the child “wow, that’s awful to feel like that, you know if I felt no-one liked me I wouldn’t want to go to school either, tell me more about how that feels”. I know this is counter intuitive as we desperately want to move them out of their low feeling and for them to be happy again – but they need to really experience the emotions, delve a little deeper to know how they truly feel and then some solutions can come from a much deeper place, where they are heard and understood.
So my plea for you (and me) this week when you’re out and about with your family, friends, work mates whoever is to just linger a little bit with their emotions – whether they are happy or sad that’s ok. For some people being round happy people is hard too. How many times have you succeeded in something and then moved on straight away to the next thing without really experiencing the joy of accomplishment?
Happiness IS all it’s cracked up to be but then so are the full range of emotions – let’s not be too scared to experience them ourselves and to let others experience their emotions too.