This may be a subject I’ve spoken on before as it makes a regular appearance in my life – BC and AC (before children and after children).
Why do we find it sooo hard to be with powerful, dark and scary emotions in others, and sometimes in ourselves too?
As I’ve been talking more in schools about emotional literacy and creating the right culture and environment to allow vulnerable children to process their difficulties, it’s become more and more apparent that sitting with these uncomfortable emotions is just that – uncomfortable.
So why do it? Why is it so important to allow children and young people to recognise those more difficult emotions like sadness, loss, loneliness and pain? Not just to notice them but to be with them and process them, instead of trying to ignore them, push them down and file them in a little box never to be opened?
Margot Sunderland, in her book Conversations that Matter gives 10 reasons why we should encourage children and young people to talk:-
- If we help children to talk about their feelings, we offer them a safe context in which to live their lives
- If we help children to talk, they will learn how to reflect on their feelings rather than ‘behave them’
- If we help children to talk, it will develop their brains as well as their minds
- If we help children to talk about their feelings, they will be far more able to manager stress well throughout their lives
- If we help children to talk about their feelings, they will develop a far more sophisticated language for their emotions
- If we help children to talk about their feelings, they will be able to ‘suffer well’
- Helping children to talk about feelings is about ‘opening up their capacity to take in comfort’
- If we help children to talk about their feelings, they develop insight and emotional awareness
Before we look at how we might create that space for children and young people to feel comfortable enough to talk to us I want to concentrate on us as adults.
How easy do we find it to:-
- Talk to others about our feelings?
- Be with others with their uncomfortable feelings?
This is something I’ve come to realise isn’t natural in all of us. Whilst most of us like to talk about ourselves most of the time we don’t like to be vulnerable in front of others. Of course there’s wisdom in when and with whom you might do that – ‘be authentic will all, transparent with some and vulnerable with a few’, is a good consideration that I heard recently (can’t remember who said it). But when we don’t ever allow ourselves to work through our emotions like sadness it can come out in our poor mental health and affect all areas of our lives.
How many times has someone said they feel sad or stressed to you and your instinct has been to make them feel better? We all want that for others around us – we don’t want people to be sad or lonely. BUT if people are feeling that then us dismissing that and trying to ‘turn their frown upside down’ doesn’t help.
So what does help?
Real honest care and consideration. Allowing someone to tell you how they feel and for you to just sit with them in that. Yes, we all want to have the killer line that makes it all better but I know from experience when I’ve truly felt better is when people have seen my pain, acknowledged it and stayed close to me while I work through it myself.
It’s the same with children and young people. That doesn’t mean to say there’s never a time when we might suggest things or help the other person to make changes in their lives. But the first step that truly counts is being empathetic and really listening – without your own agenda and without a magic wand at the ready.
Maybe this week try and notice someone else’s pain and just be with them in that. Tell them you can see they are overwhelmed or sad or angry (whatever it might be) and just listen to them.
Next week we will look closer at some of the things you might say to someone to show empathy……
If you are interested in this subject I would highly recommend Margot Sunderland’s book – Conversations that Matter (2015, Worth Publishing Ltd).