Emotions are a crucial part of our lives, yet are not taught in schools nor many families. They are more often repressed, avoided, numbed, fixed and generally misunderstood. Many of our biggest parenting challenges come from our difficulties working with our and our kids emotions. Thankfully, we don’t have to stay stuck. To get a better understanding of emotions we’re beginning a new series with parenting coach Allison Livingston to explore and develop emotional well-being!
Each of these posts will have both a video and a written video summary, so you can read or watch according to preference. These videos were originally recorded on Allison’s Facebook page, so you’ll hear her mention those times. The other thing you’ll hear her mention is our 5 Steps to Connect community. If you are interested in that you can find out more here.
What Is Emotional Well-Being and How Can We Develop it?
By Allison Livingston
Doesn’t everyone want more emotional well-being? It is something I’m fascinated with and also have struggled with as emotions were never taught to me growing up. At school we were supposed to fit in and be good, cooperate plus do well. We were not encouraged to express frustration or anger, but rather repress it or ‘fix it’ and fall back into line. In my family, we didn’t talk about them or show them if at all possible, especially anger, shame, sadness, embarrassment. We numbed or shamed emotions, and the message I got was avoid them at all costs. Once when I asked my dad about feelings, he replied from his wonderful engineering perspective, “They aren’t logical.” The implied message was, they weren’t valuable or useful.
Once my daughter was born flowing with every emotion possible, I was out of my depth and often triggered. I needed help and embarked on a 15 year journey to reclaim my emotional flow and understanding of how to have the emotional well-being I craved.
What is emotional well-being?
Emotions rule our lives and motivate us. I learned from Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and Paul and Eve Ekman in Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center that they guide us to what is most important, our values. They are crucial and part of our biology, yet we numb, repress, avoid and rationalize them whenever we can. They are so uncomfortable! I hate feeling uncertain, overwhelmed, afraid, and ashamed, why do that?!? How do you do that and have well-being?!?
I developed strategies to stay in my head to avoid feeling emotions. Brene Brown calls this our armor. My primary armor is a script that asks, “Am I doing what is right? Am I doing what is good?” My habit was to continually judge and evaluate, curtailing myself to follow these scripts in order to be safe and do well, instead of feel.
While evaluating is an important facet of our brain to be able to get along and manage life, I had taken it too far.
I discovered that in a family we need to be able to be in flow and not pretend nor hide parts of ourselves. NVC and Paul and Eve Ekman have figured out that what emotional well-being means is to be in emotional flow; not repress, avoid or curtail, but to let them happen, experience feelings fully. I’d add that we need to express them at the sky or the ground, not AT each other. More on how to do this on future sessions in this series.
The first step in developing emotional well-being is to notice when we are thinking about a feeling instead of experiencing it. What’s the difference? Thinking about a feeling is using our mind to understand a concept. This keeps us safe in our thinking mind. Experiencing emotions involves our whole body as the emotional energy flows through. This allows the emotion to pass through us and give us valuable information.
Emotional well-being practice
Learning to experience our emotions instead of just “think” them can take practice.
I invite you to try an exercise several times today and this week. The first emotion we’re going to get more familiar with is one that feels really good – love. Close your eyes or look off into nature. Pause and remember a time when you felt love or loved. Could be recent or long ago. What goes on in your body when you feel love? Where do you feel sensation? What value do you connect with?
For example, my parents recently sent me a photo of them holding hand picked flowers from their garden. We share a love of flowers, and they wrote, “Thinking of you.” When I pause and remember this, I feel a rush of warmth across my body. I feel ease and lightness. I can breathe more deeply. I feel like I could take on the world! It connects me to my sense of hope and being seen, of being considered and connection. When I pay attention to my feelings and listen to their message about what I value I feel creative, peaceful and empowered.
What happens when you try this feeling-attention-pause?