Most people that I have met in my life, both personally and professionally, say that they are okay with other people having feelings, especially their kids. They will say that all feelings are okay. Their behavior says otherwise. When someone is crying or sad, it will be an immediate “it’s okay, stop crying” or when someone is angry about something “that’s not something to get angry about, just get over it.” This means that just because you explicitly state that you accept all feelings, your behavior states that you do not. This can create quite a bit of mental chaos for yourself and others, since your words and behaviors do not match.
Let’s talk about real feelings, then. All feelings are actually okay. If you have seen the movie Inside Out, then you know that they all serve purposes for us. If you have not seen the movie, stop reading this and go watch it. Now. It’s amazing. The concept is somewhat akin to the fact that we cannot appreciate a rainbow without the rain, and we cannot truly appreciate happiness if we never have sadness. If we never allow ourselves to feel angry, or disgusted, then our happiness is not real, because we are maintaining only certain feelings.
It’s important that you start by accepting your own feelings. Accepting your feelings does not just mean acknowledging them, although that is pretty important. It is about more than just saying what they are, it is about accepting that they are okay and allowing yourself to sit with them. It is about not judging those feelings and being angry with yourself just because you have them. In essence, if you have a rough day, just accept that you had a rough day. Sometimes we will be so angry with our feelings, that we often increase our negative feelings just by being angry about them. I start out having some anxiety, and then I am angry that I feel anxious, and then I am more anxious because I am anxious. You might chuckle, but the truth is, that happens all the time!
Next, we look at the feelings of others. Just like we do not judge our own feelings, it is time to stop judging other people’s feelings. What does this mean? It means that you no longer say things like “you shouldn’t be that upset by this situation,” or “stop feeling that way.” There is that funny video that every Counseling Professor shows their students that has a “therapist” telling people to “just stop it,” and it seems funny. It seems funny to me, because it is so very sad. Because it happens all the time!
With children, we often will tell them that it is okay for them to have feelings. But the second they say “I am so angry with you,” parent’s or adult caregivers freak out. “You have no right to be angry with me, do you know all that I do for you?” It saddens me. Everyone has a right to feel how they feel. If your child is angry with you, perhaps instead of getting angry back (which is now saying that you can lose your temper, as a grown up, but they are not allowed to…as children), maybe you should start talking with your child about why they are feeling that way.
Telling someone to stop crying or feeling sad is also telling someone not to have the their feelings. People look at me like I am a monster when they start crying and I simply say "I am sorry that you feel sad," and do not try to tell them to stop crying. But why would I do that? Someone crying is expelling a feeling that they are having. And being allowed to have feelings and experiencing those feelings is a powerful thing. It's time to stop telling people that it will all be okay. At the end of the day, I believe it will be okay. But in that moment, thats not what someone needs to hear. They need to hear that you are there with them, and you feel with them, not that they need to suck it up and stop.
This is not to say that if someone says that they are sad, mad, depressed, anxious, etc, that we should simply say “well that’s okay,” and then walk away. Dr. Kyle Weir, a professor at Fresno State and my mentor, has always said “you have to wallow, and then you have to move.” I love this as a motto! It is okay to sit with your child, or yourself, or your friend, in their feelings for a bit. You only get to choose for yourself how long you are going to wallow and do not get to choose for anyone else, but it is so powerful to say “once you are ready to move on, I am here for you.” This is so much better than telling someone to get over it.
It is also important for me to point out that feelings and behaviors are different. Saying “I am angry at you,” is okay. Chucking a giant toy truck at someone’s head while screaming it is not. Telling your partner “I feel sad” is okay, cutting yourself and hiding in the bathroom is not. Expressing anxiety to a friend is okay, refusing to leave your home for years at a time is not healthy. In essence, our feelings are what they are. And whatever they are is okay. Behaviors are not the same, and those we do have to do something about.
Feelings are okay, let’s say that, and for the first time in a long time, let’s mean it.