Express Genuine Emotion: It’s Worth It!
We’re lucky to have so many different emotions at our disposal. We can be happy, sad, angry, thrilled, scared, satisfied. The list goes on and on. We may feel one or more of these emotions at any given time. Each of them serves an important purpose and deserves to be expressed. One of the ways to be a stable guide for our families is to experience and express the full range of emotions. By experiencing emotions, we model how to live life to its fullest, inclusive of joys and challenges. By safely expressing even difficult emotions, we model how to practice stress management and self-care. We demonstrate resilience.
Let’s start on a positive note with those emotions that are, well, positive. Being happy, glad, thrilled, satisfied, content. To some degree, society demands that we default to these emotions. For the most part we are happy to oblige! We all know happiness feels good and that people enjoy being greeted with a smile and a “How ya doing?” We know that people appreciate it when we express gratitude.
Don’t Bottle Up Feelings
In general, family members, friends, and co-workers expect us to be in a good mood. If we appear unhappy, we may be greeted with a “What’s wrong?” or “Is everything okay?” We might cast aside these questions with a simple “I’m fine,” or “Don’t worry about it,” to protect ourselves from judgement and avoid burdening others with our troubles.
If parents exhibit this behavior all the time, especially when something is truly upsetting or terrifying, they do a disservice to themselves (and their teens). They risk bottling up feelings of sadness, anger, or fear. This is because many parents (fathers in particular) believe that they need to be strong, silent types projecting a steady mind and even temper. Others believe a parents’ role is to be polite and not burden others, so they put on a mask of happiness, regardless of true feelings. But when emotions pile up, they may begin to feel too overwhelming to access. When this happens, it’s common to shut down or explode because feelings have not been expressed.
In fact, both parents and teens are better off if parents learn how to appropriately express the full range of emotions.
Expressing Emotions Benefits Teens
Why will they be better off? Young people model behavior after their family members — mostly their parents and other caregivers. Showing genuine emotion in response to an event lets your teens know what’s socially appropriate. The more often this emotional reaction occurs over time, the more likely they are to imitate it. So, if your reaction to a truly sad event is to bite your lip, choke back tears, and reject support, your children may begin to think this is the right response. They may follow your example when faced with a sad event and push away a shoulder to cry on when they could really use it. Plus, lack of exposure to sadness in the home may leave them feeling unsure how to react when a friend comes to them in tears. If you show a real reaction and express vulnerability with an emotion such as sadness, your children have the opportunity to practice consoling another person (you!). It may even make you feel better too.
In the same way, you should feel free to show genuine joy and excitement! When your teens work hard and achieve a goal, it’s okay to be happy. The same goes for when you work hard and meet your own goals. Meeting or surpassing expectations should be celebrated. This is a great way to positively reinforce a strong worth ethic as well as to demonstrate how to overcome challenges.
The goal is for teens to be real with their emotions. This means they must be comfortable experiencing and expressing the full range of human feelings.
Easy Self-Care Tips
There are many rewarding ways to invest in yourself as a parent. Opportunities range from activities you can do alone or with others. The goal is to choose what makes you feel good. Click through for strategies and suggestions.
Getting your body moving has plenty of upsides. Exercise improves concentration and helps manage stress.
Pursue a Hobby
Do an activity simply because it’s fun. Hobbies help reduce tension and boost happiness.
Break down big problems into smaller, more manageable parts. Face them head on -- just one at a time.
Give Back to Your Community
Volunteering boosts well-being. It enables you to put aside your troubles and gain needed perspective.
Support Teens to Express Emotions
Acknowledging that emotions are worth sharing is first step toward figuring out when and where to express them. There will be times when teens need a patient, calming influence. For example, if they are feeling stressed it is unwise to approach them in anger or frustration. It’s also a good idea to avoid lecturing teens about their actions when they are in a highly emotional state. Instead, listen and try to understand their frustrations. Tell them, “It sounds like you are feeling _______.” Try to put them at ease by respectfully listening and acknowledging THEIR emotions first, before discussing your own feelings. Try saying, “I understand you’re feeling ______. I’m feeling ________.” Doing so ensures that no one leaves the conversation feeling like their emotions have been dismissed as unimportant.
Model How to Feel
Being a parent doesn’t mean you have to hide your emotions. In fact, many of your emotions may arise through your parenting experiences. While it is good to model stability, it is also good to demonstrate that “getting to a calm state” is an active, thoughtful process. Modeling this, and sharing the steps aloud, teaches young people how to manage their emotions.
Consider following these points both for yourself and as a model for the young people in your life.
- When the emotion is joyful, share your good fortune and positive mood.
- When the emotion creates distress, find a space to feel and allow yourself to heal. Sometimes that means removing yourself from a heated environment. The new space may remove the ‘triggers’ that could intensify the feelings.
- Allow yourself to experience discomfort. But at the same time, remind yourself that you’ll get through it.
- Reach out to others for support.
- Use the power of exercise to burn off stress hormones.
- Give yourself the opportunity to relax. Treat yourself well. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Work on a hobby. Indulge in “me” time.
- Don’t just feel emotions. Address the problems that might have created the distress. If it is based on an uncomfortable interaction with another person, try to resolve your differences.
- Escape your emotions sometimes. Not by grabbing a drink, but through reading a book or immersing yourself in something you really care about.
- Release your emotions. This is about finding what works for you. The key is to choose a preferred strategy to actively express emotions and complete the following sentence, “I _______ it out.” Options may include, I talked it out, prayed it out, wrote, drew, or danced it out..and so much more.
Now go ahead and experience life to the fullest and care for your own emotional well-being with the same commitment you have towards supporting your children!