Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 58: You Make Me Feel

I will choose to find a positive perspective under even the most negative circumstances.
I will choose acceptance over resistance.
I will choose to focus on the things I value about my children, not the things that drive me nuts.
I will choose to extend the same grace, love and forgiveness to myself that I try to lavish on my husband and children each day.

A conversation on my Facebook wall today prompted me to think about this concept and how it relates to my children, namely what I model and teach them.

"How did that make you feel?"
"Did that make you feel angry?"
"That made me feel sad."

These are phrases I'm trying oh so hard to discard from my parenting repertoire. You may be asking yourself why. Emotional intelligence is so important and it begins with giving a child an emotional vocabulary and helping him connect with and understand what he's feeling. So these would be good phrases to use, right? Not quite.

Sad, angry and feel are great words, but make...not so much.

What I'm teaching Jackson each time I say this to him is that someone else's actions, feelings or words control his feelings. I'm unintentionally reinforcing the widely accepted idea (in our culture anyway) that someone else has the ability to decide whether we're okay or not. And in the process, I'm letting conditionality seep in to his unconditional world.

Instead of placing blame on a person or circumstance, I want to teach him to take ownership over his feelings and responsibility for what he does with them.

If he feels angry because a child took a toy from him, I don't want him to think that boy made me feel angry. I want him to think that boy took a toy from me and I feel angry about that. It may seem like an insignificant distinction, but I believe it's critical.

Placing responsibility and blame on the boy, the toy stealing or the feeling makes him a victim - a victim who has willingly surrendered his power to his assailant.

Seeing the experience as nothing more than something that happened and the feeling as something he has ownership over empowers him to do something about it. Instead of giving his power to his assailant, he retains that power and can direct it toward getting his toy back or accepting that the toy is gone and moving on.

I'd do well to remember this when he's "making" me feel frustrated or angry too! Because placing blame on someone else for my feelings disconnects me from the true source of that feeling. How can I see that my anger is arising out of a deeper fear or control issue if I put ownership for those feelings on him?

Feelings are God-given guideposts that shouldn't be ignored. They are a way to find healthy direction through life, and when we write them off as someone else's responsibility instead of paying them the attention they deserve, we take that away from ourselves.

So I'm in the process of replacing those phrases with others framed in a more accurate way:
"How do you feel about that?"
"I felt sad when that happened."
"Did you feel angry when that happened?"

And I'm purposefully connecting to the true source of my feelings, not the trigger. I hope doing so will keep my children from being conditioned by our culture's view of feelings.

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