by Cas Faulds
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t allow me to express any emotion that they saw as unacceptable. Although there are some contradictory theories, there is a lot of research that says that humans have six basic emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust and fear. For
my parents, the unacceptable emotions, the ones I wasn’t allowed to express, were the ones that people see as negative: sadness, anger, disgust, and even fear. All of those emotions were suppressed and invalidated because they weren’t acceptable. As a result, I learned how to effectively fake happiness to be acceptable, but that really didn’t do me any favours.
As a parent, I can understand why my parents found those emotions problematic. No parent wants to see their child being sad, scared, or angry because most parents really want the best for their children. We want our children to grow up being happy.
But, the reality is that no one can be happy all the time. There seems to be a societal construct that happiness is more valuable than anything
other emotion. The self-help industry appears to be built on that construct, but should we really be expected to strive for happiness all the time? If we didn’t ever experience any other emotions, if we were in a perpetual state of happiness, then happiness wouldn’t feel as good as it does.
So, my son has never been told to go to his room until he cheers up. My son is allowed to express whichever emotion he is feeling. Whenever possible, I acknowledge how he is feeling because I want him to know that even though some emotions – such as anger or fear – are not pleasant
physical experiences, they’re still valid and acceptable. There are times where I ask him whether he needs some space to work through his feelings, and there are times when he does need that space. There are other times when he doesn’t want space, but he simply wants my support or validation that what he is feeling is ok, and that what he is feeling in the moment will not last forever.
Allowing my son to express of his emotions means that we can work together to find ways of expressing those emotions constructively so that
even the emotions that are perceived to be negative can have positive effects. We have been able to have some meaningful conversations about what to do when we feel things. So, for example, anger can be expressed by shouting (yes – we’re allowed to shout at our house!), but hitting or kicking is not a constructive way of expressing anger. Anger can be used as motivation to do things differently. By focusing on each emotion as we experience them, we can work together to figure out what to do about them, rather than pretend they don’t exist.
So, at our house, it’s ok to be angry, scared, sad, or any other feeling – because all of those feelings are equally valuable parts of our own experience.