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Level up Your Parent Communication Skills #4 - Openly Engaging With Difficult Emotions

When you think back to frustrating, hurtful, and conflictual interactions with your child(ren), what emotions do you remember coming up for you? What emotions do you imagine were coming up for your child(ren)? Probably emotions we’d classify as “difficult,” such as anger, resentment, fear, sadness, helplessness, loneliness, and so on. 


From a young age, many of us are taught to avoid, ignore, or suppress difficult emotions. In relationships, one of the ways we do this is by projecting our feelings onto others (“They’re making me mad!”) and seeking to control others’ behaviors in an effort to make our difficult emotions go away. 


It doesn’t take a master therapist to tell you that this doesn’t work, at least not in the long term. Over time, it causes others to either shut down around you or lash out to get their voice heard. Either way, connection is lost.


The answer? Learning to openly engage with our own and others’ difficult emotions rather than ignore, avoid, or suppress them.


What does it mean to openly engage with difficult emotions?


It’s a shift from seeing difficult emotions as threatening and unsafe to seeing them as full of important information that needs to be investigated and understood. Whether the emotions are in us or in our kids or partner, these feelings of fear, sadness, regret, envy, inadequacy and so on are full of crucial information. They hold the keys to deeper parts of us and others that are driving behaviors (or shutting behaviors down) that are ultimately keeping us from having fuller, more dynamic, and more loving relationships.


When we engage with difficult emotions we turn towards them and welcome their presence through open curiosity. True engagement has no agendas, no plans to fix or change, but rather only a desire to understand. 


How will openly engaging with difficult emotions improve my relationships?

We can only engage the emotions in others that we’re willing to engage in ourselves. So, when we avoid, resist, and suppress difficult emotions in ourselves, we do the same in others. 


When our kids come to us with anger, sadness, and frustration, oftentimes we’ll seek to distract them, bribe them, or shut them down to get the difficult emotions to just go away. But in doing this, we chip away at our relationships. We send a subtle signal, that our kids have a part that we don’t like and we want it to go away. 


When we instead engage with these difficult feelings, we not only learn something new about our child’s experience, we send a signal that our child’s whole self is welcome. This makes it more likely that as they grow, you will be the first person they come to with a problem, not the last. 


It also helps your child learn about their inner emotional world. A safe and supportive adult is crucial to help them verbalize their feelings, see the world from multiple perspectives, and safely process and express their feelings. 


Three steps to engaging with difficult emotions

  1. Practice noticing and welcoming all of your emotions throughout the day. It can be as small as being cut off while driving, and turning your attention inward instead of toward the other driver. What is this I’m feeling? Where in my body is it strongest? What are the most accurate words to describe it? Continue to notice as the feeling moves in your body and eventually fades. 
  2. Practice talking about your emotions in detail. Verbalizing our emotions helps us become more precise about what we’re feeling (this is called “emotional granularity”). And the more precise, we get the more we can understand and accept in our inner world. And the more we can accept and even love inside ourselves, the more we can accept and love our children unconditionally. 
  3. Slow down and get curious about your child’s difficult emotions, even (or especially) if those emotions are about you. You can ask “What words best describe what you’re feeling?” “Where in your body are you feeling these emotions?” “If this emotion could say something right now, what would it say?” “Are there parts inside of you that feel differently?”


You’ll find that after practicing #1 and #2, #3 will come naturally. As the Authentic Relating trainer and instructor, Ryel Kestano noted in his podcast interview with Justin & Audra, what we reject in ourselves, we necessarily reject in others, and what we welcome in ourselves, we are able to welcome in others.

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Level up Your Parent Communication Skills #4 - Openly Engaging With Difficult Emotions

Dive right into Justin and Alicia's advice for openly engaging with difficult emotions

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Key takeaways

1

Most of us grow up learning how to avoid, ignore, and suppress difficult emotions

2

This not only cuts us off from deeper parts of ourselves, it cuts us from our kids and other close loved ones

3

Alicia and Justin give us three steps to start engaging with our own and our kids’ difficult emotions so that we can build deep and loving relationships

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When you think back to frustrating, hurtful, and conflictual interactions with your child(ren), what emotions do you remember coming up for you? What emotions do you imagine were coming up for your child(ren)? Probably emotions we’d classify as “difficult,” such as anger, resentment, fear, sadness, helplessness, loneliness, and so on. 


From a young age, many of us are taught to avoid, ignore, or suppress difficult emotions. In relationships, one of the ways we do this is by projecting our feelings onto others (“They’re making me mad!”) and seeking to control others’ behaviors in an effort to make our difficult emotions go away. 


It doesn’t take a master therapist to tell you that this doesn’t work, at least not in the long term. Over time, it causes others to either shut down around you or lash out to get their voice heard. Either way, connection is lost.


The answer? Learning to openly engage with our own and others’ difficult emotions rather than ignore, avoid, or suppress them.


What does it mean to openly engage with difficult emotions?


It’s a shift from seeing difficult emotions as threatening and unsafe to seeing them as full of important information that needs to be investigated and understood. Whether the emotions are in us or in our kids or partner, these feelings of fear, sadness, regret, envy, inadequacy and so on are full of crucial information. They hold the keys to deeper parts of us and others that are driving behaviors (or shutting behaviors down) that are ultimately keeping us from having fuller, more dynamic, and more loving relationships.


When we engage with difficult emotions we turn towards them and welcome their presence through open curiosity. True engagement has no agendas, no plans to fix or change, but rather only a desire to understand. 


How will openly engaging with difficult emotions improve my relationships?

We can only engage the emotions in others that we’re willing to engage in ourselves. So, when we avoid, resist, and suppress difficult emotions in ourselves, we do the same in others. 


When our kids come to us with anger, sadness, and frustration, oftentimes we’ll seek to distract them, bribe them, or shut them down to get the difficult emotions to just go away. But in doing this, we chip away at our relationships. We send a subtle signal, that our kids have a part that we don’t like and we want it to go away. 


When we instead engage with these difficult feelings, we not only learn something new about our child’s experience, we send a signal that our child’s whole self is welcome. This makes it more likely that as they grow, you will be the first person they come to with a problem, not the last. 


It also helps your child learn about their inner emotional world. A safe and supportive adult is crucial to help them verbalize their feelings, see the world from multiple perspectives, and safely process and express their feelings. 


Three steps to engaging with difficult emotions

  1. Practice noticing and welcoming all of your emotions throughout the day. It can be as small as being cut off while driving, and turning your attention inward instead of toward the other driver. What is this I’m feeling? Where in my body is it strongest? What are the most accurate words to describe it? Continue to notice as the feeling moves in your body and eventually fades. 
  2. Practice talking about your emotions in detail. Verbalizing our emotions helps us become more precise about what we’re feeling (this is called “emotional granularity”). And the more precise, we get the more we can understand and accept in our inner world. And the more we can accept and even love inside ourselves, the more we can accept and love our children unconditionally. 
  3. Slow down and get curious about your child’s difficult emotions, even (or especially) if those emotions are about you. You can ask “What words best describe what you’re feeling?” “Where in your body are you feeling these emotions?” “If this emotion could say something right now, what would it say?” “Are there parts inside of you that feel differently?”


You’ll find that after practicing #1 and #2, #3 will come naturally. As the Authentic Relating trainer and instructor, Ryel Kestano noted in his podcast interview with Justin & Audra, what we reject in ourselves, we necessarily reject in others, and what we welcome in ourselves, we are able to welcome in others.

When you think back to frustrating, hurtful, and conflictual interactions with your child(ren), what emotions do you remember coming up for you? What emotions do you imagine were coming up for your child(ren)? Probably emotions we’d classify as “difficult,” such as anger, resentment, fear, sadness, helplessness, loneliness, and so on. 


From a young age, many of us are taught to avoid, ignore, or suppress difficult emotions. In relationships, one of the ways we do this is by projecting our feelings onto others (“They’re making me mad!”) and seeking to control others’ behaviors in an effort to make our difficult emotions go away. 


It doesn’t take a master therapist to tell you that this doesn’t work, at least not in the long term. Over time, it causes others to either shut down around you or lash out to get their voice heard. Either way, connection is lost.


The answer? Learning to openly engage with our own and others’ difficult emotions rather than ignore, avoid, or suppress them.


What does it mean to openly engage with difficult emotions?


It’s a shift from seeing difficult emotions as threatening and unsafe to seeing them as full of important information that needs to be investigated and understood. Whether the emotions are in us or in our kids or partner, these feelings of fear, sadness, regret, envy, inadequacy and so on are full of crucial information. They hold the keys to deeper parts of us and others that are driving behaviors (or shutting behaviors down) that are ultimately keeping us from having fuller, more dynamic, and more loving relationships.


When we engage with difficult emotions we turn towards them and welcome their presence through open curiosity. True engagement has no agendas, no plans to fix or change, but rather only a desire to understand. 


How will openly engaging with difficult emotions improve my relationships?

We can only engage the emotions in others that we’re willing to engage in ourselves. So, when we avoid, resist, and suppress difficult emotions in ourselves, we do the same in others. 


When our kids come to us with anger, sadness, and frustration, oftentimes we’ll seek to distract them, bribe them, or shut them down to get the difficult emotions to just go away. But in doing this, we chip away at our relationships. We send a subtle signal, that our kids have a part that we don’t like and we want it to go away. 


When we instead engage with these difficult feelings, we not only learn something new about our child’s experience, we send a signal that our child’s whole self is welcome. This makes it more likely that as they grow, you will be the first person they come to with a problem, not the last. 


It also helps your child learn about their inner emotional world. A safe and supportive adult is crucial to help them verbalize their feelings, see the world from multiple perspectives, and safely process and express their feelings. 


Three steps to engaging with difficult emotions

  1. Practice noticing and welcoming all of your emotions throughout the day. It can be as small as being cut off while driving, and turning your attention inward instead of toward the other driver. What is this I’m feeling? Where in my body is it strongest? What are the most accurate words to describe it? Continue to notice as the feeling moves in your body and eventually fades. 
  2. Practice talking about your emotions in detail. Verbalizing our emotions helps us become more precise about what we’re feeling (this is called “emotional granularity”). And the more precise, we get the more we can understand and accept in our inner world. And the more we can accept and even love inside ourselves, the more we can accept and love our children unconditionally. 
  3. Slow down and get curious about your child’s difficult emotions, even (or especially) if those emotions are about you. You can ask “What words best describe what you’re feeling?” “Where in your body are you feeling these emotions?” “If this emotion could say something right now, what would it say?” “Are there parts inside of you that feel differently?”


You’ll find that after practicing #1 and #2, #3 will come naturally. As the Authentic Relating trainer and instructor, Ryel Kestano noted in his podcast interview with Justin & Audra, what we reject in ourselves, we necessarily reject in others, and what we welcome in ourselves, we are able to welcome in others.

When you think back to frustrating, hurtful, and conflictual interactions with your child(ren), what emotions do you remember coming up for you? What emotions do you imagine were coming up for your child(ren)? Probably emotions we’d classify as “difficult,” such as anger, resentment, fear, sadness, helplessness, loneliness, and so on. 


From a young age, many of us are taught to avoid, ignore, or suppress difficult emotions. In relationships, one of the ways we do this is by projecting our feelings onto others (“They’re making me mad!”) and seeking to control others’ behaviors in an effort to make our difficult emotions go away. 


It doesn’t take a master therapist to tell you that this doesn’t work, at least not in the long term. Over time, it causes others to either shut down around you or lash out to get their voice heard. Either way, connection is lost.


The answer? Learning to openly engage with our own and others’ difficult emotions rather than ignore, avoid, or suppress them.


What does it mean to openly engage with difficult emotions?


It’s a shift from seeing difficult emotions as threatening and unsafe to seeing them as full of important information that needs to be investigated and understood. Whether the emotions are in us or in our kids or partner, these feelings of fear, sadness, regret, envy, inadequacy and so on are full of crucial information. They hold the keys to deeper parts of us and others that are driving behaviors (or shutting behaviors down) that are ultimately keeping us from having fuller, more dynamic, and more loving relationships.


When we engage with difficult emotions we turn towards them and welcome their presence through open curiosity. True engagement has no agendas, no plans to fix or change, but rather only a desire to understand. 


How will openly engaging with difficult emotions improve my relationships?

We can only engage the emotions in others that we’re willing to engage in ourselves. So, when we avoid, resist, and suppress difficult emotions in ourselves, we do the same in others. 


When our kids come to us with anger, sadness, and frustration, oftentimes we’ll seek to distract them, bribe them, or shut them down to get the difficult emotions to just go away. But in doing this, we chip away at our relationships. We send a subtle signal, that our kids have a part that we don’t like and we want it to go away. 


When we instead engage with these difficult feelings, we not only learn something new about our child’s experience, we send a signal that our child’s whole self is welcome. This makes it more likely that as they grow, you will be the first person they come to with a problem, not the last. 


It also helps your child learn about their inner emotional world. A safe and supportive adult is crucial to help them verbalize their feelings, see the world from multiple perspectives, and safely process and express their feelings. 


Three steps to engaging with difficult emotions

  1. Practice noticing and welcoming all of your emotions throughout the day. It can be as small as being cut off while driving, and turning your attention inward instead of toward the other driver. What is this I’m feeling? Where in my body is it strongest? What are the most accurate words to describe it? Continue to notice as the feeling moves in your body and eventually fades. 
  2. Practice talking about your emotions in detail. Verbalizing our emotions helps us become more precise about what we’re feeling (this is called “emotional granularity”). And the more precise, we get the more we can understand and accept in our inner world. And the more we can accept and even love inside ourselves, the more we can accept and love our children unconditionally. 
  3. Slow down and get curious about your child’s difficult emotions, even (or especially) if those emotions are about you. You can ask “What words best describe what you’re feeling?” “Where in your body are you feeling these emotions?” “If this emotion could say something right now, what would it say?” “Are there parts inside of you that feel differently?”


You’ll find that after practicing #1 and #2, #3 will come naturally. As the Authentic Relating trainer and instructor, Ryel Kestano noted in his podcast interview with Justin & Audra, what we reject in ourselves, we necessarily reject in others, and what we welcome in ourselves, we are able to welcome in others.

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