Negative Emotions

  Hey, hey everybody, Andee here!! I am so glad you are here!

I’ve been sitting in a lot of negative emotions this week. I am realizing as my kids get older that they want to move on with their lives.

This summer has made me realize how little time I have left with my older kids. I have two two kids back east doing summer sales right now. I have a daughter in France for a study abroad. One of my sons is in Chile doing service, and two of my girls are in Arizona visiting cousins and their grandparents, and I am finding myself home alone with my amazing husband and our sheep a doodle, but it’s just really different than what I am used to.

I’ve been feeling the difference especially with my 21 year old who is in France. She had been home for six weeks in between the end of the semester and when she needed to leave to her Study Abroad. So she had six weeks where she came and lived at home before she went to France and they were magical. She hasn’t lived at home for a long time.

The last time she lived at home was during COVID. This was just so special and we would go to the gym together and take our dog on a walk on a trail by our house and just hang out. And so when she left, it was the end of an era because she’s not going to come back and live at home when she gets back from France.

And so there was a grieving, there was a grieving process of me. Just dealing with the reality of a significant change. I walked our dog the day after she left or maybe that night and I just cried. I just cried because I thought of all of the amazing talks we had had. We got a ton of snow here this winter and so the path that we walk on during certain parts of the time she was here was overflowing with water.

So we just decided we were going to walk it anyway. And so we walked it, it was freezing cold. Our feet would turn numb and we would. It was a four mile round trip walk. So we would walk through the water periodically throughout the four miles and our feet would be wet most of the time. And we just had the best time and it has brought up a lot of negative emotions for me.

I want to talk about the power of negative emotions and how they really actually serve us. I’m not saying they feel amazing in our body, although I will say the more comfortable we get with negative emotions, the more comfortable they feel in our body.

We don’t have to make the emotions mean something terrible. What I think we often forget to talk about, when we’re talking about negative emotions, is how important they are in our life. They are not something to avoid.

Hold on to the reins everyone, because we are talking about negative emotions, how really there’s no such thing as negative emotions, how embracing negative emotions make them a whole lot less negative, and how they actually are so important to allowing us to experience the positive emotions in our life.

What Even Are Negative Emotions??

I wish we weren’t categorizing them as positive and negative emotions. I think it’s far too simplistic. I don’t think it encompasses the true beauty and essence of the emotions. I wish we just called them contrast of emotions, or something to that effect. I will be using the label negative emotions primarily because that’s the label we’ve come to agree upon as a society and when I use that word, people will know what I’m talking about.

I want to say right from the beginning that I don’t believe in negative emotions. I think they’re just emotions and that our experience of them is beautiful and important for us to feel the human experience that we’re supposed to feel here in this life.

Coming off a week with a ton of what you would classify as negative emotions and me sitting in them, I didn’t feel like they were bad. As I was feeling the despair and the grief and the sadness as my kids have been slowly trickling out for this period of time and doing some other things. I’m really grateful for all of the things they’re able to experience.

So I’ve experienced a lot of negative emotions lately, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I see them as a gateway to growth. They are very, very important. Here’s the problem. We have been taught as a society that we should be striving for a picture perfect life with positive emotions.

A lot of people misinterpret positive psychology. What I will say is I think people have taken the elements of positive psychology and turned them against ourselves. Leading us to thinking we should always be feeling positive and we should never lose our cool and we should always feel happy, we should be in care bear land, as my good friend talks about it.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to be happy or positive. Those are essential parts of life. They’re essential parts of parenting. To think that we can stay in a constant state of positivity really sets us up for more negativity, ironically.

Why We Shouldn’t Try To Be Happy All Of The Time

Life is not about suppressing or avoiding negative emotions, which most of us tend to want to do. It’s about opening ourselves up to them. I’m going to say this again and again, but the more you open yourself up to negative emotions and welcome them in as part of the human experience, the less negative you will feel.

We tend to believe that we should be happy the majority of the time. This is such a big misconception. Being alive on this planet, being a parent of children of any age, means that you will inevitably feel negative AND positive emotions.

It’s interesting to reflect back on my whole experience as a young mom. What I have noticed as a constant in mine and my kid’s lives is that we are constantly experiencing ALL of the emotional states. Now, it might not be all of the emotions every day, it’s 50 percent positive, 50 percent negative emotions, but we are experiencing both negative and positive emotions.

This week, as I was walking down the trail, bawling my eyes out, walking my dog, thinking about all the amazing talks I had with my daughter before she left for France, I was all in on the experience.

I didn’t classify it as bad or negative. I just classified it as something that happens when you love someone deeply. When we love someone deeply, we are going to grieve deeply when they’re not with us. We’re going to have sadness if they’re in pain because we love them so much. So I saw that experience as one of abundance and gratitude.

I was grateful for it, even though it was also gut wrenching, and I was feeling a lot of emotions in my body. Parenting and living our life is not about experiencing positive emotions all of the time. It’s about experiencing emotions all of the time and learning to accept our emotions all of the time. That is the key.

This morning, that same daughter I was talking about that’s now living in Paris messaged me. We’ve been messaging and talking about science and emotions, actually. Neuroscience and chemicals in our body.

I’ve been sending her information and podcasts and books and we’ve been going back and forth because she’s up against a lot of new things. We always talk about this stuff because I geek out on it all of the time. It’s been really fun to even have more of those discussions with her.

This morning after she and I had had a discussion, she said, “it’s super good to depersonalize things in a healthy way, like understanding why we’re wired the way we are without making it mean anything about us.” And I typed back in all caps, YES! I LOVE SCIENCE!

I truly do! When we understand the science of emotions, we understand the nervous system and how it’s trying to protect us and keep us safe. All of the sudden these emotional states make so much sense. They’re not about us and they’re not about our kids.

They happen because we are human and we experience emotions, nothing more. It’s not about stopping the negative emotions, it’s about learning how to use these emotions to fuel our life in a productive way. Our emotions are like the fuel in a car. You wouldn’t put diesel fuel in a car that takes unleaded fuel, it wouldn’t work properly.

If we resist the emotions that we are given in our life, it’s like we’re fighting against the fuel that we need to make our life the best version of it we possibly can. It’s the equivalent of turning the emotion into diesel instead of the unleaded fuel that we need. It doesn’t work. It’s not effective and we’re going to break down just like our car would break down in the same situation.

This is might be a stretch, but bear with me on this; The unleaded fuel that we need (in this case: our emotions), includes positive and negative emotions. Just like there are different components in unleaded gasoline, I have no idea what they are but I know there’s different things that are put together to make gasoline, the positive and negative emotions that we each experience are necessary to fuel our lives in a healthy way.

We can’t just have one type of emotion. In fact, if we only felt one emotion, take happy for example, and everyone around us was happy and lovely, we wouldn’t even know it. People in that alternate universe wouldn’t even be able to conceptualize happiness in the way you and I do. We wouldn’t have any contrast or any other emotion to compare our happiness with. I

f we are winning the lottery and finding perfect love and the weather was always perfect, we wouldn’t even be able to appreciate it because we would never have experienced sadness (or any other ‘negative emotion’) to make this happiness actually mean something.

No Happiness Without Sadness

There’s no happiness without experiencing the opposite. We often forget this simple truth and we try to push away any form of unhappiness or disappointment, fear, or frustration that we feel. We look at other people’s lives through their social media accounts and see people seemingly living their best lives and often feel that our mundane lives don’t fit that picture. We all know this, but Instagram is filtered so that we only see the highlights and the happy, cheery parts.

I’m not saying there aren’t people who are posting real stuff on there. All I am saying is that more often than not, we’re not seeing the full picture of someone’s life. And I think that’s okay, but I think we are fooling ourselves into believing the reality of what’s really happening in other people’s lives and we fall into this trap of thinking that we’ve got to keep up with this unachievable standard of perfection.

Going back to my gasoline analogy. If they took some of the components in gasoline out, I’m guessing it would not be stable or nearly as effective. You need all of the different components to make effective fuel, just like we need all of the different components of emotions, all the different facets of emotions to make it an effective fuel for us to really progress and to become the best version of ourselves.

So if you are a gasoline expert, I have botched that analogy. Forgive me. Hopefully it illustrated the point. It may or may not have been scientifically sound, but that wasn’t the goal. The purpose was to showing you the value of welcoming all the emotions because as far as our brain is concerned, we need them all in order to mature and become the most emotionally intelligent and resilient version of ourselves.

Negative Emotions Are Not The Enemy

Here’s what I want to emphasize again, in case you haven’t heard me yet: negative emotions are not our enemy. They are an integral part of the human experience, not to mention the parenting experience. When we accept this truth and we can find relaxation and peace within ourselves and extend that understanding to others, we are going to be able to live a more conscientious and fulfilled life.

It’s very common to expect our kids to be pleasant and happy and do everything you ask. We tend to get frustrated if they don’t just wake up cheery little souls or want to do their chores with a pep in their step, don’t have a good attitude when we tell them it’s time to get ready to go to grandma’s or something like that. We want them to be on this perfect high emotional level all of the time. We also tend to expect this of ourselves. We think we should be positive and happy and grateful all of the time and that there’s something wrong with us if we aren’t happy all of the time.

This is not healthy or realistic. A fulfilling life involves embracing the contrast in our world. That includes the negative emotions. It means we need to appreciate all of the emotions we feel.

If we expand it beyond that, understanding the contrast of seasons, the contrast of the rainy season, the dry season when it’s cold versus hot, there’s contrast in all parts of nature that are showing us this very concept of embracing the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the feasts and famines, the times when the kids are here with a smile when the kids are not.

I’m not saying it won’t be challenging but it will be worth your time to learn how to not resist or label things in your life as negative or bad. Instead learn to relabel these experiences it as part of life, not necessarily bad and not necessarily good.

When my kids come back I’m going to appreciate them here and having my house full of children. I will appreciate it even more than before because this is a really unique time for me. I can’t remember another time where all of my kids were gone at the same time without me there with them.

It’s really, really fascinating for me to be home while they’re away, it’s reminded me of the importance of accepting negative emotions. To me happiness isn’t defined as the absence of negative emotions, it’s defined as the joy we feel while nurturing our potential and overcoming obstacles.

Think about it. When you’re working towards something important you’re going to encounter challenges and that’s not always going to feel positive. It’s going to feel crappy sometimes, but facing those obstacles and experiencing the negative emotions that come along the way, the challenges, that literal pain will allow you to become the best version of yourself. It will allow you to become the connective parent that you want to become.

All of those experiences, positive and negative, contribute to the richness and the beauty and the fulfillment of your journey. That’s the truth. A lot of moms come to me and they say, “I just want to be patient all of the time.” What they don’t realize is that the way they become patient is by being impatient and course correcting until eventually they’ve created a new way of being, a new normal as a patient mom.

They’ve created strategic byproducts, skills that have come out of this pursuit of patience, but it was riddled with impatience until it became the quality of patience that they wanted to have as their new normal. It is oftentimes through the negative emotions that we learn. It is the negative experiences, the emotional experiences that don’t feel so great, that we have to overcome, that we have to learn to navigate through, that get us to the place of arriving at the new state, the new calm, connected, confident state. That is the truth.

By facing those obstacles, experiencing the negative emotions, challenges and situations, that you become that next version of yourself. This is how you become the connective parent that you want to become, and what helps you create the life you want. Let’s bring it closer to home to bring it in a little bit.

How Does This Apply To Parenting??

Ah, the beautiful chaos of parenting. When you become a parent you are opening yourself up to so much love and joy and so much connection. You bring that baby home and oh, you’re so in love with them. Alongside al of the joy and love that comes from being a parent, you also are exposing yourself to the intense pain, disappointment, grief, frustration that can result as well.

These two ends of the spectrum come hand in hand. If we love someone deeply, we will grieve deeply if we aren’t able to be with them or if they’re struggling. It’s actually a beautiful sign and an indication of how deeply we love. The more we love someone, the more that person has the ability to potentially hurt us (intentionally or unintentionally).

Most parents wish that their children could just be happy all of the time. This is totally something that I’m feeling right now, as my kids are all over the place right now. Each of them, in their own way, are having these difficult challenges come up for them in their new situations.

They’re up against some challenging things and as I talk to my kids, there is part of me that wants to be able to take away the burden somehow. I don’t know how I would do that. My magic parenting wand maybe, that I don’t have, but there is part of me that wants to make their lives simple and sweet and pleasant and positive.

I was just talking with my husband today because one of our kids is really going through something rough. And I want to bring him back and take him in and just take away all of his problems. Our discussion was really about trusting in his ability to navigate this situation.

This is what he wants. He’s choosing it. It’s going to be amazing for him and I need to remember that I can trust him and his ability to work through his problems. I also need to sit in the discomfort of seeing him struggle and continue to tap into what I believe he needs, and how I can help and serve him.

This is what we are up against as parents. The deep love and connection is a package deal with the grief and pain that we will experience as parents. We need to remind ourselves that this is a normal part of being a parent. I would never want to love my kids less so that I would feel less pain, never.

I would take all of the pain that I needed to, all of the grief or the sorrow or the sadness that I might experience because of the struggles they’re going through to feel the depth of love I have for them. When you think about it like that, of course, you want the contrast.

This is how they will grow. In fact, scientifically, they’ve shown that emotions are the engine to our maturation. All humans are going to physically mature and that’s a train we can’t stop. But emotional maturity is not inevitable.

It’s something that happens when the conditions are right and when we have the opportunity to grow and experience all of the emotions and when we realize that all of our emotions are okay. It helps to remember that our emotions are not a personal declaration of our character.

If I’m feeling sad or depressed or overwhelmed or mad, that is just something happening to my body. You get to figure out how you navigate those emotions, but you have to understand that the emotions are working for you, not against you. Your negative emotions are there for you. They aren’t working against you. We all need to remind ourselves of this.

It is by accepting our emotions as helpful that we are creating an environment where the emotional maturity can happen naturally, as it’s supposed to. The goal is not to be rid of our negative emotions or all of our struggles. The goal is to use our negative emotions in a healthy way and to support ourselves and our kids so that we can become the best version of ourselves.

To reiterate, emotional maturity comes from experiencing the full gamut of emotions. We need to stop thinking that they’re bad.

Negative emotions are not bad.

They are the reason and the way in which we become emotionally mature. If we’re constantly shielding ourselves or our kids from negative emotions, we are depriving ourselves from a true human experience. We could stay in our comfort zones,

I really wanted my son to come home and be in the comfort of my home this morning, I want him to avoid all pain and discomfort, but I also know that even though part of me wants to shelter him, that that would not serve him. And in doing sheltering him, if I was able to do that, he would be missing out on the growth and the opportunities and the human experience that this situation is presenting him. I need to trust that he’s ready for it.

The more that we are willing to embrace the ups and downs of life, the more we truly can become who we are meant to become.

How To Help Your Kids Become Emotionally Mature Adults

Let’s talk about an important aspect of parenting: teaching our children how to handle negative emotions. As parents, we are going to encounter a lot of challenges, and one of the things that will help us to teach our kids how to navigate negative emotions is being able to handle them ourselves.

The better we are at knowing how to do it, then we can role model and teach our kids how to do it. One of the things that might get in our way is when we avoid negative emotions ourselves. People avoid emotions in many different ways. Sometimes we eat. I didn’t realize that sometimes I was eating food, specifically sugar, to avoid negative emotions until I caught myself in the act just the other day.

I’m going to be honest and vulnerable here, I was feeling a little bit stressed and anxious and I decided to go for a drive with my dog because all my kids are gone. There is a shop that does flavored sodas and waters near my house, and I’m a big sparkling water fan. They put different flavors or whatever you want, into the sparkling water.

So I went and got myself one and I was in the drive thru and, they sell cookies there too, so I decided to get a cookie to go with my drink. I knew I was getting the cookie to avoid feeling.

I wanted to feel better. And when we eat tasty sugary things, we get a little dopamine hit and we feel better. So I totally caved. I ate the cookie. I didn’t want to show my husband. I tried to eat it before I came home and then I hid it in the fridge and ate the rest of it that night. That is so embarrassing, but we’re just going to tell it as it is.

I was totally avoiding feeling some negative emotions. I was feeling crappy and I wanted to feel better. And that was the way I decided to do it. Now, is that the end of the world? No it’s not the end of the world. It’s fine. It’s just not something I want to do unconsciously or repetitively, but it happens.

Another thing I do is I over-clean or over-organize. A couple of weeks ago, my last two kids had left the day before, I spent the whole day.

Organizing and cleaning and running to Target to get bins to put more things in so I could put them underneath in the storage area. I was avoiding negative emotions. Now, we want to be on to ourselves, and be aware of our favorite ways to avoid negative emotions. There is an important balance to be found here. We need to recognize that sometimes we do need space. It is unrealistic to expect ourselves to always deal with our emotions in the most healthy way.

Sometimes we need to give our bodies and nervous systems time to calm down before we are capable of feeling the negative emotions. If we are emotionally triggered and our nervous system is activated, it’s possible that that will be a challenge, especially at first, for us to feel our negative emotions.

So, sometimes this is totally appropriate to give ourselves space. And if we’re avoiding here and there, not a problem. The issue arises when it becomes habitual and we stop recognizing what we are doing, and we stop feeling the negative emotions because they feel so bad. That’s when it becomes a problem.

If we’re doing it consistently, or if you’re afraid of negative emotions and you aren’t quite sure how to feel them, you most likely need to learn how to process those emotions before giving yourself space.

When I totally snuck the sugar cookie, I noticed what I was doing and I knew how to help myself actually process those emotions. Later that night I sat with the negative emotions and was able to let them process. The goal is to continually get better at feeling our negative emotions, not to be perfect at it immediately.

The more you practice this yourself, the better you’re going to be at it, which means you’ll be better at teaching your kids how to do the same. One exercise that I recommend trying is setting aside five to ten minutes every day, turning all the distractions of your life off and taking time to tune into your emotional state.

In order for this to be impactful you need to truly feel what you’re feeling and be totally present in those emotions while letting come out and exploring them and describing them and noticing them in your body. I highly recommend doing this. It’s a powerful way to tap into the emotions you’re feeling and also become more acquainted with them.

Embracing our emotions is a powerful skill set and will effect every single aspect of your life. So, practice feeling those emotions and you’re going to be able to model this and help your kids. This is really important.

Here is your homework: go feel those negative emotions and don’t make them feel so negative. It’s an act of courage and self compassion to do this. When you learn to do this for yourself, you’ll be able to start teaching your kids how to feel their emotions. And you’ll be able to also have a bigger window of tolerance for their negative emotions.

Meaning, if they’re having an attitude or a meltdown, and you used to only be able to tolerate it for two minutes before you could feel your blood pressure rising, now you will be able to handle 5 minutes of a meltdown before you feel frustrated.

I loved taking the time to discuss negative emotions with you today. It’s something so present for me right now that it seemed like the perfect time to have this conversation.

I really want to circle back to this point: there isn’t any such thing as a negative emotion. They’re just emotions. They’re all here to benefit us. They’re all here to serve us. The sooner we stop trying to avoid them, the sooner we will be able to benefit from all of them. Emotions are truly our teacher. They can become our greatest assets.

If the worst thing that can happen to us is an emotion, we feel frustrated that our kids didn’t listen or disappointed that the day got ruined then we will be able to live the fullest version of ourselves.

As we learn to do this for ourselves, we can teach our children how to do it for themselves. One of the biggest paybacks of this is seeing our children not be afraid to go do difficult things or feel those negative emotions or have challenges in their life because they know nothing can stop them.

Let’s make a pact. We are going to be emotional role models for our kids by embracing our emotions and teaching them how to navigate theirs and empowering them to be emotional resilient.

So go out there this week, feel your emotions proudly and create a world that is a little bit more emotionally mature.

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Andee Martineau

Andee’s a mom of 6, reformed yeller, and the creator of Connect Method Parenting. She’s on a mission to help moms feel in control, bring the fun back into parenting, and ditch the yelling, corrections, and endless feelings of failure!

Can you imagine your kids happily listening to you, helping around the house, confiding in you, and getting along with their siblings? She’s got you covered with simple, scientifically-sound steps to do just that (that actually work. For real!)

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