I don’t know about you, but I spend a considerable amount of my energy fending off my feelings. I put myself down for feeling, I push little Bethany to put on her big-girl panties and deal with it.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, I tell myself. The truth, however, is that all my emphasis rests on “Do It Anyway.” The “Feel the Fear” part gets skipped over.
If you’ve spent any time in the company of young children, then you’ve witnessed the tantrum. I won’t try to describe your child, but with mine it never, never worked when I tried to snap them out of it or even just to hurry them through the thing so we could get on with our day. (Why it worked for my mother to slap me and say “Knock it off” is an issue for me to discuss with a licensed therapist.)
What worked for me was to let my kid flail and cry and feel her feelings. What worked for me was to sympathize, which sometimes meant getting on the floor with my kid.
It worked with students, too. I had been reading Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Colorosa, when a student came up to me after class and exploded. I can’t remember what he was frustrated about, a grade, an assignment, something another student had done, but he sounded completely out-of-control and angry at me. Thanks to my daughters, I recognized that it was not about me at all. It was a tantrum, and logic was not the issue.
You are really angry, I said.
He stopped dead and his eyes widened. It was like magic. But it wasn’t magic. It was mirroring. All I had done was sympathize — feel — what he was feeling, and name it for him. And that’s all it took. We had a great talk. He got down to what was really bugging him, and we brainstormed a few strategies for fixing it.
Right now I have a lot of writing out — poems and stories and even a piece of a longer book. Waiting for rejections or acceptances or comments is scary. I start feeling this free-floating anxiety. I want to sleep, but I can’t sleep. I try to escape by burying myself in other writers’ novels. I self-anesthetize by playing games on my phone. But I know myself pretty well, and when I’m doing these things, when I wake up and see these behaviors, I recognize that I’m trying to turn off my brain (and heart) and not feel what I’m feeling.
Denying what I’m feeling doesn’t work on me any better than it used to work on my child. What works is for me to say, You’re anxious. You’re afraid. It’s okay. You can feel this. I’m here,