“‘I’m stupid. All I do is mess up and ruin everything. I can’t do anything right.’ Any time one of my children at any age has said words like this, it is like a knife to my heart. Everything in me wants to counter them and tell them they’re wrong, tell them not to talk like that, tell them it isn’t true, tell them everyone makes mistakes, tell them it doesn’t help to beat yourself up. I want to rush to tell them how wonderful I think they are and counter everything they say negatively about themselves.
There was a time when that’s exactly what I would do, too. Their negative self-talk would stop—out loud, anyway. But it didn’t actually end the internal monologue, because all this messaging did was tell my child I didn’t want to hear their most difficult, conflicted, painful inner-thoughts of self-doubt. That they had to protect me from what they were really feeling. I wasn’t safe for them to share with. That there was something shameful about having those thoughts and feelings. That having them was yet another way they failed.
My reaction didn’t help, obviously. Part of my reaction was because I recognized myself in them. I have the same type of thoughts. Sometimes frequently, others not. Thoughts of inadequacy, failure, self-doubt, and disappointment in myself, and even self-loathing. When I can’t live up to my ideals of perfection for myself, I can come down hard with self-criticism, beating myself up for being…human.
Hearing my children do the same thing brings all this back, plus I then start feeling like a failure because my children struggle in the same way. This alone helped me see the need to work on my own self-talk and address my personal negativity so I wouldn’t be modeling it for my children.
But this wasn’t enough. I needed to change from reacting to their behavior to responding to the need the behavior expressed.
So how do we help them without shutting them down? How do we help them work through those difficult feelings without shaming them for having those feelings?
- Listen—Really, really listen.
- Validate—’This sounds really difficult, I’m sorry you’re going through this.’
- Ask—’What do you need? Do you need to share and vent, or do you need some help figuring out what to do now? Would you like a hug?’
- Wait—Be patient and give them the time they require to process.
- Relate—After listening, validating, asking what they need, and giving them time, let them know you have felt this way too.
- Perspective—Only after asking permission, offer your perspective. ‘Would you like to hear what I think?’
- Respect—Their process is their process, not yours. Respect them in this.
Working through difficult emotions and big feelings is what it takes for us all to learn how to manage them. Avoiding those feelings leads to more deregulation, making it difficult to manage and move on. We tend to get stuck when we’re trying to avoid big, difficult feelings, which will lead to more big, difficult feelings and their coping mechanisms that may be more of a disruption, including anger and rage, explosive outbursts, anxiety, procrastination, etc.
Embracing those feelings, rather than shutting them down, is crucial to being able to process in healthy ways and work through them without shame.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber of We’re All Human Here. The story originally appeared here. Follow We’re All Human Here on Instagram here. The article originally appeared here. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.
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