Unpleasant emotions include feelings of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, fear, and grief, to name a few.
The TED Talk speaker explores how emotional mastery is demonstrated by our ability to move past/through these unpleasant emotions and not be shut down or run from them.
By “move through,” she refers to the neuroscience idea that when an emotional feeling gets triggered, chemicals flood the body, activating bodily sensations that can put into a survival state of fight, flight, and freeze. Interestingly, we experience these unpleasant emotions in our bodies before we cognitively understand them. The body always reacts first, fast, and defensively. If unpleasant feelings come from a traumatic event, we will develop emotional programs that will be set in the body to protect us from other unpleasant feelings or situations. We may make a conscious vow to never “trust people again,” be put “into an embarrassing situation ever again,” or “never take such a risk like that again” to further protect ourselves from such unpleasantness. Emotional programs (from the unconscious body-mind) and cognitive vows (from the conscious thinking-mind) paint us into a corner. Although they protect, they also prevent us from growth and success.
The goal is to “move through” unpleasant emotions and not avoid or dissociate from them. To do this, we have to “surf” the wave of bodily chemical sensations and stand up on the board of our own conscious choices. That unpleasant wave of chemicals only lasts 60-90 seconds. That is less time that a song on the radio, explains the psychologist from the TED Talk. Unpleasant emotions rush and then flush from the body.
It is the fight or flight from unpleasant emotions that make the waves more significant and more threatening than they are, and the vicious cycle of the more chemical reaction and mental obsessions continue.
How do we “move through” emotionally unpleasant feelings? The psychologists claim that the uncomfortable sensations are like a wave of chemicals that go through us like a wave. It lasts only 60-90 seconds and then dissipates. Rush and then flushed by the body.
Different unpleasant emotions have different patterns of waves: Grief has waves after waves. Anger is perhaps a big roaring wave. Sadness is a slow, lingering wave. Shame a sneaky, rip curl of a wave. But all of them come and go. We can get back on the beach and feel stable again. The beach is the place of acceptance in this metaphor.
The speaker’s recommendation is to learn to surf the unpleasant waves, let them rise, and then let them retreat. Stop fighting them, fleeing them, or freezing in the middle of them. With consistent practice, insights into life and your character will develop. The speaker describes how we will be better able to pursue the goals you dreamed about, have courageous conversations, and feel more conformable in your skin. Surfing them won’t take a lifetime. It only takes a moment. The present now where change always starts.
Emotional Intelligence is one of the most important attributes of success at home and school (and later in life, in business). This is because EQ is about being self-aware and socially sophisticated. The better children are at understanding and managing the world of emotion and social interactions, the better they will be at controlling anxiety.
Another way of looking at EQ is to say that “emotional intelligence is being able to feel an emotion without having to act on it.”
Emotional IQ Training
Howard Gardner, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, has suggested that there are many different types of intelligence, not just academic (linguistic and math) ones. He refers to these as talents that all children possess, male or female. Being able to use these talents is what makes people successful and satisfied in life. Peter Salovey, another psychologist, refines Gardner’s talents into five main domains of emotional intelligence:
Knowing one’s emotions
Recognizing emotions in others
and Handling relationships.
In order to help boy and girls develop all of these areas of emotional intelligence and use it to cope with stress and anxiety, we have to intentionally implement “learning opportunities” into their daily lives. The more skills that we provide our children in understanding their emotions, recognizing stress, and feeling confident to manage it, the more adept our children will be in finding freedom from fears and anxiety. It is the avoidance or lack of confidence emotionally that causes anxiety to be so intimidating.
Gender Differences In Emotional Intelligence
FACT: Girls are 2x as likely to develop anxiety than boys.
FACT: Boys use aggression to express most of their emotions.
Research has shown that girls develop language skills much sooner than boys and are more articulate when it comes to expressing themselves emotionally. This natural advantage and the de-emphasis on emotional training for boys, lead males to communicate their emotions behaviorally. This may be why so many boys get into fights, play competitive sports, or act aggressively towards others. It is their way of communicating their feelings. And anger is the socially acceptable spokesperson for all of those feelings, be they positive or negative.
Why, in our modern society, do we continue to see this pattern of emotional deficiency in boys? Is it simply a matter of biology and not something that we can control. Although nature is a significant part of personality and social/emotional development, I don’t believe that is the answer.
In most societies around the globe, girls receive more “training” on how to process a full range of emotions that do boys. Research proves that biological is not as powerful a reason for this as you might think. A lot has to do with nurture and modeling.
Research and common sense suggest that we give our sons undivided attention every day. This means full attention, not partial or half. Don’t engage in cooking, cleaning, reading or anything else that might detract from the attention given. Playing a game or working on a project, side-by-side, with minimal words is enough. Jerrold Lee Shapiro, Ph.D., in his book, The Measure of a Man: Becoming the Father You Wish Your Father Had Been, states that while men and women experience emotions similarly, they may share those emotions differently. Men, due to past Emotional IQ training, are used to indirectly communicating with one another. This is what, Dr. Shapiro calls “side-by-side” or “shoulder-to-shoulder” communication. Moms tend to prefer the more “face-to-face”, direct approach.
Dr. Shapiro talks about the different styles of communicating emotions by men and women: “Men have long been criticized for either having no feelings or having the wrong ones, or being unable to describe them. It is true that males in our society are trained to deny, ignore, cover up, and rise above feelings. However, we do have them all the time. It is important that we express our feelings to our children in male ways. It is customary for men to be most open, for example, while they are working on a joint project together (i.e., shoulder to shoulder).”
It is also important that mom’s and dads encourage boys to express the full range of emotions. Past social conditioning that only some emotions, namely anger, are acceptable need to be removed. All emotions are valid. Be receptive to a baby’s sadness and discomfort as well as his cooing and giggles. Ask toddlers and school-age boys if they are feeling sad or tired and empathize with those feelings. Tell older boys that it is normal to feel awkward or anxious and have open discussions about his relationships with girls, other boys, siblings, teachers, and family.
When boys do express themselves aggressively or act rambunctious, look below the anger. While it is true that boys, on the average, do play more aggressively, don’t let that prevent you from checking for underlying emotions of sadness or anxiety. Remember that acting out means just that. Boys often act out their feelings of hurt and loss. Labels those feelings for them if they are obvious or ask them about their feelings if they are not. Reflect on their behavior by stating, “You seem to be upset about this situation. I wonder if you are feelings hurt/sad/anxious by it.” Model complex feelings by admitting you often get angry when you feel these other emotions too. It is often difficult for young children to understand that people can have more than one emotion at a time.
Be willing to express your love and empathy openly and generously. Loving your son will not “baby” him, “spoil” him, or make him a “sissy.” It will make him more self-assured, confident, and secure. When a dad is openly affectionate toward his son, a very deep message about manhood and emotions is communicated. Tell your son that you love him as much as you wish. Give him hugs and take opportunities to play with him.
This still begs the question as to why girls are more likely to be anxious than boys. Aren’t they more socially trained to express feelings? Yes, but boys have one advantage over girls in this area…They tend to externalize their feelings whereas girls internalize it more. This results in girls being more anxious about their bodies, negatively affected by social ostracism, inadequate, sad and lonely.
Mental health data supports that girls are more like to miss school due to overwhelming feelings of sadness and contemplate suicide and/or engage in self-harm behaviors when situations feel more emotionally overwhelming. Helping them develop their EQ will be a powerful deterrent to these risk factors.
Expectations, Pressure, and Failure
There is a high correlation between children’s anxiety and parents high expectations. Parents want the best for their children but sometimes this can translate into unnecessary pressure on the child. Children who are pressured to perform and made to feel guilty or ashamed at not being the best are most likely to develop anxiety disorders. Parents need to take a look at themselves and their own drives to be perfect, look good to others, and issues around failure. They may be projecting their own “junk” onto their children. High expectations can lead to children making irrational conclusions about their failures. A child might state that “I failed my math test because I am dumb. I will always be dumb and I will never do well in math.” Parents need to be empathic when they hear these types of statements. Don’t criticise them for the irrationality. Help them redirect their perspectives with positive statements, such as: “You failed the test because it was a very hard test and you didn’t have much study time. You will do well next time and we will work on it together.”
EQ is NOT Innate
When children are born, they have neurons but no connections and so everything can feel stressful. The connections are created through experiences with parents and peers. Over time, through many, many experiences, children develop the skills they need to understand themselves and the social-emotional world around them. Allow them the safety to go through this process of trial and error. Be a coach to them as they learn. Don’t be too quick to tell them how to do something, manage friendship quarrels, or find solutions to frustrating situations.
Name Them to Tame Them
The best Emotional IQ strategies are the simplest. Putting names to feelings helps children communicate and master them. Fears and anxiety can appear so large and overwhelming that children don’t know how to cope. Giving them a name makes seem smaller and more manageable.
Parents can say “Anxiety wants to make you have a bad day and tell you that you can’t remember anything when you take a test. He’s such a pest, isn’t he?”
“It is very frustrating when your brother won’t share his video game with you.”
“Worry wants us to argue in the car about getting to school on time but let’s listen to the music instead.”
“When you get afraid, it makes your heart beat fast. Feel it? Good thing we can use our breathing exercises to slow it down. Let’s do it together.”
Using imaginative labels for anxiety and its entourage of characters (worry, fear, panic, frustration, perfectionism) helps children externalize their emotions and have more confidence to control them(selves).
Naming emotions are centered in the left hemisphere of the brain in a small region called Brocas Area. Our right hemisphere lacks the verbal labeling of the left but is able to process images and bodily sensations that go along with feelings. Naming our fears allows both hemispheres of the brain to work together. Strong emotions, like anxiety, panic and phobias will hijack the thinking brain as a protective function to real or perceived danger. Using words to describe them puts the thinking brain back in charge and sends signals to the body to be calm and peaceful.
Once a child learns to name their own emotions, they can better recognize emotions in others. This makes them skilled at handling anxiety, feeling confident, and being socially competent. A great combination!
EQ Habits for the home
Parents and children can use some simple habits to improve EQ and decrease anxiety:
1. Use a diary to describe one emotional experience per day.
2. Do “emotional weather” check-ins every morning to be more aware of our feelings states.
3. Practice identifying emotions in others nonverbal behavior and make a scavenger list of feelings to see how many you can spot per day.
4. Watch movies and call out the feelings spotted in others on the screen.
5. Write a list of negative feelings and then write down their opposites. Pick one positive and have a family plan to experience that through outings, research, etc.
6. Use dramatic play to act out feelings in puppets, artwork, music, poetry, dance/movement, character voices, fictional stories.
Where do we start?
The most natural place is the home. And the most natural person is a mom or dad. We need to be more conscious about what and how we are teaching emotional literacy to our children. Handling any and all emotions make us better equipped to tackle anxiety. Don’t sit passively by and wait till there is a big issue. Go after it now! If anxiety has already become a big problem, you can use Emotional IQ skills to uproot anxiety and build new, more adaptable reactions instead.
There is some interesting research on the link between depressed dads and its effects on their children. This supports much of the posts I have written on the importance of father/child bond. The research is summarized by Child-Psych.org at http://bit.ly/mvo6nu: “The current study used a nationally representative sample of fathers of one year-olds, 1,746 dads in total.
The men answered questions in four different areas: interactive play (e.g., peek-a-boo), speech and language interactions, reading to the child, and spanking. Whether or not the fathers had talked with their child’s pediatrician during the past year was also assessed. Seven percent of the fathers in the study reported being depressed during the past year. Seventy-seven percent of these dads also had spoken with the pediatrician over the past year… there were no differences between fathers that were not depressed and those that were in their reports of playing interactive games and singing songs/nursery rhymes with their children. Depressed dads were less likely to read to their one year-olds and much more likely to spank them.”
Conclusions of this study focused on the relationship between a fathers well-being and the child emotional and academic abilities later in life. As you might expect, the higher the depression in dad, the lower the functioning of the child. In addition, there is a connection between how aggressive dads were in their discipline. A higher percentage of dads spanked or acted out of anger with their children. Why do I keep harping on this topic? I want dads to be aware of and accept how vital there role is in the life of their children. I want others (moms and society in general) to be more mindful of the need to educate and support dads in this role. As men, we don’t get the same amount of formal or informal training to be parents as moms. More focus is needed for men to rise to the challenge of parenting.
Everyone struggles with how to deal with their emotions. This is especially challenging for children whose neurological development has not matured to the point that they can use more rational thinking to deal with their emotions. It becomes even more problematic if our children have suffered a traumatic event or experienced toxic stress.
Trauma and toxic stress impair all areas of development for children causing them to act and think below their chronological age. We call this gap “Age vs. Stage” to reference how a 16-year-old can act socially and emotionally like a 6-year-old. Often, the age that the child experienced the trauma is the emotional age they get stuck at even while the rest of them advance in years. This can open the eyes for many caregivers who are puzzled by the age vs stage problem.
Adults don’t always have good solutions to this problem, however. We may not really know how to manage our own emotions. Perhaps we have had our own trauma that shuts us down when overwhelmed by stress or we haven’t had many examples of what healthy, responsible adults do with their intense feelings and so, we limp along with our own developmental journey.
What most adults do is stuff their feelings. They might do this by dissociating from their bodily reactions and disconnect from extreme feelings of intimacy or closeness. They might push the feelings down until the boil over in a fit of rage, with everyone around the just waiting for the next volcanic explosion. They might try to be super reasonable and lecture their family and be perfectionistic with expectations no one can live up to.
The healthier answer is not to try and live from our emotions at all! The secret is that you can change your emotions by changing what you believe. When you wake up in the morning, don’t ask yourself “How do I feel today?” Ask yourself, instead “What do I believe today?”
Families who are faith-based believe many things they don’t always practice. For example, we believe that God will take care of all our needs but we spend hours being worried. Our beliefs must go deeper into our subconscious minds where habits exist. You don’t think about how to do certain things in life, like driving your car or make dinner, because those thought structures are set in our subconscious mind so that we can spend more energy on other conscious thoughts and actions. Practicing what we preach has to become a natural reaction to life’s challenges as well.
Faith-based families have a strange distrust of their own souls as well. Our souls comprise our body, mind, and will. Perhaps we distrust them because we haven’t changed our subconscious habits yet. This will be an on-going process, for sure, and one we can start modeling for our children as well. We also have to live healthy lifestyles, eating good food, engaging in playful activities, and getting rest and exercise.
Our beliefs allow us to overcome shame from our past. This is what causes traumatized children (and adults) from believing they deserve a good life because they are unworthy of love, unwanted by biological parents, and damaged in some way – maybe many ways. This negative belief results in the sabotage of success, self-injurious behavior, suicidal ideations, depression, anxiety, and fear. This list could go on…
God’s mercies are supposed to be “new every morning” and the same level of grace should be extended to ourselves as well as to other. We need to offer this to our traumatized children, as well. Whatever happened yesterday must be forgiven and our thought life must be taken captive.
A powerful tool for ourselves and for our families is to make biblical declarations – out loud! Life or death is on the tongue and what we say can steer the direction of our lives (Proverbs 18:21; James 3). Speaking out our new beliefs is an act of faith because we may not feel that what we are saying is true but we are not letting our emotions guide our beliefs, we are letting our beliefs direct our emotions.
Renewing the mind is how we are to live our faith governed lives and it is a continual process of maturity for our children and will help to close the age vs. stage gap (Romans 12:1-1).
Start your declarations with the words “I believe” and see what happens to your own mindset as well as to your child’s attitude and behaviors.
“I believe” that I have all the grace I need to face any challenge or problem that comes up for me today.
“I believe” that I am worthy of love and the love of God, who is love, overflows from me to everyone I encounter today.
“I believe” that I am trustworthy, kind, and tenderhearted. I am able to forgive other people who have hurt by and not live in bitterness or seek revenge.
“I believe” that my prayers are powerful.
“I believe” I am great at relationships and making friends.
“I believe” that my family is blessed and I am a blessing to everyone around me.
“I believe” God is on my side and doesn’t hate me or punish me.
“I believe” I can think right thoughts and make good decisions.
“I believe” that I am successful and have the ability to think and act creatively today.
“I believe” today is a new day, full of new mercies, and I can be happy and rejoice in it.
“I believe” that the joy of the Lord is my strength.
“I believe” I do not have a spirit of fear and God gives me power, love, and a sound mind.
“I believe” that I can control what I say and everything from my lips speak love, live, and encouragement.
“I believe” that I can remember everything I am studying and will accomplish everything that needs to get down today.
“I believe” that believing the truth sets me free of fear and depression.
Don’t worry if you don’t always feel what you say is true. Don’t be concerned or deterred if your children don’t agree with your declarations, at first. I believe that if you practice these declarations and start to create your own personal list that you will see incredible changes in your own heart and the heart of your family, today and over time!
I read an article yesterday that has me extremely excited about the implications. The article is called “Hacking the Nervous System” by Gaia Vince (http://mosaicscience.com/story/hacking-nervous-system). In the article, the author describes the experience of a woman who suffered from severe, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and her eventual treatment with a device which minimized inflammation by simply stimulating the vagus nerve. What this means, is that by activating the vagus nerve which works through the parasympathetic nervous system, we can greatly influence inflammation and the immune system. The role of the brain on body inflammation can be profound. If you suffer from digestive complaints, high blood pressure, depression or any inflammatory condition, please read on. Let me explain the possible implications step by step.
What is the vagus nerve?
Ways to Instantly Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve to Relieve Inflammation, Depression, Migraines And More 6 Ways to Instantly Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve to Relieve Inflammation, Depression, Migraines And More vagus nerveFirst of all, the vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body which originates in the brain as cranial nerve ten, travels down the from go the neck and then passes around the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart and lungs. This nerve is a major player in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the ‘rest and digest’ part (opposite to the sympathetic nervous system which is ‘fight of flight’).
The tone of the vagus nerve is key to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Vagal tone is measured by tracking your heart-rate alongside your breathing rate. Your heart-rate speeds up a little when your breathe in, and slows down a little when you breathe out. The bigger the difference between your inhalation heart-rate and your exhalation heart-rate, the higher your vagal tone. Higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
What is high vagal tone associated with?
High vagal tone improves the function of many body systems, causing better blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, improved digestion via better production of stomach basic and digestive enzymes, and reduced migraines. Higher vagal tone is also associated with better mood, less anxiety and more stress resilience. One of the most interesting roles of the vagus nerve is that it essentially reads the gut microbiome and initiates a response to modulate inflammation based on whether or not it detects pathogenic versus non-pathogenic organisms. In this way, the gut microbiome can have an affect on your mood, stress levels and overall inflammation.
What is low vagal tone associated with?
Low vagal tone is associated with cardiovascular conditions and strokes, depression, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cognitive impairment, and much higher rates of inflammatory conditions. Inflammatory conditions include all autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, autoimmune thyroid conditions, lupus and more).
How do we increase vagal tone?
In the article above, vagal tone was increased through a device that stimulated the vagus nerve. The good news is that you have access to this on your own, but it does require regular practice. To some degree, you are genetically predisposed to varying levels of vagal tone, but this still doesn’t mean that you can’t change it. Here are some ways to tone the vagus nerve:
Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing from your diaphragm, rather than shallowly from the top of the lungs stimulates and tones the vagus nerve.
Humming. Since the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming mechanically stimulates it. You can hum a song, or even better repeat the sound ‘OM’.
Speaking. Similarly speaking is helpful for vagal tone, due to the connection to the vocal cords.
Washing your face with cold water. The mechanism her is not known, but cold water on your face stimulates the vagus nerve.
Meditation, especially loving kindness meditation which promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others. A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik found that increasing positive emotions led to increased social closeness, and an improvement in vagal tone.
Balancing the gut microbiome. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone.
The implications of such simple and basic practices on your overall health, and in particular on inflammation are far-reaching. If you suffer from an inflammatory condition, digestive upset, high blood pressure or depression, a closer look at vagal tone is highly recommended. We’ve known for years that breathing exercises and meditation are helpful for our health, but it is so fascinating to learn the mechanism by which they work. I hope this short article has inspired you to begin a meditation practice, as it has for me, and also to look for other means to manage the body’s inflammatory response.
Forsythe P, Bienenstock J, Kunze WA.Vagal pathways for microbiome-brain-gut axis communication. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;817:115-33.
Kok, B, Fredrickson, B, Coffey, K, et al. How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone. Psychological Science 2013 24: 1123
Better Beliefs Bring Better Relationships
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
You don’t have to keep praying for better relationships. You can just start having them. Let them start with you today. Don’t expect others to start because you did but once you start they will feel the ripple effects of it and will try to have better relationships with you as well.
The thing that drains you in your relationships isn’t the other person. It is the beliefs you have about that relationship that drains you. Negative emotions make you tired.
Change what you believe about your family. A hopeful thought will bubble up life and love that you didn’t know was still inside. Stop trying to do what you are doing better and do it with better beliefs about what is possible. Don’t wait for better days to come. Start having better attitudes and better days will come.
So much effort goes into changing other family members instead of changing the culture of the family. Shifting the atmosphere of the home and paying attention to examples of hope, love, kindness, celebration, patience, cooperation, respect, power, optimism, fun, playfulness, honesty, sharing, peach and more, will make those values increase. Ignoring what you dislike about your family relationships will strangle those things and they will wither away.
Don’t act on feelings. Feelings deceive you. They come and then they go. Let them. Practice what you believe and act on your hope of what will be and not what is going on in your relationships. Feelings are signals to the temperature level in the home. They are not the thermostat. Your beliefs are set the temperature.
Hurting families protect and hold back parts of themselves to avoid further hurt. Risk involves giving more of ones self to build trust and get more of the other in return and better, safer relationships develop through these small acts of faith.
Breakthrough in the strongholds of fear will change the atmosphere of the home bringing balance in mood and reactivity. Underestimating your influence will disempower your ability to change. Stop thinking about yourself and powerless and start thinking about yourself as powerful. You have 100% power over your own life, reactions, attitude and beliefs. Your outer reality doesn’t determine your inner reality. Your inner reality will transform your outer reality.
It is time for unreasonable optimism about your present and future relationships. This is more than strategies to change things. It is a personal revival to change yourself. The family changes when you change.
Many studies have shown how important it is for low-income mothers to sustain their moral identities as both good mothers and reliable workers during times of little social valuing of mothers’ caring work. Discovering how low-income mothers sustain this duality when caring crises preclude employment requires a mapping of their social worlds as reflected in their moral justifications. We used an institutional ethnographic approach that focused on situations wherein mothers decide to exit the labor market and devote themselves to their children’s caring needs. Interviews with 48 Israeli mothers revealed that they maintain their moral fitness both as good mothers and good citizens by engaging in a specific emotion management: expressing emotional devotion to their paid job, whereas child care is presented as a necessity. We argue that emotion management is particularly revealing of how macro-level institutional practices and discourses come to the fore in individuals’ daily lives.
Children have to learn to use their words in order to manage their emotions. In order for parents to model this type of control, they have to show that they can handle their children’s frustrations and anger in a calm, response-able manner. This way the child will not come to believe that their feelings are too big to be managed or will get too out of control to be controlled with their words. Parents who respond to anger and frustration with anger and frustration will magnify the emotions and create a belief that emotions rule us instead of the other way around.