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Dealing with feelings

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

The ability to identify feelings, express them, and then meet our emotional needs is something we need to be taught how to do.

My baby Hannah was the 10th grandchild born on my side of the family. I’ve had lots of exposure to babies before she was born. I saw them eating and sleeping, smiling, crying etc. It gave me some sense of what it takes to be a parent. I had many opportunities to practice mothering skills on my nieces and nephews. Although every baby is unique, and it is different to have my very own one, much of what I’ve gone through with her has felt familiar and comfortable and I have felt well prepared…except for one thing:

When Hannah got sick for the first time at 7 months, it completely unnerved me. I was anxious and panicky and uncertain. I very nearly rushed her to hospital several times. Every time I observed something new (she had a fever, she fell asleep when I didn’t expect her to, she didn’t want to eat, she seemed listless, she threw up) I was on the phone to my mother and my sisters and anyone I could think of that would be able to reassure me that it was normal or tell me what to do if it was not. When she was finally better (it took about 3 days) and I had time to reflect on the experience, I realised that I reacted this way because I had no idea what normal “sick baby” behaviour is. In all the time I have spent with my sibling’s babies, I cannot remember ever seeing any of them sick.

Sick babies are kept at home. Visitors are told not to call, appointments are cancelled, doors are closed. The world outside of the home ceases to exist until it is over. It is not a shared experience.

Hidden things

This unnerving incident made me wonder. Are there other very common things flooring the people going through them because they have never seen others do it? What else is dealt with behind closed doors, hidden from view, like sick babies?

In a culture that encourages people to put on a smile at all times and keep looking the part - successful, happy, like a winner not a loser – the answer is, an awful lot of things.

Anxiety, fear, loss, loneliness, disappointment, doubt, sadness, anger – you name it.

Everybody has these painful feelings. Everybody has difficulties in their life, everybody faces challenges. Everybody sometimes feels sad, sometimes lonely, sometimes fearful and sometimes angry.

The ability to identify feelings, express them, and then meet our emotional needs is something we need to be taught how to do. If we don’t know how to do this, feelings can be overwhelming and we’ll need to find a way to avoid them or make them go away.

Co-founder of “beyond Hunger”, Loaralee Roarke tells of when she had an eating problem: “In my family it was not permitted to be angry or sad. The only emotion that was acceptable was “fine”. I was taught from the earliest age that I can remember to say “fine” each time I was asked how I was. Any other response that I had would be cause for ridicule” and “I had no skills to be able to take care of myself and my feelings other than to eat over them”.

Carol Munter and Jane Hirschmann, authors of “Overcoming Overeating”, state that they do not believe that compulsive eaters have an eating problem. They believe that compulsive eaters have a “calming problem”. Overeating becomes a tool to calm down, to stop the pain or to get out of feelings.

If you have an urge to eat over upsetting feelings, it is likely that you have a weight problem. That is not your real problem though. The problem is the inability to identify feelings, express them and meet your emotional needs.

Finding Support

I needed a lot of guidance and hand-holding when my baby was sick. I had to hear the reassuring voices of other mothers that had had sick babies to talk me through it. I needed practical advice on how to get medicine into my baby (syrups don’t work they spit or vomit, suppositories are superb), I needed someone to tell me that she had also felt scared and that it turned out just fine. I had to be taught.

How can you get the needed guidance and hand holding to learn the skill of dealing with feelings?

  • Admit that you have feelings other than happy content ones. Admit this to yourself. Cry as long as you need to

  • Disclose to a trusted friend that you sometimes feel insecure/lonely/anxious etc. Talk about something that you are struggling with. You can only deal with the things that you acknowledge as real. You’ll be surprised when the friend that seems to have everything so together knows what you are talking about, because he/she experiences the same.

  • If you are on a pedestal, get off it. You don't always have to be the one that has it all together. By being open and honest about ups AND downs in life, you can learn the skills needed to get through them.

Sound bite

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." C S Lewis
"Teach my unskilled mind to sing the feelings of my heart" Anna Young Smith
"There is a secret person, undamaged in every individual." Mitsuye Yamada
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