Why We Don’t Negate Feelings

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Savannah Leigh

The picture above was taken by my daughter two days ago. The one in the chair is my son.
His teeth were fine, and it was a routine check-up, but still the cleaning process was uncomfortable for him.

At one point, he said: “Ouch, that hurt!”
“Oh no, that doesn’t hurt” the assistant shushed.
I knew what she was trying to do. She wanted to help. She was trying to make it hurt less for him, to take his mind off the pain, but it just wasn’t that easy for my son.
“It hurts to me” he said.
He hasn’t yet learned that you should refrain from disagreeing with adults you don’t know, especially when they mean well. I hope he never does, for that matter. I hope he will always feel strong enough to stand up for his own needs, and for his own feelings. I hope he never gets the memo that says ‘boys who feel pain are weak’, even though I don’t know how I can keep that message from him.

Negating someone’s feelings never makes those feelings go away. Ever. It just makes them the object of shame or anger for the feeling person in question. Even if you have the absolute opposite intention.

Imagine talking to a friend and saying “You know, hearing about those refugees who lost their children really hurt me”, and your friend replying “Oh, it didn’t really hurt. You’re fine, don’t worry.” Somehow I think you would feel listened to. I know I wouldn’t. But somehow we feel like we can control our children’s feelings. If we tell them not to get angry, they’ll calm down for sure. If we say ‘don’t cry, it’s alright’, we somehow think we can take all their pain away.
Yet, even if they decide to play the role you want them to play, the emotion that needed dealing with is still lingering underneath the surface. It might stay underneath for years, but it’s bound to return with a vengeance.

So what CAN you do in response to your kids uncomfortable feelings?
Apply the tips I gave in this article, which mostly come down to acknowledging their feelings without trying to solve them.

For me, it meant telling my son: “I can tell it hurts, that’s not nice. I can see it’s hard to stay in the seat anyways and keep your mouth open. Are you alright? Do we need to stop?”

He was alright throughout the rest of the visit, but I made sure to come back to the incident once we got back home, and tell him that he was right for standing up for how he felt.

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