My 6-year-old daughter started out her day yesterday with, “Mom, my heart is crying and I’m not myself today.”
I was impressed that she was aware enough to articulate what she felt and anxious to help her figure what out what it all meant. Some days I can barely figure out my own emotions let alone help someone else figure out theirs.
Let’s admit it, technology is so evolved that it can pretty much tell us exactly what our heart rate is, how long we sleep, the amount of sugar in our blood and countless other things we never thought we needed to know about ourselves.
What technology hasn’t managed to tell us yet is what exactly we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it. In fact, one of the biggest challenges in parenting and in coaching, is teaching kids and clients to recognize and name their emotions, and figure out why they’re there and what the hell they mean.
I myself was browsing my Facebook feed and when I locked my phone I noticed that I was feeling markedly more down than I had when I started. I played back the snippets of stuff I had read, trying to detect exactly when my mood took a nose-dive.
Ah there it was, a friend of mine had gotten recognition for work she was doing. I had hearted her post and written a supportive comment, but the truth was, reading about her success made me feel shitty. Why? Because it highlighted where I felt like a failure, AND it showed me what I really wanted: to get recognized for my work too.
Feeling shitty about something is a big fat sign telling you that you need to pay attention because something that matters is on your radar. For me, reading about a friend’s accomplishments didn’t mean I wanted her to fail, it was an indicator of what I really wanted and felt I didn’t have yet.
If you burn with anger or jealousy when a friend of yours gets published, promoted or praised, just telling yourself you write for pleasure, work for contribution or fix yourself up for only you is a lie. You want to be published, promoted or praised too. If you see an athlete break a record and it makes you grumble, then you don’t want to just run to stay fit, maybe you want to be breaking records too.
The thing is we were never taught to spend time in our negative emotions, to explore them and to uncover what they are truly telling us. Our society is so averse to being down that we spend millions on positive thinking, distractions, addiction and prescription without bothering to examine the evidence right there in front of us.
Our emotions are neon signs to our innermost needs.
But when we cried as kids we were told to stop crying, and shushed or shouted at. Most of us were never encouraged to explore those feelings further, to understand what they mean or how to decipher them.
As for my daughter, we dove right in to explore her apparent misery. We went back into time to pinpoint when her heart started crying, and we discovered that her older cousin had been too busy playing with her friends to spend time with my daughter. We discussed how being ignored made her feel small and not as interesting as the older kids and that she too could be fun and interesting and not just a little. I assured her she could but that kids at different ages have different interests. She got it. And she got herself.
The next day she was her normal self again.
Our negative emotions are big glaring markers that we need to pay attention to. Understanding them guides us to what matters, teaches us about ourselves and heals our hearts.