I felt inspired to take the above photo yesterday because to me it symbolized an emotion I have been exploring a lot recently – vulnerability. Just seconds after I took the shot my daughter blew on the dandelion, scattering its seeds which were carried away on the breeze. But the core of the dandelion remained strong and upright, it had shed what it no longer needed in order for new growth to begin.
In relating this to vulnerability I found myself thinking how we hold on to parts of ourselves and protect them because we fear exposure. Many of us will go to great measures to avoid feeling vulnerable, myself included. But what is it that we fear? Judgement? Rejection? Failure? Losing control? Probably a mixture depending on the context.
It all goes back to programs we developed in infancy to make sense of our emotions and protect ourselves. They have been called by some teachers emotional programs for happiness. In our very early years we have no awareness of a separate self, but we do have needs and these needs come with emotional responses which are faithfully recorded in our memory banks. By the time we reach the age of reason we have in place fully functioning emotional programs for happiness based on emotional judgments we made as children in response to needs.
When we are born we have two instinctual needs – survival and security. As we grow and become aware of being a separate self we experience more needs such as pleasure, affection and esteem. If one or more of these needs is perceived to be withheld, it becomes difficult for us to believe in the goodness of life. None of us escapes the emotional fragility of childhood because as children we only have our feelings to go by and cannot discern the cause as we can as adults. But because we develop programs for happiness before we develop reason, they have no limits. So when we are older and, for example, the desire for security is not met and we experience the emotions of grief, anger, jealousy etc we identify the value systems we developed at a young age to cope with unbearable situations.
This is one side of it, the other is that not only do we identify with these childhood programs but as we grow up it changes. What starts out as needs develops into demands and then shoulds which we expect others and life to meet. We don’t know we have these deeply ingrained programs. In fact people can grow spiritually, physically and intellectually whilst their emotional lives remain at the level of infancy.
So how does this relate to vulnerability? It relates in that these emotional programs protect us from experiencing our vulnerability. We don’t want to experience the pain of childhood unmet needs that lie beneath. But in order to grow and live from a place of authenticity we must explore these deeply ingrained patterns and in doing so embrace our vulnerability. As Brene Brown writes in her book Daring Greatly:
‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose, or deeper and more spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.’
It is what connects us to others and to ourselves. In embracing and exploring it we can not only discover all of who we are, but we can also learn how to fulfill the needs we perceived as unfulfilled in childhood and also see that we no longer need to seek fulfillment outside of ourselves. We don’t need to control anymore, or have life look a certain way in order to satisfy our demands. What happens when we discover that is that we free ourselves up to being more creative, more loving towards ourselves and others, and as Brene Brown says, obtain greater clarity in our purpose.
The first step is inquiry. Turning inwards and exploring with compassion the tender places. It only needs to be a tiny step, but its a step that can see the start of a beautiful journey of self love.
Letting go of unwanted feelings
As parents, most of us spend a lot of time helping our children learn to deal with intense feelings such as anger and sadness. When children are really small they simply let it all out. But as they get older they start to become more self conscious and it becomes important for us to help them understand where their feelings are coming from, and how to move through them without fear or judgement.
In this series of blogs I will share tips and exercises to do with your child to help them:
- Let go of anger and frustration
- Accept their feelings as a normal part of life
- Understand where their feelings are coming from
In an ideal world we would have hours to spend with our child, teaching and helping them learn to understand strong emotions. But the reality is we live in a busy world, and often do not have time to stop when our child has a temper tantrum or a meltdown. Often this can lead to children learning to stuff intense feelings deep inside where they fester; and at some point in the future cause problems.
As we all know, during an average day we can feel a whole range of emotions from anger and frustration, to joy and peace. Children are no different. How they learn to move through the range largely depends on how they see others around them deal with emotions, and what we, as their parents and teachers, show them.
Below are two simple techniques to do with your child either at the end of the day, or anytime that you feel your child needs it, to help them understand their feelings better, and learn how to move through them. I use both with my daughter, and see very positive results. I also teach them to clients, and use them myself.
They are fun, creative, and therapeutic!
This is a technique that is useful to do at the end of the day before going to bed. When you are both relaxed, talk to your child about their day. Ask if anything happened that caused them to feel anger, fear, sadness, or similar. For example when they didn’t get something they wanted, or when another child did or said something they didn’t like. Ask your child where they felt the feelings in their body. Was it in their chest? Head? Then, ask them if they would like to let the feelings go.
If they say yes, you can encourage them to first of all thank the feelings for what they taught them, as it is important children learn not to judge feelings as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Following on from that, pretend to pull the feelings out of your child’s body, and throw them away.
This can be done in several ways. You can pretend to pull a string, perhaps cup your hands and gently lift the feelings out. Whatever works for you and your child.
What I do with my daughter is pretend to throw them out of the window and encourage her to help me. She absolutely loves this!
Children are so enthusiastic and imaginative – this can be a really fun and positive game for them. You may find they label their feelings according to things they perceive as ‘yucky.’ For example my daughter will often say she has zombie feelings, or monsters, or even poop! It is very empowering for them to realise they can let them go.
This exercise can also prompt your child to talk about interactions they have had with other children or adults, that have worried or stressed them in some way.
Once your child has let go of all unwanted feelings, (note – sometimes you have to end it, as often they will enjoy the process so much they would be pulling bad stuff out all night given the chance!) it is good to download happy, peaceful feelings.
Place your hand on your child’s chest, or top of their head, and ask if they would like to download happy, peaceful, and joyful feelings.
If they say yes, you can say ‘we are now downloading happy, peaceful and joyful feelings all through (name) body, so he/she has a beautiful and peaceful night’s sleep.
If for some reason they say they don’t want you to download happy ones, I suggest seeing if they will tell you why. If they won’t, don’t push it. Allow them to be in charge, as this empowers them. You will probably find after doing the exercise a few times they will get the hang of it, and be happy to download positive feelings afterwards.
This exercise is very similar to the pulling out exercise described above, but instead of pulling the feelings out of the body, your child blows the feelings he/she wants to release in to an imaginary balloon. Once they are in the balloon, encourage your child to let the balloon go. This is the fun part – encouraging your child to imagine a balloon of unwanted feelings spiralling round the room, just as a real untied balloon would.
Once the letting go is complete, you can imagine a selection of balloons filled with happiness, joy, peace, or similar. Ask your child which balloon they wold like to hold, and once they have decided, have them imagine breathing the feeling into their body.
The idea behind these exercises is to help your child feel more comfortable talking about and understanding their inner world. Done regularly these exercises help your child understand that they are able to choose whether they hang on to unwanted feelings or not. They learn to identify feelings more clearly, and also start to recognise situations and events that trigger certain reactions for them. This is a vital part of their development and self understanding.
I hope you find these useful – I’d love to hear about your experiences doing them with your child or children!
Belinda Bennetts is a holistic life coach, therapist and author. Find her at www.belindabennetts.co.uk
I felt inspired to write this post today, as I have been releasing a lot of ‘old stuff’ over the last month. Something I have really come to know is that if we don’t acknowledge and release our feelings and emotions, they get buried within us. Most of us know this, and have experienced it. Those tight neck muscles, that headache that won’t go away. Anger, fear, resentment – all get stored in our bodies at a cellular level.
There is a neuropharmacologist called Dr. Candice Pert who has studied this. According to her:
“A feeling sparked in our mind-or body-will translate as a peptide being released somewhere. [Organs, tissues, skin, muscle and endocrine glands], they all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information. This means the emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just or even primarily, in the brain. You can access emotional memory anywhere in the peptide/receptor network, in any number of ways. I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in the body. The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated, made whole, and healed.”
I find this concept quite fascinating.
As the year draws to a close it is the perfect time to look within and ask what needs to be released.
What is also incredible is how the body can literally ‘change’ when stored negative emotions are released. I am reminded of a client I had when I lived in New Zealand. When she was able to release anger she had been holding onto due to a negative experience in childhood, her shoulder posture improved. She found that because there was no need to hold anger in her thoracic region, her shoulders relaxed.
Our bodies are incredibly intelligent, and when we are able to tune in to them and fully accept everything we feel, we give ourselves the space to not only feel whole, but also move forward, instead of being stuck in perpetual cycles.