The importance of accepting painful emotions

Whether we like it or not, we all experience pain in life or have experiences like loss and separation. Painful emotions are typically linked to meaningful relationships.Whether we like it or not, we all experience pain in life or have experiences like loss and separation. Painful emotions are typically linked to meaningful relationships with people with whom we have an attachment bond. Pain itself is the result of a feeling of love.

On the other hand, the people we love the most are the ones who make us feel sadder when we lose them. Relationships with the strongest bonds generate experiences such as anguish, anger and pain. However, we live in a society where managing painful emotions struggles to find space .

It is easier to find relational contexts (family, friends, couple) where love, peace and joy are much more accessible and accepted than negative emotions. Indeed, it is a representation that follows a certain logic. In some family contexts, emotions are categorically divided into good and bad. Our emotional sphere cannot be founded on a single category of emotions but needs the adequate integration of all emotions, even the negative ones. To function, we must learn to manage both positive and negative emotions.

In Bowlby’s work “The Theory of Attachment”, the integration of emotions is a central topic. The question to ask is if attachment is a fundamental biological need in the human being, why have we built a culture that pushes towards premature emotional independence when the child needs it most?

The fact is that in situations where the little ones find themselves in experiences of emotional distress, the foundations are not built to encourage them to maintain a bond with caregivers. There is a greater focus on a mere “restorative” approach to a problem rather than an approach based on relationship and communication , when children confront us with their negative emotional experiences.

The reason behind all this is clear: we don’t want children to suffer and the moment they suffer, we would like to eliminate their suffering immediately. As a result, we tell them that there is nothing to be afraid of or just that everything is fine, not to worry or that there is no reason to cry, to be sad or to get angry, urging them to move on, perhaps making a game. We teach them to suppress emotion and direct attention to something else. Although these are ways aimed at minimizing and alleviating the discomfort of a girl or boy, they fail in their intent, insofar as they do not really address the underlying problem.

These are ways that do not actually access what children are really feeling and their real needs. At the same time, these approaches teach them to hold on to what they are feeling or to deny it completely . Detachment from one’s emotions has to do with the bond of attachment. When children manifest a fear or need, attachment is automatically activated and the way in which the parent responds to this fear or need will lay the foundation for building this bond. Through an answer that turns out to be a shift to something else, for example: “Don’t think about it, let’s play with the constructions”, or a minimization: “You did nothing, it’s nothing”, the result could be to favor premature independence which leaves children unable to fully experience their emotions or understand the real motivations behind their behavior.

The point is that there is a focus on thinking at the total expense of emotions.

However, our thinking and the resulting decisions need to be guided by our feelings. Without this emotional scaffolding, we do not have the right tools to achieve emotional maturity. This leads us to respond to situations with respect to how we think we feel rather than how we really feel. Often, we find ourselves buying children a lot of things with the intent of satisfying their needs. But using your credit card for the purpose of giving them what they want, believing it to be a way to make them happy and satisfied, is not the solution. Gratification through material goods has no lasting effects and is unable to respond to the emotional needs of the little ones. In reality, providing them with “things” is just a way to deny and bury their feelings. We end up raising children unable to handle frustration or the need to postpone gratification for another time.

The motto is: “If I ignore what I feel, it will go away somehow”, but in fact what I do not understand or feel fully returns like a boomerang on a physical level through for example somatization or binge eating, addiction from substances or other behaviors etc. The resulting lesson is that negative emotions must be ignored or even denied. This at the same time provides a hollow sense of addiction, providing them with comfort through a new toy. There is no teaching on how to manage pain, loss and separationthat are part of life. The consequence is the development of children who easily fall into frustration, looking for the constant presence of new stimuli and subsequently the need to cling to very specific cultural parameters to determine self-worth.

Hence, for example, the obsessive search for beauty on the basis of the aesthetic canons of society to feel safe and accepted and this becomes bread for the development of eating disorders, for example. As much as we are made to experience emotions, we need support to learn how to name them. On the other hand, we learn the mother tongue by hearing it spoken by adults. Similarly, from an early age, we “should learn” to identify and tolerate emotionsthanks to the caregivers. The role of the caregiver is to tune in with the child’s mental and emotional state, to name his experience, to allow him to stay in his emotions so that he acquires the ability to name and express them correctly. We are talking about the secure attachment from which stable relationships originate. When this balance is lacking in childhood, the child will find alternative ways to satisfy his need for connection and experiences that confirm his personal worth eg addictions, eating disorders.


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