We all have a right to our feelings and we need to respect those feelings, both our own and others – but we need to hold ourselves and others to skillfully respond/handle those emotions in a constructive way. Skillfully navigate our feels by owning how we choose to behave in the face of our feelings – whether it is sadness, anger, fear, guilt or shame.
To make it as simple as possible, here is a step by step “how to” — not to make each step seem or sound easy, because it isn’t, but rather to clarify what our goals are, for holding ourselves accountable and for holding others to high standards.
1. Be aware of feelings and respect them — they are never wrong. This is the time for validation and as much patience as possible. Feelings “are what they are” and often make no rational sense. We aren’t ever trying to “fix” feelings. Rather, be aware, accept and respect.
2. Figure out what the feelings are telling us — is there a threat, is there something that we thought was true that isn’t true, or is there a pain point that we need to pay attention to? Respect that and be an investigator to find facts around the feelings.
3. Figure out how to respond to our feelings — as calmly and clearly as possible, what is the next best move? To make things better, not worse? No matter what our feelings are, and how valid they are, it never excuses destructive behavior.
As a parent, I use the mantra, “I love you, I do not love your behavior” — this is a simple way to validate someone while setting clear boundaries as to how we need to handle our feelings. I own this myself, because believe me, I am not perfect at this. I will say something out of anger without following the three step process outlined above! And then I need to own the consequence of that, which includes apologizing and accepting and respecting the feelings that my anger caused… or, it just spirals out of control, with hurt feelings triggering each others’, to a higher and higher (more painful and destructive) degree.
Here’s my example from this weekend — I was preparing to host a party at our house, trying to get it all cleaned up, and I had to run out to pick up some supplies. I said to my husband (my recollection), “I just need you and Jesse to get this bin up to his room and then deal with the disaster in his closet (don’t ask).” I got home and was getting the kids ready for bed when I saw the disaster still very much present in Jesse’s closet. I yelled downstairs, pissed — why is Jesse’s closet not cleaned up? In my mind, the only thing I asked was to get that one thing dealt with, and it wasn’t. Well, of course my husband didn’t hear me say that, saw the closet and thought that I must be in the middle of a massive reorganization/ purge project for it to be in that state, and his feelings were hurt that I had yelled down in a pissed off way. I had to regain my awareness and skillfulness to not allow his anger to then ANGER me further. You can see how it can all get wildly out of control, fast. Cue epic fight of tired parents!
But this is the point: we can all strive to have more and more control when it comes to how we handle our emotions. Not that we will ever be perfect, but we can practice and become more and more skillful.
The key is to remember that, often times as things unfold, it isn’t anyone’s fault that feelings get hurt. It’s just an unfortunate misunderstanding or turn of circumstance. We want to stay as open and nonjudgmental as possible, and take it as an opportunity to practice being skillful in the face of our emotions… *instead* of being wounded (aka allowing yourself to be a victim — which is exactly what is happening when we go into blame mode). We can hold ourselves and others accountable to become more skillful without blaming anything on anyone! This will help us move forward constructively, deepening the trust and respect we have in our relationships… which happens to the be the key to a happy life, according to oh so many studies… like this one.