Wednesday, 21 September 2011

My feelings are REAL !!! (or the day all hell broke loose...)

He screamed and screamed and screamed. He even kicked his little legs quite hard. I sat close, very close, offered my hand but was rejected. He screamed more. I stayed close. 'You are really upset' I said, trying to use a gentle voice. 'You are really upset, I can see that'. When the screaming stopped (and it lasted for ever...) we looked each other in the eye and hugged. We both needed that hug and we were both exhausted. Antek is now 16 months old. His feelings are REAL. Some of them are more than he can handle. And he wants to tell us about them. Sometimes all of them. 

This was the first tantrum in the house. It followed a few days of some viral infection and a dinner that was slightly too late. Not letting Antek throw food around was that last straw... and frankly - we had it coming. So I stayed calm, acknowledged his feelings, let him know I won't let him throw food around. Being close by and letting him scream it all out allowed me to see that he actually may have been more scared of these emotions than I had thought he would be... and made me realize how much more he needed me to be there for him than when he is happily exploring the world around.

There were three things I wanted to try hard and make sure that we get from this loud expression of ... anger, I guess:

1. ALL feelings are fine. And they are all real. And they are all yours, and you have to learn to live with them for the rest of your life (and it's a wonderful thing!). And once they're gone, life goes on (and that is a wonderful thing, too)

2. Not all actions are fine. There are all the feelings that you will live with, and sometimes it will be hard. But there are things you can do and things you cannot do. For various reasons.

3. You are great and we love you. No matter what.

Korczak writes so beautifully about the importance of all feelings, and the need to understand, but also to accept them all: How can we know happiness if we don't know sadness? How can we know love if we can't recognize hate? Sometimes in my head I try to name all the feelings and emotions I experienced during the day. Some of them are easy to admit to, some not so easy, but togther all of them are a full picture of who I was during that day. If we don't allow the children to get to know those feelings when they first encounter them, how can they move on and continue to get to know themselves?

'When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-degree personality.  Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche.  A child running is a living globe of energy.  We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball.  They said things like: “Can’t you be still?” Or “It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.”  Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag.  By the time we go to school our bag is quite large.  Then our teachers have their say: “Good children don’t get angry over such little things.”  So we take our anger and put it in the bag... Then we do a lot of bag-stuffing in high school.  This time it’s no longer the evil grownups that pressure us, but people our own age... So [...] out of a round globe of energy the twenty-year-old ends up with a slice... We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again.  Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed' (Robert Bly, "The book on the human shadow")

I know I have a bag. I know my husband has a pretty big one too. I know I have been trying hard to find some things in that bag when I needed them and because of all the clutter that's there, I couldn't find them (you know"good girls" don't really get angry, even when they feel they should). And I know that the bigger my bag got, the harder I found it to live with only that one slice that I had left - after all, it's nice to have a choice and lots of possibilities handy.

Not knowing all of the feelings we have, not understanding them may sometimes lead us to "get upset, when it's enough to ignore, feel contempt when [we] should have compassion" (Janusz Korczak)

But there is another thing that scares me about these bags that we drag around with us. When I looked at Antek after he screamed his anger out, I realised that it was all gone. All of it. Life was back to normal. We learnt a couple of things, but the anger was no longer there. If instead of letting it out we stuff it in a bag, surely it doesn't disappear there, does it?


  1. Ania,

    You've done it again! I love reading your thoughts about this journey you and your husband are on with your son. Thank you for sharing it with us. Always so insightful, always so beautifully expressed.

    I love the realization you came to that "after he screamed his anger out, I realised that it was all gone. All of it. Life was back to normal."

    What a great gift you've given Antek, to allow him his feelings, to hold a space, and be a listening ear. Both of you are learning that it's OK to feel and express whatever feelings are there, and then to move on.

    You ask, "If instead of letting it out we stuff it in a bag, surely it doesn't disappear there, does it?"

    I can say from my own experience that feelings don't disappear when we stuff them. They grow and fester and rot, and they can very nearly destroy a person. Have you heard the saying that "depression is anger turned inward?" While I think this statement is somewhat of a simplification, I also think there is a lot of truth to it.

    If we can allow small children can to feel and express whatever they feel, as opposed to telling them what they feel is unacceptable or that they don't really feel whatever they're feeling, they learn not to be afraid of their feelings, not to stuff them or deny them, and they learn that life returns back to normal after the storm. I think maybe this is a healthier, happier, more authentic way for everyone to live life.

    I can imagine a much more peaceful world, with many less anxious, angry, passive/aggressive, depressed, or murderous people in it, if we could all just learn to feel what we feel, express it directly, learn from it, and move on...

  2. This is brilliant. What a great analogy. Thank you for taking the time to write this- I'll be sharing it.

  3. Lisa - thank you for this long comment. I am still (over and over again) dealing with so many feelings I don't know how to handle... and I know so many people like that, and it makes me realize how hard it gets to 'feel' at some point. I, too, can imagine a much more peaceful world if we just let ourselves 'feel'. and those around us, too. It's very interesting how we think we have ownership over what our children feel, more than they do. It always puzzles me when I hear someone saying to a child "come on, this didn't hurt'. How do you know it didn't, you didn't fall down, the child did...

    Aunt Annie - Thank you for stopping by and giving your time to comment & thank you for sharing it :) Analogy is Robert Bly, not me :)

  4. This is such a great post about the importance of feelings. With four boys we have a lot of emotions around here, and it's sometimes very hard to deal with. You bring up a lot of great points! I'll be sharing this!

  5. Leslie, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am looking at your website right now - I've never seen it before!!! :):)

  6. Beyond lovely and perfect timing for me Ania! Today was a day in which my middle child, 2.5 years old, was having an emotional learning experience. As a result, so was I. To read your post at the end of the day was simply lovely. You described his feelings perfectly, and reminded me of how I want to handle his feelings, and why. Thank you for your wonderful insight, I am so grateful that I have found you!


  7. hej, bardzo fajny i madry tekst

  8. Hej Robercie,

    Wielkie dzieki :)I bardzo mi milo!

    Claire - thank you for stopping by, again. And glad to have timed it well for you :) For me all of the emotional learning experiences of Antek are mine too, and I have to remind myself very hard that it's his moment, not mine :) Very happy to be able to read your blog too !!!

  9. so glad i found your blog! i love it. and i love gerber. i always try to be grateful during tantrums because i know stressful feelings are being released and i know that often on the other side is sunshine.

    here's a somewhat related post that i think u might enjoy:’re-stupid-mommy-go-away-you’re-yucky/

  10. hi Jennifer,

    thaks for reading and joining the conversation :) I have just spent a lot of time looking through your blog - thanks for the link! I hope we'll keep in touch from now on....