How to explore negative feelings honestly, and grow through the experience
Are there any parents who aren’t struggling right now?
If you aren’t, you don’t need to keep reading. You can scroll along to sourdough recipes and such. However, pause first…
Many parents I speak with say they are surprisingly fine, at first… until they stop to notice. You may be holding it all together, but unaware of the toll that tension takes over time. You may have gotten so good at numbing out that you haven’t examined your underlying feelings recently.
If you’re toggling between powering through your day without a break and collapsing to numb out at the end of the day, I see you. You deserve a break. You do. First, take a few minutes to ask yourself these five questions. Spoiler alert: your unconscious is just as interesting and dramatic as anything on TV, if not more.
If you are the one parent on the planet who has never, ever yelled at your kid? You can go bake that bread now. Really, there’s no need to read on. I’m glad you’re real. It gives the rest of us hope.
Whether we like it or not, our unconscious feelings can affect our parenting. Sooner or later, we will be triggered. We can do something about our buttons before our family pushes them.
I recently heard Dr. Kristin Neff, a respected researcher and mom of an autistic kid, interviewed about self-compassion. Did you know there have been 3,000 studies on the benefits of self-compassion? Some of those studies are with parents of atypical kids:
“It was found that higher scores on the positive dimension of self-compassion were associated with better quality of life, and higher scores on the negative dimension of self-compassion were associated with greater stress.”
— Bohadana, G., Morrissey, S., & Paynter, J.
Let’s use this evidence-based strategy to nurture ourselves and thrive. Rather than bypassing your feelings, accept your challenges and filter them through self-inquiry and compassion. Below is a simple process you can do in a few minutes. Repeat it and it will get easier.
If we appreciate our emotions as messengers, we can understand that they will continue to demand our attention until we turn towards them, listen, understand, and respond. Kind of like kids. Give your unconscious feelings a few minutes of quality time. Coax them gently to the surface, engage in a relationship with them, and ask them what they need. Ask yourself five self-inquiry questions to hear and care for your emotions.
When I’m having a hard day, all I want to do is escape the feelings. I want Netflix and wine. I’ve learned the hard way that avoidance doesn’t change anything. Through mindful self-compassion, I have learned to turn towards the crappy feelings, and that actually helps me feel better, sooner.
“How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress… Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort.”
— Kelly McGonigal, How to Make Stress Your Friend
It may not be as soothing in the moment as binge-watching “Bridgerton” with a glass of wine and a bowl of ice cream, but it won’t be too bad, and you will probably feel better in the morning. You can get to the heart of your stress, rather than pushing it underground. Spend a few minutes now with your journal, and then go catch up with Lady Whistledown or your favorite Netflix muse.
I’m the parent of an autistic kid, and also a meditation coach and inclusive yoga teacher. I empower parents with simple self-care strategies so they can feel calmer and kinder no matter how intense their atypical kid is in the moment.
It takes practice and openness to hold steady when the people you love the most are overwhelmed. In order to be with my son in his big feelings, I first had to be alright with my own. The teachings of Tara Brach were my introduction to self-compassion when my family was in crisis. I use these five self-inquiry questions to uncover and relate to my underlying feelings.
Grab a glass of water, a piece of paper, and a pen. Turn off the TV.
You can do this simple five-step practice in a few minutes.
Pause, notice your body, take a few breaths, and ask yourself each of these questions in turn, listening inwardly for the answers.
1. “Who in my life allows me to feel held?”
Conjure someone caring, real or imagined, who can walk alongside you through this process. Think of someone you can be your wholehearted self with. Who has your back? Who will you ask for help? Yes, we all need support sometimes. Name them, or alternatively imagine an ancestor, spiritual figure, or fictional compassionate being.
2. “What am I struggling with that no one would know by looking at me?”
If your struggle feels extreme or isolating, take refuge in the solid fact that someone, somewhere, has felt the same way. My hope is for you to first acknowledge your challenges, and then to understand that you’re not alone in your challenges.
3. “What am I trying not to feel?”
Name whatever feelings you are having. Pick one you can work with, and then say YES to that unwanted feeling. Don’t choose the most triggering feeling. You aren’t condoning the story or actions behind the feeling, just acknowledging the truth without pushing it away. Actually say YES. Resistance adds a layer of stress that we don’t need.
4. “Where do I feel it in my body?”
This gets easier with practice. Take a few breaths to scan your body and see where there might be clenching, aching, or another sensation associated with the feeling. If you can, put a hand where you sense it the most. Breathe with it. Again, not trying to push it away. Ask this part of you what it has been trying to tell you. Listen. Ask it what it needs from you. Listen.
5. “What would I say to my close friend if they were feeling this way?”
If someone you love was feeling this way, what would you say to them? Alternatively, you can imagine the compassionate being from step one, and what they would say to you. Start to send your breath towards the contracted place in your body.
Comfort yourself with the kind words. You can put a hand on your heart as you speak kindly to yourself. Listen to the words over and over, as if you can saturate yourself in kindness. Receive the kindness.
Finally, simply pause. Pause and receive the words and the internal sense of comfort. Stay present in the moment without doing anything. Trust that all will be well if you stop doing all the parenting things long enough to soak up some self-compassion.
Thank you for exploring these five comforting self-inquiry questions with me. Drink the water. It isn’t part of the practice, but it is always good to hydrate. 😉