A good upbringing teaches children how to limit most of their desires, so that they don’t manifest as behaviors. Desires that, upon being set free at their own whim, can hurt other people or themselves. But there’s a big difference between this and teaching children to systematically inhibit their emotions.
Unfortunately, this happens relatively frequently. Children can pose many challenges that push the limits of patience, especially when you have a very demanding job, a complicated relationship with your partner, or a rough personal history.
Therefore, some parents complain, wanting their children to be robots that they can order around easily, without complications. Who stay calm and quiet, who don’t disturb their peace or threaten to hurt their professional appearance. Who always obey and never object. In short, who learn to control their impulses for themselves, or who are born already able to do this.
No parent wants the way they raise their child to result in them being uneducated about the management of their emotions. In fact, many think that teaching them to deny or ignore their emotions is preparing them for the world. However, reality is quite different. People who grow up thinking that repressing their emotions is a positive thing will either live as a prisoner of guilt over not being able to contain them, or constantly crash into bitter realities throughout their entire lives.
Ways people avoid their emotions
Children are immature creatures who depend completely on adults, and for that reason alone, they see them as idols. Many parents don’t understand that the goal of raising children is to give them a strong hand to hold so they can learn to walk by themselves and start building their own path. Instead, they implement strategies that do the complete opposite: they perpetuate dependence, and therefore, obedience.
These parents raise their children to think of emotions as disturbing, and that they therefore have to separate from them. How? There are various ways. One, which is commonly used among mothers, is by playing the victim and making the child feel guilty. “If you don’t eat, your poor mother will be sad,” she’ll say. It seems harmless, but this formula can extend to much more complex behaviors.
There’s also the strategy of direct coercion and fear. These parents apply severe punishments and condition the child to act based on the fear of punishment. The worst part is that they punish perfectly healthy behaviors like crying, getting angry, or laughing too much. “If you keep crying, you know what’s going to happen,” they’ll say. Or, “stop laughing if you don’t want to be punished.” These phrases are common in this type of parenting.
In these cases, the child probably does have a reason to cry, laugh, or get angry. Emotions aren’t good or bad in themselves; they’re human. Normal humans laugh, cry, and get angry. What children should learn to do is set limits so that these emotions don’t lead to unhealthy behaviors. But feeling them, in itself, is completely normal and healthy. However, it makes some parents too anxious when their children experience sadness or anger, so they take the easier, but more brutal, route: repression.
It’s possible to reeducate yourself
It’s true that these marks from childhood are unerasable, and traces of them will remain forever. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t work to minimize their impact. First, you have to recognize that they’re there, they exist, and they hold you back.
Identifying the mistakes that your parents made doesn’t mean you’re disrespecting or hurting them, or that you love them less. Think of it more as a way to complement or improve upon the upbringing they gave you. Of course, every parent loves to see their child happy, but sometimes they take the wrong path to get them there, and that’s when you, as an adult, can and should redirect yourself.
Even as an adult, you might still think in the same way you were taught: it’s best to separate from your emotions so that they don’t become a hindrance. You might even brag about it and think of it as a sign of maturity. It shows that you don’t cry even though you want to, that you just breathe and deal with it. That you’re always reasonable with your anger, and you never shout or lose your temper. That you’re “cerebral,” even though from time to time you have unbearable anxiety attacks, or you get stuck in different situations.
Remember, if your emotions overflow, it’s not because they’re dangerous or negative, it’s because nobody taught you how to regulate them or how to use their energy in your favor. Also, in the rush to hide them, you might have accumulated so much emotional energy at times that you’ve had to explode, causing much more damage than these emotions would have caused if you had been smart about regulating them.
The bad news is that nobody taught you how. Nobody told you that they are a part of you and that they are there to make your life better. The good news is that you still have time to give them a chance and to start having a different relationship with them. So from this little corner of the world, I’d like to invite you to take advantage of them.
Images courtesy of Margarita Kareva, Art TreeLight, Anne Miklos