Parenting Is A Gladiator Sport

My daughter has always been extremely expressive.  She’s the type of child who insists on sitting in at the parent-teacher interview and kindly expressing what isn’t working for her in the classroom, with suggestions for improvement.

I’d sit and listen, careful not to quiet or hurry her truth. While I celebrated her courage to express feelings so honestly, I also felt unease with the impact this honest revelation might be having on the teacher.

As I marveled at her bravery I wondered, how many years it took me to learn (and continue to learn) how to do this simple act of calmly representing MY needs?

Many people view me as outspoken and expressive but only I knew how often I found myself subtly or overtly suppressing and repressing my needs and wants, which (surprise, surprise) in the end, wouldn’t get met.

Suppression occurs when we are consciously holding back our thoughts, feelings and desires while repression is when we are unaware we are holding back our truth.

Neither suppression or repression bodes well for creating happy, well adjusted kids.  Researchers at Columbia University viewed MRI images of brains of people suppressing emotions. In most cases the images revealed a brain more emotionally charged compared to more expressive people.

This makes perfect sense, whenever I held back from speaking up for my needs, I realized I would leave interactions feeling resentful, frustrated and blaming others for my emotional state.

This ever-present, silent internal stress clouded my ability to think clearly and make good decisions. As well, it spiked the stress hormone that affected my mood, energy and outlook.

About a decade ago I became aware of this sub-optimal pattern of suppression and decided to bring more consciousness to it and step into power.  Not only was my emotional state on the line, but I wanted to become a walking talking example of  self-expression, especially if I wanted to inspire my children to live a life on their terms.

This can be a hard for us as women. We’re largely conditioned to please and acquiesce. Martyr and mother can often mean the same thing.

Learning to say our truth, shamelessly ask for what we need and then learning to be OK with another’s “No” is hard but it’s worth this work to be fully expressed human beings.

The more we can represent what’s real for us, especially when it comes to our feelings, the more trustable and authentic we become and the more we access our unique power to bring forth something new and necessary in the world.

Much of our ability to succeed in this world depends upon our ability to endure the discomfort of being misunderstood, disliked maybe even rejected. Having the wisdom & the courage to use our body and its intelligent sensations as guides,  is the single most important skill you can master as a parent.

So I began to bring my attention inwards and allowed myself to feel my feelings (the sensations in my body). This took concentration & tenacity. The mind doesn’t want to lose it’s stage and seduces you away from attending to your body, with story, explanation, justification, blame & make wrong. This took months of practice, breathing through my emotions without moving to run, hide or make busy. Slowly, I learned to calm my own nervous system and ask myself:

What do I need right now? What do I want right now? What are my feelings trying to show me?

Before someone can express what they actually need they must to become acutely aware of their feelings from moment to moment.

This was a somatic, rather than a cognitive experience and it allowed me to become present to some of my deepest underlying fears.  I wondered if I could represent my needs and still be likable. My obsession with garnering approval was killing off my truth.  I began to see how my preoccupation with pleasing others was at the cost of my own happiness.  Deepest of all was my incessant worry about being unlovable.

Who was Rhea, if she didn’t sacrifice, please and focus on others constantly?  I started to recognize that a piece of my ‘self’ would be sacrificed if I continued on this path.  My responsibility was to work towards becoming the highest and most honest expression of my authentic self.  And I couldn’t do that by playing small, pandering and sacrificing constantly. 

I started honoring and naming each and every feeling that came through me -especially the big ones like jealousy, rage and sadness. 

Studies at Columbia using MRI’s have reveal that people who can simply name their emotions, kick start their higher thinking brain and reduce the chances of staying in an emotional flood.

When we marginalize or ignore feelings, they never go away.  They simply go underground, lie dormant and creep up on us some future day as an emotional tsunami.

As parents our job is to ensure our kids know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, their ‘big’ emotions are valued,  legitimized and welcomed into the space, especially those times when we may struggle to see their perspective.  This is the space that allows kids to share their deepest, darkest feelings with you.

We can help our children by becoming emotional gladiators, fearless and ready for whatever feeling enters the arena.  After all, they copy what we DO not what we SAY.

When our sadness floods the gate we acknowledge the worth, strength and wisdom inherent in this feeling so powerful, it breaks hearts. When anger rushes towards us like a lion from the belly of the pit, we must learn to respect it before we can tame it.  This is not for the faint hearted; it takes courage, power and discipline. Parenting is a gladiator sport.

Emotions are what confer humanity to us. Do not dismiss them as trivial, they are fundamental to our existence and our thriving.

The importance of feeling our feelings cannot be overstated. I invite you to FEEL as if your life, and your kids lives depend on it. Because they do.

Love, Rhea

p.s: If you want support learning how to feel your feelings or help your kids navigate their big and complex emotions, reach out to me with an email:

p.p.s: As always, I love your comments and your shares! Share your thoughts, feelings and struggles with the tribe. They are hungry to connect. If you feel inspired by this post (and I hope you do) leave a comment and click ‘Like’

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