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HKILA Counselling Corner

Counselling Blog

HKILA Counselling Corner

Your regular dose of mental health

A few weeks ago, I shared an article on my Facebook page with the title “This school year will be messy. That’s OK”. You can read the whole thing here, but the basic message is that times are difficult, our kids are struggling, and that, as parents and educators, we tend to ask that they regulate their emotions in a way that is of more benefit to the school/classroom/teacher/ parent than it is to them. The author suggests instead that we allow our kids to sit with their feelings, however challenging and inconvenient, and see what lessons there are to be learned from them. 

It is OK to not feel OK in difficult times. Our culture tends to encourage ‘positivity’ at all costs, ignoring the actual science of positive psychology, which demonstrates that negative, painful or difficult thoughts can be just as essential to our emotional and physical well-being as positive or upbeat thoughts. 

When faced with someone who is unhappy, or angry, or frustrated, our instinct is often to try to make that feeling go away for that person. This is especially true when our own children are in pain, and the parental urge to comfort and rescue kicks in. Often, our well-meaning responses are invalidating and even confusing for our kids, who are busy building belief and value systems based on the constant stream of data that enters their brain from their surroundings and their own internal experiences. 

I asked my teenage daughters for some examples of the kind of language that made them feel dismissed or invalidated and was shocked at how many seemingly harmless platitudes made the list:

  • There’s always a silver lining
  • Worse things happen at sea
  • It’s not that bad
  • I don’t know what you’re complaining about, others have it much worse
  • You don’t know how lucky you are
  • Just look on the bright side
  • You are too young to know what a real problem is
  • This too shall pass
  • It’s just your hormones 
  • You are such a drama queen
  • You just need to think positively

Are some of these things true? Sure, they often are but are they helpful? If your child tells you that they are feeling cold, you may suggest that they put on an extra layer, but it is unlikely that you would challenge their perception of what they are feeling, or tell them to ignore the cold, think about how cold polar bears must be or ‘just think warmly’! 

What if we were to acknowledge and affirm our childrens’ expressed emotions, allowing them to experience and learn from the whole emotional range that is available to them, instead of teaching them to repress and avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings? 

By the way, it is also ok to feel ok – many of us will know people who have been horribly affected by what is happening in the world right now, but what if we ourselves are doing fine? What if we LIKE having some down time, working from home, seeing more of our family? It is natural to feel some guilt when we see others hurt by a situation that may actually be of some benefit to us, and, like all feelings, guilt can be useful. Perhaps there is more that we could do for those in our community who are struggling, or make a conscious effort to engage political and social issues that affect the world at large. Or perhaps we can simply take the opportunity to rest and recharge our batteries so that we are better able to support those who need us, and to face whatever else 2020 decides to throw our way!

 What to expect in November’s Counselling Corner:

  • More discussion of what the field of ‘positive psychology’ is – and what it definitely isn’t!
  • Practical tips for helping our children to navigate their internal emotional and cognitive landscapes 
  • Developing helpful coping mechanisms and behaviours along the way

In the meantime, here are some links if you would like to do some further reading: 

Can Your Feelings Be Wrong?

Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad Can Make You Feel Worse

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