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  • Lori K Walters

Help! I'm absorbing my kid's feelings.




“When my daughter gets anxious, I can feel her stress and fear as if it were my own. My chest gets tight and my breath gets shallower. I get caught up in the whole atmosphere of tension and I’m unable to support her in the way she needs.” “I hate it when he gets upset and mopes around. I try to stay in my own lane but, before I know it, I’m as miserable as he is. Even when he's not at home, I feel it. But I don’t want his moods to dictate mine. It makes it worse for both of us.” How can I be loving and supportive as I witness my kids’ emotions WITHOUT taking them on myself? Compassion for your kid is beautiful. Having empathy for their suffering is beautiful. But taking on your kids’ feelings is not. I'm talking about when you FEEL their feelings - you actually experience emotions, physical symptoms and/or energies that are not yours. It’s a heavy burden to carry. And when it’s affecting your health, your state of mind and your relationships, it’s time to act. Part of this is about your energetic boundaries and I’ve written more about that HERE. This article is an opportunity for you to explore some in-the-moment strategies you can use when you catch yourself absorbing your child’s feelings. I suggest you pick 1 or 2 that resonate with you and give them a try for a couple of weeks. NAME THE EMOTION The place to begin, as always, is observing and naming what happens for you. When you notice your child's emotion arising in you, label it. ‘I’m experiencing tension. There’s a panicky, clenching feeling in my belly.’ Naming the emotion helps you focus and learn specifically how this pattern plays out for you. And this is the right moment for some self-compassion: 'Oh, there’s that part of me again, trying to carry my kid’s emotions for them. That’s OK. It comes from love. And I’m learning to separate their feelings from mine.' That's all you need to do - admit you're human. NOTICE THE URGE There’s a part of you that’s accustomed to absorbing your kid’s feelings, right? So, watch for when that part tries to slide into the driver’s seat. What exactly has that part coming forth right now? Is she so damn uncomfortable with other peoples’ discomfort? Does she just need everyone to be ‘happy’? Is she afraid the feelings will get too big? Does she feel responsible for other’s emotional wellbeing? This part of you is motivated by something important – some need, some past experience or some belief about how she must be in the world. So, this is the essential question: What does that part of you seem to GET out of taking on your kid’s feelings? WHAT’S MINE? Ask yourself whether what you’re feeling is yours or theirs. When that’s not easy to discern, imagine you and your child in two separate boats on a lake. Identify what they’re feeling in their boat and what you’re feeling in yours. It might sound something like, ‘They are feeling anger. I am not actually angry. I am feeling worried and sad.’ Two separate boats, two different emotional experiences. INTERUPT the PATTERN The moment you catch yourself feeling emotions that aren’t yours, do something to shift your physical energy -raise your stop hand, lift and drop your shoulders, sit down, stand up, anything. Never underestimate the power of the messages you send to your body. A simple change in stance can signal to your whole system that you’re going to do something different this time. GET FRESH PERSPECTIVE Close your eyes for a few seconds. Take a deep clearing breath. Open your eyes and adjust your focus to take in the scene more clearly. See the totality of what is occurring in front of you instead of becoming it or reacting to it. GROUNDING Take a moment to notice where in your body you feel the most calm, grounded or neutral. Is it your hands, your pelvis or your spine? Bring your attention to that place in your body and sense its serenity and stability. Visualize a gentle light glowing there and spreading out into the rest of your body. Remember, having one calm place in your body can serve as a resource when the rest of you is feeling overwhelmed. RELEASING ABSORBED EMOTIONS If you discover that you’ve absorbed someone else's emotions and you want to release them:

  • Exercise, run, dance – let it be expelled organically with the carbon dioxide.

  • Yell (in an appropriate, secluded place)

  • Get out into the natural world, the original detoxifier.

  • Drink a lot of water and flush it through.

  • Ask the right people to listen to you vent, people who won’t commiserate, argue or give advice.

~ If absorbing your kid’s energy is an ingrained pattern for you, there are also some slightly longer practices you can do when you’re NOT in the middle of emotionally charged interchanges. RETURN WHAT’S NOT YOURS, WITH LOVE You may like to light a candle for this and begin with some stillness and mindfulness. You might like to call in your spiritual guides. By all means, go within in your own way. Visualize your child’s emotions – feelings you know they need to experience to learn and grow - and pour your love and compassion into them. And then give them back. You might imagine wrapping them in a soft blanket that you leave at the foot of their bed. Or picture those feelings as wisps of smoke that you gently blow back to them. Or see yourself placing your hand on their heart as you return those feelings to them. Let your intuition guide you to find your way of doing this. CLEAR YOURSELF DAILY The simplest clearing ritual begins with standing, feet planted, knees slightly bent, your spine tall but not tense. Slow your breath and lower your gaze. Visualize a gentle, warm, luminous waterfall above you. The water begins to flow down over you. First, your crown is cleansed, then it flows slowly over your scalp, eyes and face, down your neck, etc. Allow the water to wash away energies that don’t belong to you or you no longer need. When you feel complete, take a moment to notice how it feels to be clear. Remember, this is your natural state. REFLECT Consider going deeper and exploring the part of you that’s accustomed to absorbing your kid’s feelings. You already know that it’s not doing anyone any good - maybe now is the time to get to the core of it. Is getting involved in someone else’s feelings a way of avoiding your own? Did you grow up believing your worth was based on making everyone calm and comfortable? Was yours a household where medium-level happiness was the only acceptable emotion? Or where big emotions were ignored or punished? Are you trying to control their feelings to feel safe? Do you need help learning how to handle your own emotions? These are not easy questions to answer. And yet, they are the key to being able to stay separate from other people’s feelings in a good way. Go gently as you seek answers within yourself. And, if it gets too intricate, get help from a skilled coach or therapist.

~ Dear one, empathy is beautiful. It gives us our special strength in relating to others. It's essential to our human experience. The trick is learning to regulate your empathy and stop those floods of external emotion from confusing and overwhelming you. As you learn to feel your own feelings (not theirs), you make space for the young adult in your life to do the same. And that clears the way to develop a deeper connection with your wonderful, unique kid.

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Photo by Mathis Jrdl on Unsplash

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