B1 Intermediate 13 Folder Collection
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One of our deepest longings – deeper than we even perhaps recognise day to to day – is
that other people should acknowledge certain of our feelings. We want that – at key moments
– our sufferings should be understood, our anxieties noticed and our sadness lent legitimacy.
We don't want others necessarily to agree with all our feelings, but what we crave is
that they at least validate them. When we are furious, we want another person to say:
I can see that you've been driven to distraction. It must feel very chaotic for you inside right
now for you. When we are sad, we want someone to say: I know you're unusually down and
I understand the reasons why. And when we can't take it all any more, we want someone
gently to say: It's been too much for you; I recognise that so well; of course it has.
It sounds desperately simple, and in a way it is. And yet how little of this emotional
nectar of acknowledgement we ever in fact receive or gift to one another. The habit
of not having one's feelings properly acknowledged begins in childhood. Parents, even the most
loving ones, frequently stumble in this domain. It's not that they don't theoretically
care intensely for their children, it's that they don't appreciate that true care
involves regularly reflecting a child's moods back to him or herself – rather than
subtly pushing the moods away or denying that they exist. Here are some typical unacknowledging
parent-child exchanges:Child: I'm feeling sad. Parent: Don't be silly, you can't
be, it's the holidays.Child: I'm really worried. Parent: Darling, now that's that's
ridiculous, there's just nothing to be scared of here.Child: I wish there wasn't any school
ever ever. Parent: Don't be so silly. You know we have to leave the house by eight.How
different things might go, and what a different sort of adult the child would have a chance
to grow into, if such dialogues were only slightly tweaked: if, for example, the parent
could say: 'It's weird isn't it how it's possible to be sad at the oddest of
times, even on a beach holiday…' Or: 'I can see you're scared: that wind is really
fierce out there…' Or: 'It must be horrible having double maths all morning, especially
after such a nice weekend…' There is one reason why we don't acknowledge as we might:
fear. The feelings we push away are all, in some shape or other, emotionally inconvenient,
or troubling or upsetting: we love our child so much, we don't want to imagine that they
might be sad or worried, lost or having a terribly difficult time at school. Furthermore,
we may operate with a background view that acknowledging a difficult feeling will make
it far worse than it is. It will mean fostering it unduly or giving way to it entirely. We
fear that if we give a bit of unbiased mirroring to our child, we might be encouraging them
to grow cataclysmically depressive, unfeasibly timid or manically resistant to authority.
What we're missing is that most of us, once we've been heard, become far less – rather
than far more – inclined to insist on the feelings we're beset by. The angry person
gets less rather than more enraged once the depth of their frustration has been recognised;
the rebellious child grows more, not less inclined, to buckle down and do their homework
once their feelings that they want to burn the school down, break the headmaster's
glasses and abscond to a desert island have been listened to and identified with for fifty-five
seconds. Feelings get less strong, not more tyrannous, as soon as they've been given
an airing. We become bullies when no one's listened, never because they listened too
much. The problem of unacknowledged feelings doesn't – sadly – end with childhood.
Couples routinely put each other through the same mill. For example:Partner 1: Sometimes
I feel that you don't listen… Partner 2: That has to be rubbish; I put so much work
into this relationship.Partner 1: I'm worried I might be fired Partner 2: That's not possible,
you work so hard.All the way to the divorce courts – or an affair.The good news is that
an enormous uplift in mood is available right now, with very little effort, if we simply
learn to change the way we typically respond to the I-statements of those who matter to
us. We only need to play their feelings back to them, even the potentially awkward feelings,
for a few moments using certain magical phrases: I can hear that you must… You must be feeling
so… I can understand completely that… Such phrases can change the course of lives.
Crucially, we don't
need to be listened to by everyone. We can bear an awful lot of unacknowledged feelings
when just a few people, some of them in our childhood, and ideally one of them in our
bedroom and in our friendship circle every now and then plays us back to us. The ranter,
the person animated by a rigid desire that everyone should listen to them, hasn't (of
course) been overindulged: they are just playing out the frightening consequences of never
having been heard when it mattered. There is almost no end to what we may be ready to
do for those who pay us that immense, psychologically-redemptive honour of once in a while acknowledging what
we're actually feeling, however odd, melancholy or inconvenient it might be.
Our Emotional First Aid kit provides a set of useful salves to some of life's most challenging psychological situations. Including friendship, love, sex, work and self.
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Why We Need to Feel Heard

13 Folder Collection
Summer published on July 30, 2020
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