When we are born as babies, the only way we can express ourselves is through screaming. For the first couple years of our lives, this continues to be the way we communicate our needs to our parents and caretakers. As we grow and learn how to speak, we cry less because we are understood in a new way. Hopefully as we grow, we are taught to understand our emotions, know how they feel physically and emotionally, and learn to communicate them properly. This takes time and practice, but this effort from the parent and the child allows them to grow into an adolescent and adult that can communicate how they are doing and what they need.
When this growth and learning go awry, we learn unhealthy coping skills around handling emotions. Some of us only know how to express how we feel through yelling, which was an effective method when we were a young child. Others shut down when their emotions overwhelm them because that is how they were taught to react. This is often the case when, as a child, you were sent to your room when you cried or were otherwise emotionally disregarded. The way that we were raised to manage emotions, or not manage emotions, can stick with us into adulthood and can interfere with our relationships with others. Whatever coping skills we developed were for good reason; they protected us, gave us an outlet, or let us push our emotions aside when they got too uncomfortable. However, as we grow up and mature as individuals, we are given a chance to recognize these patterns and learn how to express our emotions in a healthier way.
As we grow in our ability to process and show emotions, perhaps with our therapist or spouse, we can learn to live a healthier and more emotionally dynamic life. We get to parent our children in a more emotionally responsive environment because we know how to understand their emotions. Depending on your background and how you were raised to deal with emotions, your steps towards growth in this area could look very diverse. Some may need to reel their emotions in while some may need to recognize them for the first time. Some steps that are helpful for everyone include:
Increasing self-awareness of triggers to your emotions
- Noticing how you respond to your emotions
- Noticing how your body feels when you have that emotion
- Understanding healthy emotional reactions
- What would I expect someone else do in this scenario?
- Work towards healthy expressions of emotions
- Gradually over time
- With healthy and safe people
- Talking to a professional or loved one about what you need to grow
- Giving yourself grace when you don’t always respond how you want
These steps aren’t a magical cure-all for not knowing how to manage emotions, but they can be the beginning steps to learning how to work with your emotions instead of fighting against them.