Authenticity Through Emotions

Welcome to the January 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Authenticity

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about authenticity through character, emotions, and establishing authentic communication with their children. We hope you enjoy this month’s posts and consider joining us next month when we share about Honesty.


Authenticity Through Emotions:

If you were to meet me (and those who know me in real life will attest to this), you would quickly learn that I am no holds barred when it comes to expressing my emotions. I used to be the kind of person that kept things bottled up. Since becoming a mother, my outlook on expressing emotions has changed drastically.

We live in a society where we are all expected to have this “tough” survivalist persona. Anyone can handle anything and there is nothing worth getting upset over. This whole notion pisses me off. A lot.

When you observe children, it becomes clear that expressing emotions is an extremely important part of development. Furthermore, children cannot and should not stifle emotions. While they can learn to quickly hide an “unacceptable” emotion from their parent or caregiver, the root of childhood rests on the emotional being.

Part of being a truly authentic parent means allowing and supporting both my daughter’s emotions and her expression of them but also my own emotions. It is pretty simple at its core. You feel a certain way, you emote, and you move on from there however that might look. Unfortunately, we muck this all up with that idea that we need to remain strong and unfazed by life.

I refuse to give into this. My husband doesn’t like how expressive I am. He constantly accuses me of overreacting and setting a bad example for Tiny. He accuses me of causing her to “act the way she does” i.e. expressing emotion freely. This could be because I bottled everything for the first 7 years of our relationship and he is really at a loss as to this “new” me. It could be because he is very uncomfortable with my authentic self…the one who is no holds barred in her reactions. To be honest, I think he just plain and simply does not want to “deal” with the reality of certain situations.

When did emotions become so bad and looked down upon? Is everyone really happy going through life like a little robot? Smile when you are supposed to be happy. Smile in the face of disappointment. Smile when confronted with a loss. Don’t worry – be happy? Piss on all that!

For example, last month my husband had me watch a video of a young woman getting pranked. Her male friend was pretending to be an intruder and when she walked in her house and saw him, she ran screaming out the front door, into the street, and got obliterated by a car. I didn’t realize that this video was a fake but as I was watching it, I got really angry at my husband for showing it to me. I assumed he knew me better than that and would know that this is NOT something I would find entertaining. Real or not, it made me sick and what pissed me off more was that Tiny was right there asking to see it.

My husband told me that I was making a huge deal out of it and that I set a horrible example for Tiny. Really? Did I? I almost threw up when I saw the girl get hit by the car. My 3 ½ year old was right next to me. My husband should have known not to show that to me. And I was the one doing something wrong by vocalizing how I felt? I am quite sure I am not the only person on the planet who would have let out a scream when she saw this video.

The unfortunate part of this situation is that Tiny witnessed exactly the opposite of what I am trying to instill in her. She saw her daddy trying to stifle a natural response because in his opinion it was “wrong.”

I want Tiny to see that it is imperative to FEEL emotions and express them in a healthy manner. While I would never encourage violence or name calling, I pretty much support her in any other form of emotional release. If she needs to yell, she can. If she needs to blow off steam physically, we figure out a way to do that. If she needs to growl or cry, I let her. I give her the freedom to be who she is. I am there in the manner that she needs me.

When I am having a moment of emotional expression, I always make sure that Tiny understands what is going on and why I am reacting a certain way. I personally think that this is imperative when helping children to learn about their own emotions. If she sees me huffing and puffing but doesn’t know why, Tiny might draw the wrong conclusion which could have repercussions down the road.

Being an authentic parent means being an authentic person. For me, the root of authenticity is the emotional side of us. It is what makes us human. So why would I stifle that which makes me human? I won’t.


APBC - Authentic ParentingVisit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 25 with all the carnival links.)

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  1. says

    After reading your essay I would like to contribute just a few thoughts. One of the most important contributions a father contributes to the development of their child is that of emotional regulation. It is a natural function of a father.

    If you look at this issue from a broader perspective, considering the increasingly high numbers of father-less homes — and the ensuing social repercussions and problems — it is easy to make the association between lack of emotional regulation and high crime rates, suicidal ideation, high incarceration rates, etc.

    I am not saying emotions should not be authentic, expressed, and a reflection of true feelings. What I am saying is rational thought will nearly always serve an individual better than an emotional reaction, and actions taken based on emotion are oftentimes unsound. Emotions are chemical-related and not always rational. Emotionality and rational thinking are pretty much mutually exclusive.

    An example: a young adult encounters a situation not to their liking (at work, in a restaurant, in any public or private setting) and reacts emotionally instead of rationally, not considering all of the possible outcomes. An emotional reaction will cause a person to lash out, to attack, to not think out the possible repercussions calmly and clearly.

    I do think we should all be honest and authentic in our dealings with others, but I also think emotional regulation is very important in the navigation through our lives.

    To me, rational thought is also at the root of authenticity, the ability to process and incorporate authentic emotions and feelings in our well-thought-out decision making processes.

  2. says

    I totally agree that stifling emotions is terribly unhelpful. There is a HUGE difference between regulating ones behavior and repressing dissatisfaction. The second will find ways to leak out and manifest in very unhealthy behaviors.
    I applaud you for teaching Tiny to process her emotions in a healthy way, rather than bottle them up where they are bound to explode or smolder into self-destructive behavior… like committing crimes. 😉

  3. says

    Your post works well with Mandy’s post. Personally I am trying to work with my anger, finding that balance between being authentic in my emotions and not just reacting to a situation. I’m really learning a lot from this carnival.
    I also want to say I have never enjoyed watching practical jokes that humiliate people or watching home video bloopers of people getting seriously injured-it’s just not funny. They make me sick to my stomach as well!

  4. says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I disagree with the previous poster who discusses emotions versus rational thinking. While they are two separate aspects of our brain function, they are not opposites of one another.

    Expressing emotions and using rational thought are not mutually exclusive. It is not expression of either emotions nor rational thought that is the issue. It is the reactions that cause issues. When we use emotion and rational thought to act rather than react, we are in a much better place.

    Reactions are learned behaviors (in this case negative) from society, just as the archaic notion that men are rational while women are emotional is a learned thought from society. Science shows us time and again that this line of thinking is wrong. Evidence shows that the differences in gender behavior are learned from society, nit genetic in their beginnings. I think that both men and women should be offended by the idea that men are rational and women are emotional. Men and women are not limited to such societal prejudices.

  5. says

    I’ve often been confounded by the sexism inherent in condemning emotions. As Mandy was saying, it’s the age-old conflation of women with hysteria (from the word for uterus) and men with rational thought. Whereas in my household, both my parents were very stoic, and I’d say it was my mom who most wanted me to keep my emotions in check. While I appreciate different styles of emoting (some loud and proud, some subdued), I think that upbringing has hurt my parenting in that I become very uncomfortable with my children expressing emotion and want to tamp it down the way I was brought up to do. Somewhat paradoxically, my children’s strong emotions make me emotional!

    I really appreciate your article and your honesty about the value of authentic emotions, and I appreciate Mandy’s contribution to the conversation as well!

  6. says

    If we could get past the societal stigma of males appropriately expressing their emotions, then
    the emotional suppression” going on probably wouldn’t escalate to anger. The majority of violent crimes against others are committed by males. I would much rather that *all* of my children, boys included, learn healthy ways to express their emotions so that they may think about their actions in a rational manner. Let’s toss out the prejudice and expect more out of humanity.

  7. says

    @Rusthawk Hmmmmm…I am not sure that you really digested the meat of my post. I did not at all speak to the function of the father or mother in a child’s development. I think that one has to be very careful with generalizations about such functions to begin with and as an opened-minded person, I see both a male parent and a female parent as having the ability to influence and contribute to their child’s development equally. But again, this is not what my post is about.

    I also think it is important to clarify that there is a HUGE difference between emotional expression and regulating behavior. One can have an emotional outburst whilst remaining in control of their physical reaction. If someone has anger issues, repressing and “controlling” that emotion does not mean that the person is a rational person. Built up emotions without the room to be expressed and released is what actually leads to the social issues you mention.

    I also do not agree that emotionality and rational thinking are mutually exclusive. I can FEEL enraged over something but my rational thought is what keeps me from physically reacting to my emotions.

    Emotional regulation really comes down to societal values and what the culture you live in believes is acceptable behavior. This looks different the world over.

    I think you also have to remember that I am in the season of parenting where I am dealing with an emotional being. 3 year olds ARE emotional – not rational. Developmentally they are not capable of the same sort of rational thinking that we are. Therefore, in order to help my daughter understand behavioral norms, I have to let her experience emotions her way so we can discuss them and understand them better. It is all part of the development process.

  8. says

    I can absolutely see how being free to express emotions can a very beneficial thing for raising children. Personally, I have been in situations where I have “felt” a certain way inside and haven’t had the ability to communicate my feelings… so for example, I laugh. Or, I don’t give an emotional reaction. I think that if I was better at being to identify my emotional reaction that I feel, I could then take the steps as a rational thinking adult to give an appropriate response that communicates my feelings in a way that validates them to those present. There are often times where I am simply at a lack for words because I “feel” an emotion, yet I lack the bridge between that overwhelming emotion and the active expression of communicating how I actually felt about something. But as far as the life process of learning this goes, you must first learn to experience emotions freely. Then you can begin to teach labels for them, and eventually appropriate responses.
    Emotional regulation must come AFTER first being able to experience and interpret one’s own emotions. When this healthy process of growing and learning is suppressed or out of order- that is when the unhealthy management of emotions takes place. If we ignore, suppress, miscommunicate, or hold in our emotions, there will definitely be issues. Rational thinking is simply the eventual addition to the process that helps us filter when, where, and how to appropriately manage our valid emotions once we feel them. It isn’t one or the other- I believe it is a tiered thought process and both aspects require training and process. Emotional reactions can be very powerful and effectively communicated with the help of rational harnessing and directing.
    I saw the “prank” video also and found it to be very disturbing.

  9. says

    I don’t think it matters what age your child is if you regulate their emotions you are denying them, you are suggesting to them that their feelings are not real. This leads to suppression and them questioning their own feelings. As they grow older they are likely to turn into adults who are unhappy and confused and may follow a life of crime, alcoholism or drug abuse to drown their confusion. Sadly so many societies place expectations on our children that they should behave in a certain manner and so the cycle perpetuates. I hope you can break it and help your husband to too.

  10. says

    Hi Jennifer, I came across this article when I was doing some parenting research today and I had to comment that I love what you’ve written here and wholeheartedly agree. One of the most important things I’m finding with my own child is that free emotional expression is essential for healthy development. It is, in my experience, the very foundation for what eventually becomes (with some guidance) rational behavior that is ALSO authentic and empathetic.(!)

    Recently I’ve been trying to find out all I can about healthy ways to express my own emotions, no matter what they are, so that my daughter will always feel safe in expressing hers — and so she can learn options for doing so that are respectful of herself and others.

    However, I’ve learned that even healthy expressions of emotion can make some other adults feel uncomfortable. In fact, I’ve noticed that being happy can make some people uncomfortable. But I’m also learning to be okay with that, because someone else’s discomfort with feelings doesn’t make it okay for me to suppress mine. I’ve begun allowing myself to express my emotions and I allow them to express their discomfort. :) I’m learning with my daughter that feeling and expressing my own difficult feelings, like anger or frustration, makes me much more comfortable when someone else (like her) expresses feelings like these. And contrary to what many people may think, with freedom of expression and acceptance, these sorts of feelings tend to dissipate more quickly and recur less often… which leaves more space for feeling other things — like compassion, connection, and joy.

    Kudos to you for expressing yourself here about a topic that is so important and, in my opinion, not written or talked about enough! I too refuse to stifle what makes me human. I’m learning to wear my heart on my sleeve much more openly these days. I felt validated, happy and hopeful reading this.

    With thanks from another Jennifer :)

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