Michele Coleman, Ph. D. LMFT
In her book, Transforming Power of Affect, Diana Fosha does a great job of explaining how our emotions convey information about the self in relation to others. Additionally, emotions are crucial for helping us adapt to a changing environment. Emotions help us appraise the environment, focus on what is important and motivate us to action. The problem comes in when we are taught in our family that emotions are not safe to express. Families have different rules about emotional expression including what emotions are okay to express and which ones have to be suppressed.
Despite what we learned in our family systems, learning how to appropriately express emotions with another and having that other see, hear and validate our experience is crucial to our well being. If you have not done so already, I invite you to Google, “Still face experiment.” As you watch the baby and Mom connect through sound, closeness and eye contact, I want you to pay attention to how you feel in your body. When Mom stops the emotional communication notice how increasingly distressed the baby becomes. Notice what this feels like in your body as well.
People often think that if we feed, and clothe the baby this is enough. I believe the experience of the “Still face experiment” shares a different message. This baby had her physical needs met but what was most distressing to her was the break in the emotional connection with her attachment figure. When your child moves into your home it will be important for you to be able to emotionally connect with him or her regardless of how they show up behaviorally. They will need to be seen, heard and validated through emotional attunement. More on emotional attunement next month.
To help parents and children learn the language of emotional communication, we have created a game called, The Feelings Game. This month we are holding a contest where we invite parents and children to draw a feeling and submit it to us to be considered for inclusion in our upcoming packet. We are awarding every submission with a small thank you. If you are interested in learning more, consider subscribing to our newsletter by sending us an email to [email protected]