The Family that Feels Together Grows Together
by Linda Kondracki
Managing Feelings in Family Life
In recovery we learn that "all
my feelings are okay." Learning to manage our own responses to
feelings like anger and hurt is hard enough. Learning to manage
feelings is our families can seem overwhelming. How do we teach our
children to handle their feelings in healthy ways? The following
guidelines can help you make your family a place that models healthy
ways of owning and expressing all your feelings.
Guideline #1: All family members have a right to feel their
If we grew up with lots of messages that denied us our
feelings, we may unknowingly be hooked into a communication style that
tells others to block or bury their feelings. The first step in
managing feelings in family life is to listen to, and affirm each
other's feelings. Here's an example:
No: "Why are you crying? It's just a goldfish! We'll buy another
Yes: "It hurts alot to lose a pet, doesn't it? Do you want me to
help you bury it?"
Guideline #2: Feelings must be expressed within certain
To say that "all your feelings are okay," is NOT
giving permission for family members to engage in a "feelings
free-for-all." Expressing our feelings in ways that are
self-destructive, harms someone else or damages property are never
okay. The activity box contains directions to help you set rules for
the expression of feelings in your family. Notice that none of these
rules denies anyone his or her feelings. They are simply management
tools that can help family members express their feelings in healthy
Guideline #3: All family members can own what they are
Owning a feeling means we are "in charge" of that
feeling and will assume responsibility for managing it. Essentially,
this means learning a communication style that uses "I"
statements to own a feeling, plus a clear statement of what the
speaker needs or wants from the other person:
No: Why do you guys always bombard me with what you want as soon as I
walk in the door? Do any of you ever once think about anyone but
yourselves? I'm not going to do another thing for you until you stop
being so selfish!
Yes: Work was really stressful today and I'm beat. I need a half hour
to myself before answering those questions and looking at your papers.
Please find something else to do and we'll talk in a little while.
Notice that the accusatory "you" words shifts the
responsibility for a feeling to another family member. The second
response uses an "I" statement to claim ownership of a
feeling and then makes a clear request of the other person.
Guideline #4: Understand emotional temperature and timing.
When tempers are hot is probably not the best time to give
lectures or try to talk things out. When hurt and grief are new is
definitely not an appropriate time to talk about replacing what was
lost or telling jokes to lighten the mood. Sometimes the best thing to
do is allow time for emotional temperatures to cool and hurts to begin
to heal before talking things out. Just remember that it is never too
late - in minutes, hours, days, even years - to come back to a subject
to talk it through and bring closure.
ACTIVITY BOX: FAMILY RULES FOR EXPRESSING FEELINGS
One of the best ways for family members to learn to manage
their feelings in healthy ways is to set guidelines for all family
members to follow. Begin by writing across the top of a poster board:
"Expressing Feelings in Our Family." Then talk about the
- What are some ways we express
feelings in our family that cause us problems? Be specific -
hitting or throwing things, pouting, name calling, etc.
- How can we express our feelings
without being hurtful or disrespectful to others?
As you think of ideas, write them down in the form of family rules.
- When we are angry, we may go
to our rooms and pound our pillows or go to the garage and use the
punching bag. We may not break anything or pound someone else.
- When we are sad we may cry, ask
to be held, or go to our rooms to be alone for awhile. We may
not pretend to be sick or hide somewhere without telling someone
where we are.
- When there is a conflict between
family members, they will work it out without calling each other
names or hitting each other.
NOTE: The material in this column was taken from Linda's book, All
My Feelings Are Okay, an interactive family guide using stories,
games, Bible studies and more to help families identify and express
their feelings. Ask for it in your local Christian bookstore.
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by Linda Kondracki in STEPS Magazine.
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