I’ve said it more than once: Emotions are tunnels. You have to go all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end. And if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll get where you want to go. Some of us know how to go through the tunnel because we grew up in families that taught us how. Some of us know how to go through the tunnel because we learned that skill later in life. And some of us haven’t had a chance to learn that skill yet. But we can always learn, by becoming our own emotion coaches.
In Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, psychologist John Gottman describes four different approaches a parent can take in responding to a child’s feelings: emotion coaching, dismissing, disapproving, and laissez-faire. I’ll refer to the last three (less supportive) approaches together as emotion dismissing.⁸
Emotion coaching teaches you that • You can recognize lower-intensity emotions so that you can manage them before they escalate.• Negative emotions are a natural response to negative life events. Because negative life events are sometimes inevitable, so are negative emotions.• Because negative emotions are a normal part of life, they are discussed, given names, and empathized with.• “It’s normal that sometimes it feels hard,” “When you feel bad, we love you just as much as when you feel good,” and “You cry all you need to, honey.”• Your sadness, anger, and fear are signs of being human.
Emotion dismissing, on the other hand, teaches you that • You should ignore subtle or lower-intensity emotions—they’re irrelevant.• Negative emotions are toxic, dangerous to yourself and the people around you.• Negative feelings are a choice, something you could select in the morning like part of your outfit. Because they’re a choice, negative emotions may be punished—even if there is no overt misbehavior.• “Get over it,” “Be grateful for all the good things,” or “C’mon, give me a smile, honey!”• Your sadness, anger, and fear are signs of failure—either your own or your family’s.
In other words, emotion coaching teaches you that feelings are tunnels, and you can allow yourself to go through the darkness to get to the light. Emotion dismissing, on the other hand, teaches you that feelings aren’t a tunnel, they’re a cave . . . with a river of cyanide . . . and a thousand rats . . . in the dark. Where you’ll be trapped forever. So whatever you do, KEEP OUT.
Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life – Emily Nagoski
Come As You Are; Ch 9 Meta-emotions: The Ultimate Sex-Positive Context — How to Let Go: Nonjudging; pg 419