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  • Gary Borland

#53 Rediscovering Self

Emotional Connection and Authenticity.

It doesn’t take long after we come into the world to begin to express something of our emotions and what we want or need. This can take many forms and might include asking, demanding, telling and exhibiting behaviours that come perfectly naturally to us, but might be a source of frustration, tension or anger for our carers. As a parent, I know that at times this resulted in me acting in ways that gave our children the message that some of these behaviours were acceptable and others were not. In effect, I was saying that some emotions were acceptable, and others weren’t. Unfortunately, those that I decided were not acceptable normally involved me being emotionally triggered in some way or were set against a backdrop of beliefs I had about what good parenting looked like, and how children should act or behave. None of this is to suggest that boundaries aren’t important, but rather to begin to explore the impact on our adult lives.

When a child experiences different emotions, they are likely to show up in how they act and behave and in what they say. But when their carer or other authority figure decides that those ways of being aren’t acceptable, the child quickly gets the message that what they’re experiencing needs to be suppressed in some way to ensure they don’t encounter the displeasure of others. An example might be that a child gets a new bike for their birthday and their sibling says the bike is much nicer than their own, and that they wish they had this one instead. As a parent, this expression of envy can trigger us emotionally; firstly, there’s the ingratitude for the bike we provided for them; and secondly, we might be concerned about how others judge our child for expressing envy. On top of that, we then might add some interpretation about what it means for our child’s future if we don’t ‘stamp out’ those ‘attitudes’ now.

Our child, having encountered the impact of expressing envy, is likely to be very wary of speaking it out again. Is this a good job done as a parent or carer? Not really, because the emotion hasn’t gone, it’s just being suppressed in some way to avoid someone else’s displeasure or punishment. Let’s add a few more emotions that we might try to shut down because they either trigger us or cause us to be uncomfortable – what about fear, anger, anxiety, worry, sadness, pride, boredom, grief, hurt, humiliation, loneliness and insecurity? If a child or someone we know experiences and expresses some of these emotions, we may try to stop them, or inadvertently shut it down by the way we react. For example, we may trivialise it by saying things like “Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be frightened about”. This doesn’t just happen with children - we may treat our own emotions or those of other adults in the same way.

If part of our context is that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions or ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ ones, we immediately close down the space for ourselves and others to experience what’s happening and to enquire about why we feel what we do. If we’ve unwittingly learned this emotional conditioning or suppression as a child, it’s very likely at some level that we have brought that into adulthood. The identification of this is not easy, but the impact on our lives can be profound. When our emotions have been suppressed, it’s common over time to lose connection with what those emotions mean. We still experience them, but they are no longer correctly identified. An example would be a friend saying something to us that we experienced as upsetting in some way. If we didn’t recognise that we were hurting, we might say we were ‘angry’ with them. When we lose connection with our emotions, we are unable to take the best course of action in response. If we’re hurting, we need to care for ourselves and work on healing the wound. The loss of connection with our emotions also limits our capacity and capability to be authentic with ourselves and others. One definition of authenticity is ‘The quality of being true to oneself, and the capacity to shape one’s own life from a deep knowledge of that self’.

Having a healthy sense of self doesn’t stop us caring for others or being affected or impacted by them. But it does allow us to re-frame the interpretations we have and to create a powerful space in which something can arise that benefits us, and the world in which we live. In the next blog, we’ll explore a bit more about what happens when our emotions have been suppressed in some way and how we might go about reconnecting with them.


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