Several times recently, I've been in session with young adults who were trying their best to get launched in their own lives, but were at a distinct disadvantage because they grew up in a family where nobody ever talked about feelings. It got me thinking about how helping our children to become aware of what they are feeling and to express those feelings appropriately and directly with others is one of the best gifts parents can give.
Children and teens often feel a jumble of feelings, and having a loving parent who can listen and reflect those experiences back to them and understand is very significant. Our first relationships with parents helps us learn to love and attach. If parents are open and aware of their children's feelings it helps children to become emotionally literate.
In order to help your children with this emotional development, it helps if parents are emotionally available, not self-absorbed or in constant crisis themselves, not chemically dependent, and in touch with their own feelings. Parents need to be able to respect that your children are likely to have their own distinct feelings, separate from yours.
If you didn't have the gift of a parent who helped you learn to identify and sort out your feelings, it's not too late. You can decide that you are going to be the one who stops the family transmission pattern of "we don't do feelings". You can work with a supportive therapist to re-parent yourself and begin to understand and sort out your own internal experiences. You can learn to take emotional risks in being open, direct, and communicative. Journaling is another channel in for cultivating self-discovery and greater self-awareness.
Teens often long for a parent who will listen more, care about them, believe in them and lecture less. Parents of teens often focus on the negative and further shut their teen down in doing so. Taking your teen out of the house to share a meal or do an activity together while you listen and ask about their friends (not their grades) can do wonders to help them open up with you.
In adult love relationships, being emotionally honest about your needs and feelings gives the relationship and the other person the best chance. Too many times adults process internally or not at all, don't keep their partner aware of changing needs and emotional distance is created. When couples are disconnected, not enjoying date nights and shared couples time together, not sharing feelings and sleeping the same hours in the same bedroom the signal is clear: danger ahead.
As it turns out we all need to explore our own interior life and feelings and communicate about it to those we want to be close to. This kind of emotional literacy and transparency are building blocks for building intimate, satisfying relationships. In the new year ahead, get into the emotionally healthy habit of exploring and articulating your feelings in your most important relationships, and be curious and available for the other important people in your life to share their internal experience with you. With great openness and the risk of vulnerability come great rewards.