Emotions… The Key to A Healthy Relationship
How important are emotions in relationships? Extremely important!
You have heard it before, in order to reach a state of health, health must be addressed on all three levels, body, mind and soul. This triad has long been considered the pillars of a complete life. But what if I told you that we got it wrong. When we think of soul, we think of the soul as an etheric or intangible energy. Likewise, because of the ethereal, intangible nature of feelings and emotions, (which we do not understand) we called them “soul”. This is why advice about how to feed and heal your soul, is designed to help you to emotionally feel better.
In truth, our soul aspect is innately healthy. It cannot be in an unhealthy state. Soul, which is pre-manifested energy, creates feelings and creates mind and creates body. All three levels of a person are in fact comprised of soul. A body is a soul projecting itself physically. A mind is a soul projecting itself mentally, feeling is a soul consciously perceiving. Because of this, we could look at it one of two ways, the first is that the three pillars of health are body, mind and emotion. The second is that emotion is the language of the soul. If you choose to see it this way, then the key to what people are calling soul health is your emotional health. Part of emotional health, is the conscious acknowledgment of our non-corporeal consciousness, which we could call spirit or soul.
When we use the word soul, we are referring to the core aspect of a person’s being. In the English language, soul and heart are interchangeable concepts. This is why someone, who is speaking from the core of their being, may say “I know it in my heart that (fill in the blank)”. What this means is that deep down, we know that the very heart of our experience in life is not mental and it is not physical, it is feeling and emotion. When we first come into this life, we experience the world entirely through felt perception. We feel the world before we see the world. Feeling and emotion is not only the heart of your life here on earth, it is also the heart of your relationships. Because feeling and emotion is the heart of relationships, it is also where the most damage is done.
Over the centuries, our ideas about good and bad ways to raise a child have changed. For example, in the medieval days, childhood did not really exist. As soon as a child could physically manage, they were put to work, often in roles that would be seen as slavery today. Children were not seen as pure, in fact they were seen as evil and the extraordinary corporal punishment used (which was of course considered normal and commonplace), was used to grant a child salvation and goodness. In this era, even in the most aristocratic households, instead of valuing and adoring their child, some parents took to despising their own children and deliberately belittling and abusing them, thinking it was for their own good.
In the late 1600s, history saw the birth of the punishment and reward style of parenting. Instead of pure corporeal punishment, philosopher John Locke suggested that the better way of training a child to be good would be to withdraw approval and affection by “disgracing” a child when they are bad and to “esteem” the child by rewarding the child with approval and affection when they were good.
In the early twentieth century, not much had changed. Child-rearing experts still formally denounced all romantic ideas about childhood and advocated formation of proper habits to discipline children. In fact, a 1914 U.S. Children’s Bureau pamphlet, Infant Care, urged a strict schedule and urged parents not to play with their babies. John B Watson’s Behaviorism argued that parents could train children by rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior, and by following precise schedules for food, sleep, and other bodily functions.
Who could forget the bible proverb that so many parents have lived by and still live by today “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” As if discipline and corporeal punishment are one in the same.
In the twentieth century, corporeal punishment began to fall out of favor in the western world. Many parents became conscious enough to see corporeal punishment for what it is, which is abuse. And so, today, while sadly there are still pockets of unconscious parents that still abuse their children in the name of discipline, the larger majority in the western world use parenting practices like timeouts as tools of discipline.
It is easy to look back over time and say that we were living in the dark ages in terms of parenting. But I will tell you that in the years to come, that is exactly how history will see parenting today. History will see many of today’s common practices as barbaric and cruel. We now know how to create a healthy physical climate for our children and for each other. But I am here to tell you that we have no idea how to create a healthy emotional climate for our children or for each other.
Of course there are rare exceptions to this rule, but over the course of human history, the emotional climate of a household, has not even factored into the idea of good parenting. Today, we are emerging from a new dark age. We are emerging from the dark age of emotions and feelings. And what we are awakening to is that it is possible to be a good parent to a child on a physical level and a terrible parent to a child on an emotional level. This has vast implication when we acknowledge that emotion is the core of our life and the heart of our relationships.
In today’s world, most parenting advice ignores the world of emotion entirely. It focuses on how to correct misbehavior whilst disregarding the feelings that underlie and cause the misbehavior. Regardless of how far we have progressed, the goal of parenting is still to have a compliant and obedient child, not to raise a healthy adult. The goal is to raise a child who is “good”. Our justice system takes the exact same approach with regards to misbehavior. We are concerned with correcting misbehavior and creating good citizens whilst being unconcerned with the feelings that motivate such misbehavior. Good parenting involves emotion. Good relationships involve emotion.
Today, most parents make three crucial mistakes.
1. They disapprove of their children’s emotions
2. They dismiss their children’s emotions
3. They offer no guidance to a child with regards to their emotions.
The parent who disapproves of their child’s emotions is critical of their children’s displays of negative emotion and reprimand or punish for emotional expression. The parent, who dismisses their child’s emotions, disregards them as important, ignores their child’s emotions or worse, trivializes their child’s emotions. And the parent, who offers no guidance, may empathize with their child’s emotions, but does not set limits on behavior or assist the child in understanding and coping with their emotion. To give you an example of how this works out in practical terms, imagine that William does not want to go to school and begins to cry when his parent takes him to school. The disapproving parent might scold William for his refusal to cooperate. The disapproving parent may resort to calling him a brat or punishing him in some way with time alone, or with a spanking. The dismissive parent may brush off William’s emotions by saying “that’s silly, there’s no reason to be sad about going to school, now turn that frown upside down”. The dismissive parent may even resort to distracting William from his emotions by giving him a cookie or pointing out a cow in a field on their way to school. The parent who offers no guidance may behave in an empathetic way towards William by telling him that it’s ok to feel sad or scared but would not continue to help William decide what to do with his uncomfortable feelings, instead, they would leave him in a space where he feels as if his emotions are an all consuming force that he is powerless to.
Children who are raised in unhealthy emotional environments are not able to soothe themselves. They also tend to develop health problems. On top of this, children who are raised in unhealthy emotional environments, fail to emotionally connect with their family. They often feel as if they do not belong. They fail to develop intimacy with their families and as a result, they feel isolated and alone. This of course carries on into adulthood. They grow into adults who are not capable of managing their emotion. They grow into adults who struggle to make relationships work. They develop powerlessly co dependent relationships and they develop a deep need whilst simultaneously an extreme fear of intimacy.
In my opinion, the number one cause of sociopathic and psychopathic behavior in adults is the result of unhealthy emotional environments in childhood. Keep in mind that it is more difficult to recognize emotional dysfunction than it is to recognize overt abuse. Many of the serial killers and school shooters who reportedly came from “healthy homes” did not in fact come from healthy homes at all. They may have come from physically healthy homes, where they were fed and clothed and given many advantages, but underneath that lovely looking exterior, was extreme emotional dysfunction, emotional dysfunction that disabled them from connecting with other people.
Emotional dismissal and emotional disapproval are forms of emotional abuse. But the future will soon teach us to never underestimate emotional dismissal, emotional disapproval and emotional abuse. In my opinion, having experienced all the different forms of abuse, emotional abuse is the very worst and also the hardest to heal from.
And now we come to the most damaging aspect of emotional dismissal and disapproval. When a parent disapproves of their child’s emotion or dismisses it, the child begins to accept the parent’s estimation of the event and learns to doubt his or her own judgment. As a result, the child loses confidence in himself. When emotional dysfunction rules the relationship, the child learns that they have no right to feel how they feel. They learn that it is wrong to feel how they feel. In short, they learn that it is wrong to feel the way that they feel. Now here’s the crux, the child believes that if it is wrong to feel the way they feel, but they feel that way, something must be wrong with them.
If I were to choose one single thing that is wrong with the mental health system, it is that there is an idea within the mental health system that there is a certain way that people should feel and if they do not feel that way, something is wrong with them. Psychiatrist offices are full of people who were raised in emotionally dysfunctional homes. These people grow up to believe that there is something wrong with them because they “shouldn’t feel how they feel”. When the actuality is that they should feel exactly how they feel. They have perfect and sound reason to feel how they feel and the idea that something is “wrong with them” is a fallacy. A fallacy that is the byproduct of having their emotions invalidated again and again. This is in fact one of the key causes of anxiety. Anxiety disorder is so often the result of extreme self- doubt and self-distrust. Self-distrust, leads to fear of the self, which is the result of being led to believe that you should not feel how you feel. When you fear yourself, you have constant anxiety. It’s like living with an enemy inside your own skin.
Long story short, because this is how our parents taught us to treat emotion, this is how we treat each other’s feelings as adults. Our friendships and romantic relationships are painful because we do not know how to emotionally relate with one another. We fail to develop true intimacy with one another. We dismiss each other’s emotions. We disapprove of each other’s feelings. We tell other people how they should and shouldn’t feel. We have no patience for the emotional needs of others. We see emotions and feelings as weakness. We call people who display emotions, sensitive. And as a result, our adult relationships are emotionally unhealthy.
Here are three examples of adult relationships that are emotionally dysfunctional.
- A woman goes to lunch with her friend. She is disappointed because she did not get promoted at work, like she thought she would. Her friend tells her she is just being negative. That she needs to look on the bright side and see that all she is doing, is creating more disappointment in her reality because she is so negatively focused.
- A husband gets home late from work, his wife starts crying the minute he walks through the door. The husband sees her crying and immediately says “you always overreact. I was only a half an hour late. Maybe you are just menopausal. You need professional help” and then withdraws to his office to watch television.
- A man is facing divorce. He tells his friends about what is going on and they convince him to join them at the bar. When he shows up, none of the acknowledge that he is going through a difficult time emotionally with his relationship. Instead they encourage him to not think about it, have a drink, watch the sports game and look at pretty girls at the bar.
Regardless of whether it is a friendship or a romantic relationship, emotions and feelings are the heart of every healthy and meaningful relationship. Without a healthy emotional life, a relationship is not a relationship it is a social arrangement.
Intimacy is not about sex. Sex may be a byproduct of intimacy, but it is not intimacy in and of itself. Intimacy is knowing and being known for who we really are in all aspects of our lives. It is the bringing forth of the truth of who you are to the center of the relationship and being received for who you are and the other person bringing forth the truth of who they are to the center of the relationship and being received for who they are. It is a meeting at the heart center where empathy and understanding can then occur. I have said it before, but I’m going to say it again, intimacy can be broken down into “into me see”. Intimacy is to see into one another so as to deeply connect with one another and to know one another for who you truly are. And if the core of who you are is feelings, if the language of the soul is feelings, then the most important part of intimacy is emotional connection and understanding each other’s feelings.
The bottom line is, emotions matter. We must see the importance and value in each other’s feelings. We must show respect for each other’s emotions. We must listen for the feelings behind the words. We must open ourselves to being understood and open ourselves to understanding others. Statements of acknowledgement and understanding should always precede advice. If you tell someone how they should or shouldn’t feel, you are teaching them to distrust themselves. You are teaching them that there is something wrong with them.
Because we struggle the most with negative emotions, the way we deal with negative emotions, dictates how healthy or unhealthy our relationship is emotionally. When we are dealing with negative emotions, there are concrete steps we can take to address those emotions, develop emotional connection with the other person and enhance our intimacy. This goes for our children as well as the adults in our lives. This is solid gold in a relationship when we are facing conflict.
#1. To become aware of the other person’s emotion
#2. To care about the other person’s emotion by seeing it as valid and important
#3. To listen empathetically to the other person’s emotion in an attempt to understand the way they feel. This allows them to feel safe to be vulnerable without fear of judgment. Seek to understand, instead of to agree.
#4 To acknowledge and validate their feelings. This may include helping them to find words to label their emotion. To acknowledge and validate a person’s feelings, we do not need to validate that the thoughts they have about their emotions are correct, instead we need to let them know that it is a valid thing to feel the way that they feel. For example, if our friend says, “I feel useless”, we do not validate them by saying “you’re right you are useless”. We could validate them by saying “I can totally see how that would make you feel useless and I would feel the same way if I were you”.
#5. To allow the person to feel how they feel and to experience their emotion fully before moving towards any kind of improvement in the way they feel. We need to give them the permission to dictate when they are ready to move up the vibrational scale and into a different emotion. We cannot impose our idea of when they should be ready or when they should be able to feel differently, on them. This is the step where we practice unconditional presence for someone and unconditional love. We are there as support without trying to “fix” them. Do not be offended if they do not accept your support at this time. There is a benevolent power inherent in offering, that is love in and of itself regardless of what someone does or does not do with it.
#6. After and only after their feelings have been validated and acknowledged and fully felt, help the other person to strategize ways to manage the reactions they might be having to their emotion. This is the step where you can assert new ways of looking at a situation that may improve the way the other person is feeling. This is where advice can be offered.
Now we come to one of the most important part of emotional health. The fact of the matter is that we are in a relationship with ourselves. This means, our own emotions must matter to us. This means we must acknowledge and validate our own emotions. This means we must not dismiss or disapprove of our own emotions. Therefore, the six steps I have outlined previously in this video, we must apply to ourselves.
Aside from the way you manage negative emotion, when it comes to creating a healthy emotional environment in a relationship, here is a list of some things you can do:
- Express love to the other person. You can express your love to them physically by touching them if they are receptive to touch. Many people are touch starved in our todays’ world. You can express love verbally by complimenting them or affirming them. You can express love through service by doing something for them like the dishes or offering to help them with something. You can express love through gifts, which lets them to know that you care enough to think of them and secure a token of your affection for them. And you can express your love to them through quality time. Make sure to spend quality time where you are prioritizing time to be focused on them without distraction, doing something you both love to do, such as having a deep conversation or hiking together or going out to eat. Make sure that your expressions of love are done for the right reasons, because you genuinely want them to feel good, not because you want anything FROM them.
- Never ignore their presence. There are very few things that are more emotionally hurtful than being treated like you don’t exist. Even if you’re angry at the moment, it’s no reason to give the cold shoulder to the person who loves you.
- This tip goes hand in hand with the last one. Do not physically or emotionally withdraw from them, especially during a conflict. People, who are afraid of intimacy and connection (and thus vulnerability) tend to cope with those feelings by becoming an island unto themselves. They become emotionally unavailable and disconnect from the other person as a defense. To withdraw in a relationship is to commit emotional divorce. And the #1 symptom of withdrawal is lack of communication. That being said, we are led to our next tip.
- Communicate, communicate and communicate. By engaging in a relationship, whether it is a friendship or a romantic relationship, we commit to connection. Communication is a huge part of connection. Communication takes place in many ways, not just verbally. In fact, most of our communication is taking place through our body language.
Do not suppress your emotions and try to avoid, deny, dismiss or numb them away through distraction. We need to be willing to acknowledge our own emotion and communicate it in healthy ways to the other person. When we are confused about how to do this, a helpful tip is to take the thoughts we are having and imagine bringing them down to our heart space and then speaking from there. This technique is called speaking from the heart. When we do this, we tend to be more willingly vulnerable and thus, more authentic and less defensive and attacking in our communication style. Put your feelings into words. There is almost nothing worse for a relationship than remaining silent about how you are feeling. Not communicating how you feel creates a canyon between you and your partner. They can feel when you are emotionally upset. If you are not talking or if you are denying the way you feel, when they can feel that you are emotionally upset, it makes your partner feel crazy and confused.
- If you make promises, follow through. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Make good on your words. Do not blow it off or forget about it. This systematically destroys trust in the relationship. And trust is a big part of emotional safety in a relationship.
- Admit to mistakes and commit to changing your behavior. Continuing to apologize over and over instead of changing a behavior sends the message that you don’t actually care about how the other person feels as much as you care about getting them off your back. But genuinely saying, “I’m sorry” when you recognize that you’ve made a mistake goes a long way.
- Get a handle on your priorities. If you want a relationship to feel good emotionally, you are going to have to value it enough to prioritize it. There is no such thing as a right priority or a wrong priority. But if your work or hobbies are a higher priority than your relationships, chances are your relationships will suffer because if you have to choose between them, you’ll choose work or hobbies. This will make the other person feel unloved and insignificant. It will also make the other person feel like it is unsafe to connect emotionally with you. When you are facing a conflict of interest between one thing and another thing, you need to be able to consciously decide what your priority is. In the healthiest relationships, the health of the relationships and the way your partner feels is the number one priority.
- Encourage them. When we get encouragement, we no longer feel alone. We no longer feel like it is us against the world. Encouragement, allows us to know that we have emotional support. Encouragement is the opposite of criticism and discouragement. It builds a person up instead of tears them down. This also allows people to be emotionally safe to share their dreams and desires with us.
- Express your wants, needs and expectations clearly in your relationship. This is a big part of developing healthy boundaries in a relationship and healthy boundaries are a big part of a healthy emotional relationship. If you feel confused about boundaries, feel free to watch my video on YouTube titled “Personal Boundaries vs. Oneness, How to Develop Healthy Boundaries”. It is not fair to keep the other person guessing about what you want and need. It is also not fair to expect them to read your mind by expecting things of them that that they are unaware of and have not agreed to. It is also important to take time to understand the other person’s wants needs and expectations. Ask for what you want and need and encourage them to do the same. And assuming that their wants and needs don’t conflict with your wants and needs, put forth energy to meet those needs and wants.
- Laugh and play together. Laughter and fun has the power to bond us with one another, in the same way that going through tough times together has the power to bond us with one another. It is also a powerful aphrodisiac. Prioritize doing things together that feels good and that are exciting. This also ensures that conflict and struggle is not the undertone of the relationship.
- Become an expert on the other person. Knowing as much as you can about the other person, who they really are and how they really feel (provided that you have good intentions for doing so), is the key to intimacy. It will help you to make the right choices about how to interact with the other person so that the emotional environment of the relationship is healthy and supportive. It also helps us to be experts at loving them in the way that they would feel most loved.
Like all things, we need to apply these tips to ourselves. The one relationship we cannot end, except potentially through death, is our relationship with ourselves. This means that our relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship in our life. This also means that the heart of our relationship with ourselves is our emotions and how we take care of those emotions.
Never be ashamed of how you feel. Your feelings are valid. If you feel an emotion, there is a good reason that you are feeling that emotion. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. You deserve a relationship where your feelings matter. And the fastest way to get to that relationship is to decide that your emotions matter to you.