Your Emotional History

A while back I spoke about feelings giving important information and feedback about what we personally need and don’t need. Here I am going to help you reflect on your emotional history – what has been passed down the generations, what you might have learned about emotion growing up and what this might mean for you today.

Emotional Generational Blueprint

It is not so long ago that the Victorians generally believed that “children should be seen and not heard” and in essence taught emotional suppression. Associated with this was a high level of control and discipline within parenting that continued in different ways until the 1960s, which inevitably tended to value the parents emotions over those of their children. It is really only fairly recent then that as a society we are considering and valuing the feelings of children, and in turn being supported in this as parents.

Your Emotional History

Ideally, as children all our varied emotions are heard, acknowledged and regulated in relationship with our mum and dad so we learn to express, value and manage our feelings in ways which allow us to create intimate relationships and be part of a healthy society. In my post What’s your Parenting Blueprint I explored more about how we can end up sounding like our parents and what it takes to parent with choice rather than react or repeat our own childhood experience. It’s hardly surprising given the generational history that we are still working out how to embrace and teach our children about emotions and healthy expression.

Understandably our emotional parenting varies greatly and so for many of us as we grew up we might have learned that certain feelings are considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or even that it is safer not to be aware of what we are feeling. If you wrote a list now, are there emotions you would automatically put down as good or bad? As children we are dependent on our parents or carers to look after us and therefore we quickly learn what their rules are around what emotion is rewarded, and in some cases punished, and adapt so we get the care we need or in some cases to survive.

Hatred can be Healthy

Another thing that we might learn is specific associations or stories linked to specific feelings. An example I came across recently was around ‘hate’. The parent I was talking to saw hatred as something destructive that needed shutting down quickly. I get this fear, but hatred is only another valid feeling and its important to see that it’s the behaviour that could follow that could be destructive rather than the emotion itself. Hatred is a natural emotion that children feel at different stages as it is the antithesis of love.

As parents, what children need us to hold is that its natural and OK to both love and hate someone (typically us parents initially). Holding this duality creates safety for the child as initially hating their parents is scary as in that moment they still need the parents to care for them, and may not be able to access feelings of love alongside. Hating and rejecting the parent is part of how a child realises that they are separate and learn about ‘self’, so an essential step. Behind the hate they are expressing a need to separate. If as parents we overreact to the hate and reject or hate them back or try to shut the hate down then our children will struggle to know what to do with feelings of hatred. They may get stuck in the feeling and need to act it out and be destructive as they can’t express it or feel safest turning the hatred inwards on themselves.

So whilst it may go against your emotional upbringing, my advice is to learn to embrace the hatred our kids express. As a parent myself I know this is easier said than done as it can feel so personal, but try asking your partner or a friend to support you with your own hurt or feelings of rejection rather than react to your child. As they get older this will look different as tweens and teenagers need different feedback on the impact of their emotions and boundaries around their behaviour. It helps to pull apart the emotion and the behaviour, so you might say “I hear how much you hate me right now and that you did x because of these feelings. I am happy to hear why you hate me (in your head remind yourself – as I know you also love me) and see what you need here, but I am not Ok for you to act out and do x”

Emotional Diary

One way to notice what rules we might have around emotions is to keep an emotional diary for a day and every 15mins or half an hour notice what we are feeling in that moment and why and how we feel about that feeling. Notice whether you have judgements about certain feelings or certain behaviours you link inextricably. If you are a parent you will notice your children will naturally push your buttons and you will be learning all the time! By being more aware we can consider what emotional rules we still live by that no longer feel right and that stop us creating the relationships we want in our lives.


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