I think traditionally most of us are taught that emotions are weak and shouldn't be expressed. (Who remembers the "never let em see ya sweat" commercials? "Looking nervous...is DEADLY!") Usually anger is expressed in a controlling and manipulative way. Or, we are raised to believe that as children, we are responsible for the feelings of others. And some of us were taught that crying was a weakness. Do not ask for help, just shake it off, you are FINE! And then we grow up and have kids of our own who naturally EXPRESS EMOTION in order to get their needs met, we will teach them too, if we aren't careful, that emotions are bad. STOP crying. STOP being angry. STOP being disappointed. STOP STOP STOP. For some of us, it is absolutely triggering because our nervous systems are so wired to shut down in the face of anger/pain because it does not make us feel safe. Or maybe we get wrapped up in the cycle of lizard brain, two lizards in a boxing ring. I know when I find myself saying to my son "you are acting like a jerk" (it's happened more times than I like to admit) that I have entered my lower brain. Name calling never comes from a place of maturity. But it takes WORK to stop that train from crashing. I am learning how to say "I am sorry that I called you a jerk. I was upset. You are NOT a jerk." And I am learning that when my son is angry, that is it absolutely OKAY for him to express his anger. He needs to know that it is SAFE for him to be angry. It's never okay to hit me, or to call me names, but you can scream into a pillow, or play your drums, or hit your punching bag. Showing our kids safe ways to emote, even when we ourselves are still learning, I think that's the biggest gift we can give them. Learning how to be patient in the eye of the storm, to breathe and know that these expressed emotions are about MUCH bigger things than not getting to play a video game, that's my lesson, too. We all know the kids are soaking up how we handle ALL OF THIS PAIN we are living through and it is hard. Learning how to be compassionate is a part of the process. To our kids, and towards ourselves.
Listening to Andrew Humberman's latest podcast this week about neuroplasticity, I am going to loosely quote him from my notes: "The brain and nervous system of a baby are not precise. We have all these wires/connections (small roads not highways) and as we mature-these connections get reinforced until age 25. Positive and negative events up to age 25 are stamped down into our nervous system in a very dramatic fashion by what is called one trial learning. We experience something once and our nervous system is forever changed by that experience UNLESS WE GO THROUGH SOME WORK TO UNDO THAT CHANGE. A web of connections (baby) and what you are exposed to (caretakers, thoughts, places)- your nervous system becomes customized to your own unique experience."
I am all about any science based evidence that says YES YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR BRAIN and Huberman does a great job at explaining it to us mortals. I have thoroughly enjoyed his talks about the science of sleep and have taken steps to improve mine. Watching the sunrise and the sunset have proven to be very difficult during Wisconsin winter, but the beauty behind this advice does not go unfelt. How beautiful is it that we are literally WIRED to watch this event take place? Does it make me envy my friends in California? Yes. Yes it does.
My Uncle Fred did the above drawing in his sketchbook in the 1960's. I wish he was here now so we could laugh and discuss it. All I can say is, yep.. I feel ya. Fat Fucking Chance Blues is a MOOD as the kids say.
Neuroplasticity reassures me that not only can we change the way we think, that we can learn new things, but that the work that I am doing (that can oftentimes feel SO ABSTRACT and that alone is SCARY!) is REAL. Collectively we are crying out for things to be different because what we have is not working. We are unlearning, learning, we are creating new pathways. We are killing shame with empathy. We are learning how to be better humans, so that we can raise better humans. There is SO MUCH hate in our world; racism, antisemitism, homophobia, religious bigotry. I am learning how to not be small in the face of it. I am learning how to not feel defeated by it. I am learning how to express anger so that I can also feel the joy. One day at a time. Always a work in progress.