I have lived with children who have spent time in the foster care system and they have taught me a lot about feelings. I mean, A LOT! Gavin (9 years old at the time) and I had an argument one day and he said some really mean things. We separated and he came back to me about an hour later with a note of apology and a piece of artwork. It was a rainbow with black overlay and a heart in the middle…. half the heart was a rainbow and half was the black. I asked him to explain it to me. He told me that the heart was his feelings and he is always trying to be happy and to love, but a lot of times, anger and being afraid gets bigger than the love. Sometimes they both happen at the same time and he gets really scared, because he doesn’t know what to do.
That little conversation stuck with me. I think I have innately understood that we can hold two feelings at once, but it never formalized in my brain until that moment.
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I have always worked with the kids (and myself) about how our feelings are messages to us about what is going on around us. Feeling angry should make us notice that something feels not fair or wrong. Feeling scared should alert us to danger. Feeling happy should help us stop and notice what is good. BUT…. we also have smart brains and our brains should help us decide what to do with the feelings. What do we do with the anger? Do we lash out and hurt people? Do we kick and scream? Do we hold it in and let it build up? Or do we take a deep breath and let our brains think about how to handle it? Take a break, then come back and talk it out? Offer a compromise or suggestions to resolve the situation?
Many of us let our feelings be in charge. It’s hard to not get carried away. For children who have been through trauma, anger especially is the go to feeling (and acting out on it is the common behavior). While comfortable isn’t exactly the word to describe being angry, responding with fury and noise is what is known to them. Their neurobiological system is built around it, their feelings are not developed enough to see the alternatives. Their brains have not consciously been taught how to think through it. It is what they’ve experienced all their lives. It is a slow, very long, often painful process to help these kids relearn feeling responses.
Since Gavin gave me that powerful drawing to describe his feelings, I’ve grown. It’s added a layer of conversation with any kids who come to me with strong feelings. My mother died about 4 and a half years ago. Grief upon grief. I was gifted with the task of creating picture boards for her memorial service. It brought so much healing as I sorted through decades of photos. Dad has kept the boards and my kids ask to see them sometimes when we go for a visit. The older kids look through everything and share memories, ask questions, and tell the younger kids stories about Grandma. We have had several significant conversations about the feelings we have when we pull out the boards. The kids seem to have a solid understanding that the memories make them feel happy. The memories make them miss Grandma a lot and they feel sad. The pictures make all the memories good. The boards give them a sense of the continuity of life (a phrase from one of the teenagers), in that the childhood pictures of Grandma are obviously not memories that the kids have, but that those are times that HER mom and HER grandma were alive and loving. Those are times that shaped Grandma into the loving, fun, giving person that she was. And that helped them (the kids), learning loving, kind, crafty things from Grandma and will be things that will help THEM pass that on to their own friends and family. I love that!
More than one at a time….. feelings. Yes!