Emotions are a curious thing. But what might be even more curious is people's reaction to emotion and often times people's reaction to other peoples emotions. If a person is not ok with feeling a certain way personally they most likely will not and cannot be empathetic with someone else who feels that way. This person often looks like a dismisser. They can, in any manner of ways, casually, passiveily, publicly, harshly, condescendingly ...you get the idea, dismiss the way that you feel. Lie #1: dismissing something makes it less real and therefore I don't have to deal with it.
I believe that God made us emotional, spiritual, physical and mental beings. You can't dismiss one part any more than you can another. Though we are all different, unique and wired drastically different...we are all emotional. But let us not confuse emotional for weak. Because an emotional person can be a healthy individual and a "Stone Cold Steve Austin" type can be an unhealthy one...and vise versa. Lie #2: I can choose for things to not affect me. (in my non-professional opinion, that's called a hard heart.)
A person that is experiencing an emotion that comes in contact with a dismisser will learn one of two things most likely: A)To not share your feelings with this person again B)Try to not ever feel this again. Neither one of those is a healthy response, though it is seemingly natural.
We are learning a lot about the subject of emotions through play therapy lately. Both of our children have experienced extremely different newborn and early childhood but both were impacted greatly by their individual experience. We have seen growth and progress in both of them in the area of their emotions when we take the time to help them identify how they feel, give them the safe space to feel it and find an appropriate response to cope with said feelings/situation. Please hear me...this is exhausting and we fail at it daily. While it might save time to correct their feelings, redirect their feelings or simply shut down their feelings; none of that is healthy and that simply teaches them both of those options at the same time, mom is not safe/feelings are bad.
Literally five fourty-five minutes before I sat down to start writing this paragraph my daughter made two very bad choices ,right in a row, simply because she is always afraid to ask for help, ask permission or self advocate in any way. Its a big thing we're working on with her. So in discipline not only do we have to take the opportunity to talk about disobedience/sin/grace/love but we also use every chance we can to help verbalize how she is feeling/why she is feeling/the correlation between her feelings and her actions. This time, she broke down crying and was able to say, " I feel sad now *sob*sob*sob* because I made a bad choice." Most encounters like this do take at least 20 minutes (I've seen hours before...not gunna lie) but the safer she feels and the more the trusts our reaction to her feelings, the easier it comes lately and the easier she can connect her feelings to her own behavior, good or bad. That may sound elementary to some of you, but many of you who know her or any other foster moms that may read this probably just gasped in amazement. This is huge progress!
Lie #3: Emotional damage is irreversible. Children that are dealing with loss will have bigger emotions (most likely) even if they hide them well beneath a finely tuned facade. These children with also not know how to cope with these heightened emotions that overwhelm them. These heightened and overwhelming emotions may seem irrational and sometimes out of place to a "logical" adult. But here's what we're learning to do in different ways with both our kids to fit their unique needs:
1. Help them identify how they feel. (Its not so scary if you can name it)
2. Give them a safe place and be a safe person to feel that way with
3. Help them find an appropriate response to that feeling
I know that's easier typed than done, trust me, we are in the throws of it everyday. But what about loss that we know is headed straight for us? What about pain that we checked the box for? What about grief that we agreed to? At a parenting conference last year that revolutionized the way I think , probably about everything, they kept saying "Loss is Loss" and while that sounds very...duh!, I believe its true. Loss affects everyone, even if you deny it, dismiss it, harden yourself to it, run away from it, get angry at it, ...even if you signed up for it. It affects you.
Their loss affects us.
Kids that leave our home affect us.
I chose this. I signed up for them to come in my home, for me to do my very best to love them like I birthed them and to let them leave; knowing I'd never hold them again, probably see them again and that they'd never remember me. Yes, I chose that. When God asked, I said yes. I was willing for it to hurt this much. Just because I knew that day would come and I'd have to hand them over, doesn't mean it didn't hurt. It doesn't mean it didn't send me to bed for a day or two. It doesn't mean my heart wasn't broken. It doesn't mean I don't have to trust God or cry tears for them. It just means I was willing for it hurt this much. Maybe even brave enough. Lie #4: If you chose it, it shouldn't hurt
So foster parents, my bleeding heart is for you tonight. Your unseen bravery, your unsung praises, your untold horror stories that you can't tell, you're frieght train of pain that is headed your way that you were courageous enough to say yes to...all of it...I hold it up to the God who sees and ask him to see you some more because I know that there's a lot of dismissers out there who will dismiss how hard it is, how their stories affect you but you keep soldiering on, how real the grief can be when they leave...I know. He sees you. And he thinks you are brave. He catches every tear and will not let one go to waste. And just like for my kids, I think the same is true for us, we've got to:
1.Give yourself permission and identify how you feel
2. Surround yourself with supporters not dismissers
3. Give yourself space to respond appropriately with truth
So in a very gracious font, can I ask you? : Do you give others space to feel how they feel even if you don't agree or understand their feelings? Do you know a person/ child that came from a hard place? Are you a good friend to them or do you tend to dismiss their big feelings? Do you know a foster parent? Have you ever asked them how they felt when children left their home? Did you treat it with the same sympathy/empathy as you would any other loss?
This is a heavy topic, its also raw, gritty and close to so many that I know. So I decided to make this a series on dealing with different kinds of loss. I've invited some of my friends to join the conversation by doing guest posts. So, stay tuned!