Saturday, June 9, 2012

Successful Relationships:Reminders from Infants about Feelings

Infants need to create successful relationships because their lives depend on it. And infants can't distract themselves from their feeling states like adults can.  Like it or not, their lives revolve around feelings.  That's why we can learn so much from them about the role of our emotional states in building successful relationships - in other words,  What can infants teach us about that?

Here are some of their lessons for us:

1. Feeling is central to being alive. Everybody we have a relationship with is alive and therefore has feelings, even though they have different styles of dealing with them. Emotional states are as fundamental as breathing.

2. Communicating feelings is as natural and basic as breathing. Infants just flat-out express their emotional experience without apology. They teach us that including these states as part of a relationship - both in our own selves and with others - is natural and normal.

3. Having feeling states accurately received and accepted - by ourselves - and by another - is massively comforting. Infants communicate feelings non stop... until.... yes, UNTIL they experience it's been accurately received by the other person. Then they feel sooooo much better. That doesn't change just because we're adults. We, too, want our emotional state to be accurately received and interpreted, both by ourselves, and by another.

We can practice receiving and accurately interpreting feelings so we can do it well. The place to start is with ourselves. For example:
  • "I'm so mad right now, on a scale of one to ten, I'm an eleven." 
  • "That scared me so much I'm shaking." 
  • "I know I'm anxious, I just don't know what I'm anxious about... yet." 

We can also practice with others: 

  • "Wow, you're really mad about this, huh!"   
  •  "That sounds terrifying, were you (are you) scared?" 

If you're not sure what the other person is saying, you can gently ask for clarification: "Are you sad? (Mad? Glad? Scared?) about this?" "Are you saying you're hurt that..."

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An American Democrat