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How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children

How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children
By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness

The best way to influence your partner and children is through modelling self-esteem and emotional maturity. By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness. As what we see has greater impact on us than what we hear, the way you treat yourself has the potential to affect your children’s and partner’s relationships with their own selves, as well as the one they keep with you. To become a healthier archetype, here are four simple ways on how to model emotional maturity to your partner and children:

Be emotionally congruent  

Due to their emotional intolerance, emotionally immature individuals have a need to repress and deny their emotions. To give an example of wholeness and promote wellbeing to your loved ones, allow yourself to be the way you feel. Denying your sadness or forcing yourself to smile, for instance, are behaviours that perpetuate shame and emotional neglect. Contrary to popular belief, repressing our anger, sadness and fear, or pretending they do not exist does not help us feel better, but robs us from our power to process them in a healthy manner and connect with others through vulnerability. Feeling one way and behaving another sends out the wrong message, as if our true feelings were unacceptable and should be rejected.

Talk consciously about feelings

The simple exercise of naming how we feel helps us regulate emotionally. Telling your partner or children “When you ____(behaviour), I feel ____(feeling/emotions)”, allows you to express how you feel and address a problem without sounding aggressive, which may help you avoid lengthy and unproductive arguments. Noticing your partner or children’s anxiety, for instance, and asking questions such as “You look anxious, is there something bothering you?”, can help them connect with their feelings and feel comfortable sharing them with you. When initiating such conversations, remind yourself to act in a non-judgemental way, give them your full attention and listen to what they have to say.

Tolerate negative emotions

Emotional maturity is all about self-acceptance and intimacy. You cannot accept yourself and have a fulfilling, intimate relationship with anyone (even yourself), however, if you reject negative emotions. When you repress and deny them, be it in yourself or others, you neglect and alienate. All emotions are parts of who we are and deserve to be honoured. Emotions also exist without apparent meaning, they just are. Resist the temptation to rationalise them, learn how to tolerate discomfort and allow them to just be.

Give emotional support

Emotional support is not problem solving. When you focus on a solution to what you perceive as “a problem” (i.e., a negative emotion), you lose connection with the emotion. Therefore, when you notice your partner or children feeling affected by negative emotions, display a curious and accepting attitude. Resist the antagonistic urge to tell them they are OK or shame them for feeling angry or cranky, and openly validate the way they feel. To show empathy, mirror the way they feel by making simple statements with emotion and feeling words, such as “I can see you are angry” or “It is OK to feel sad”.

All the above require courage and patience and rely on your ability to tolerate emotional discomfort. To succeed reproducing in practice what you have read here, do not give up or switch back to your older self when feeling awkward and inauthentic. Trust that those feelings will change with time. Emotional freedom and tolerance are quite addictive, and once you have managed to introduce such positive habits in your own life and start feeling their benefits on your physical, emotional and relational health, you will wonder why you have not changed your attitude earlier.

Perfectionism beyond the stereotype

Perfectionism beyond the stereotype
You do not have to constantly strive for super high standards in everything you do to be influenced by perfectionism

Although perfectionism tends to be conceived in all-or-nothing terms, as an exaggerated focus on high standards, its scope goes far beyond that.  Because we are individuals of a complex nature, the very meaning of a “high standard” varies from person to person. Before becoming a vegan, I used to make a vegetarian pizza on a weekly basis. For it to taste good, it had to contain 150 gm of cheddar cheese, the equivalent of a single package from my local supermarket. That was my standard. When I would get excited about making that pizza but find there was less than 150 gm in a package left in the fridge, I would get extremely disappointed, not make it or force myself to drive to the supermarket to get a new package. After trying to cut down on cheese and having realised that I could bend my own rule and reduce that quantity, I was surprised to find out that my pizza tasted as good as before! As a perfectionist, my experience had been limited by a rigid rule which caused stress that could easily have been avoided by a small change in perspective.

You do not have to constantly strive for super high standards in everything you do to be influenced by perfectionism. As any vulnerability, perfectionism fits your personal views and values, whatever they are. You can be a hippie, an academic or a footballer and still act in a perfectionist way. As long as you behave as a slave to a rigid set of rules which you believe to reflect a high standard or goal, perfectionism is at play. It is important to highlight the significance of individual perspective to perfectionism. As much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perfectionism is in the brains of those who struggle with low self-esteem. If you value physical appearance and find a sporty look glamorous, you may become a perfectionist and invest time and money in the way you look so to achieve that standard. Your house can still reflect you lack of care and be disorganised and dirty, and not bother you half as much as looking as good as you think you should on the outside, in order to feel good enough on the inside. When you need a new mattress to help with your back pain, but you have your eyes on those trendy sneakers that cost a fortune, you forget all about it as soon as you picture yourself walking around in them, looking good, feeling great and getting praise and attention from others.

Perfectionism is all about holding inflexible conditions of worth which – even though may have never been challenged – have meaning on an individual level and must be kept at all costs. Therefore, if you have standards of quality that remain constant over time and do not adapt to the changes in you and your life, you may find that perfectionism is one of the main reasons why you struggle to feel balanced and reach a state of personal contentment and fulfilment. Due to its flexibility, it fits “perfectly” with any low self-esteem attitude of conditional worth and wellbeing. Perfectionism in action can be observed in every parent’s obsession in making their children’s experience as pain free as possible, for instance, as if feeling negative emotions would permanently damage their development ((unaware) emotion phobia being one of perfectionism’s most common features) and compromise his or her ability to act as a good mom or dad. While that may be true in abuse, neglect and childhood trauma cases, most children – those who are exposed to good enough parenting – do quite well with some share of unconditional love and attention which do not require their parents’ struggle and suffering.

If you have identified with the above at some level, be aware that your perfectionist attitude does not affect only you, but also those around you. As the emotional cost of perfectionism is high, it tends to be intrinsically related to relationship problems, as well as a great array of psychopathologies such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety. You do not have to be fully aware of how much of your struggle to keep centred is a result of your perfectionism, or the extent to which affects your co-workers and family, for it to be damaging to all of you. The irony here is that the struggle to keep a fixed standard going so to guarantee wellbeing and happiness is the very cause of emotional health problems and misery! To get out of the perfectionist trap, start challenging rigid beliefs – whatever their meaning and application – consciously and proactively, while playing with not feeling bothered by the idea of being “below average” or even “lousy”.  Additionally, increase emotional connection and wholeness by allowing yourself to feel bad every now and then and around others. The more self-acceptance and unconditional love you bring into your life, the more you will tolerate the imperfections of others. The more comfortable they feel around you, the stronger your connections become, as well as the benefit of your influence.

4 dysfunctional beliefs that get in the way of self-assertion

4 dysfunctional beliefs that get in the way of self-assertion
Dysfunctional beliefs stop you from acting assertively

Dysfunctional beliefs are at the heart of vulnerabilities. For those who struggle with low self-esteem and find it challenging or even scary to assert themselves, exploring the negative beliefs which give these values their strength is a productive exercise. To help you find some of the cognitive foundation to your feelings of insecurity, here are 4 dysfunctional beliefs that get in the way of self-assertion:

 “I shouldn’t make people unhappy”

This rule implies that it is every individual’s responsibility to care for others’ emotional wellbeing. It also assumes that their supposed need for constant happiness comes first. Finally, it suggests that negative emotions are of a dangerous nature – something to be avoided – as if we were unable to recover from them, once “unfairly” submitted to their experience.

“I cannot make mistakes”

Perfectionism makes us behave like insecure children when we make mistakes and/or receive criticism. Even though most people fail to associate their intolerant attitude with perfectionism, mistake and criticism phobia is one of its most common features. Moreover, this inhuman and idealistic belief implies that the consequences of our mistakes are always terrible, too terrible, in fact, to be able to be handled or corrected. For those who hold such rigid belief learning tends to be an unpleasant or even traumatic experience.

“Prioritising my own needs is selfish”

A popular belief amongst the emotionally dependent and codependent that robs them of their right to individuality and self-expression. It suggests that the self only has value in relation to others, or that its right to exist, as well as its worth, relies on one’s ability to negotiate and accommodate it to the needs of others. Quite inaccurately, it also promotes the idea that a compromise is always better than following one’s own disposition.

“When I do not feel like doing what others want me to, I should give them a good reason why”

This belief presupposes that our own feelings, needs and wants only have merit when reasonable. In other words, we have no right to them solely on the basis of their existence, but their significance is dependent upon the judgement of others. According to this principle, feelings are the same as thoughts, since they “should” be connected to rational thought. The authentic and, therefore, highly subjective self, has no means of flourishing under such a rigid rule.

What do the above beliefs have in common? They all come from a stance of weakness and rigidity which annihilates the true and creative self.  Their perfectionist and all or nothing approach to emotions, behaviour, relationships and life itself is too stiff to reflect the complexity of our experience and allow personal fulfilment. To stop letting them rule you and your life, bring them to your full awareness and challenge them openly. Make a conscious and brave effort to establish congruence between what you believe in and how you act and feel, so that being you and inhabiting your own body becomes something pleasant and rewarding.

Common thoughts of the emotionally dependent

Common thoughts of the emotionally dependent
Emotional dependency is a vulnerability

Are you emotionally dependent? If you struggle with low self-esteem and excessive worrying, there is a high probability that you are. Emotional dependency is a vulnerability of those who did not receive enough unconditional love in childhood so to build a solid sense of safety and self-worth. Because they lack self-esteem and that all important inner sense of safety, they become addicted to the approval of others in order to feel at ease with themselves and in the context of relationships. To find out if that fits your profile, here are common thoughts of the emotionally dependent:

“I often worry about what other people think of what I say and do”

“I need reassurance that I am doing the right thing, otherwise, I feel insecure”

“It is hard for me to truly know what is best for me”

“I try my best to make people feel good around me”

“I check in with others first, before making a decision”

“I tend to feel ashamed of myself when I make a mistake”

“If I do not get positive feedback when I do well, I feel extremely disappointed”

“I have been let down by a great number of people”

“I worry and feel guilty when I am not able to be there for others and make them happy”

“I do not trust my own feelings”

“I feel very ashamed and resentful when I am given criticism, even when I am aware that it is constructive”

“I make an effort to be liked”

“I love helping others and making them feel happy”

“When people are not OK around me, I think it is because of something I may have said or done wrong”

“I often do not know if I am doing what is right for me, or if it is what I truly want”

“I try to avoid confrontation because it makes me nervous”

“I am afraid of making mistakes and disappointing others”

“I put others’ need before mine, even when I do not want to”

“I would love to be able to trust and value myself”

“I feel more relaxed when others take the lead”

“I always try to do my best”

“When I say no, I feel guilty”

As with any type of dependency, healing is viable through true emotional freedom. To achieve emotional autonomy and self-confidence, it is essential that you learn how to be yourself, regardless of the consequences. As simple as that sounds, converting that into action requires great courage. That is because in Western culture, authenticity often requires a fearless attitude. Practice increasing you discomfort tolerance and tell yourself you can stand and overcome the anxiety, guilt and shame that arise from honouring your own feelings, interests and boundaries. As painful and as difficult as that may seem, your end goal makes it all worth it. After all, there is nothing more rewarding than living your own life and enjoying authentic self-expression.

Conditional wellbeing

Conditional wellbeing
Feelings of enjoyment should not only follow an act of effort or good behaviour

Do you have a habit of putting your happiness on hold until “something good” happens? Do you say to yourself, “When I buy a house/get married/have a boyfriend/girlfriend/make more money etc., then I will feel good”? If yes, you suffer from what I call conditional wellbeing. Conditional wellbeing is to make good feelings about yourself, the world and other people dependent upon external factors. This approach to life is often at the centre of much of our unhappiness, however, and general discontent. So if it is so unproductive to our emotional health, why do we do it?

I believe that our culture of delayed gratification, as well as our rigid beliefs, have great influence on how we approach our wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. As children, we are often made to believe that good feelings of enjoyment should only follow an act of effort or good behaviour. Parents use rewards to make us do what they want us to do, as in “You can have ice-cream after you have done your homework/tidy up your room”, etc. When such schemes are reinforced through consistent practice, our brains automatically create an association between work and fun, as if we were only entitled to the latter if we did the former.

Our beliefs about “happiness” and “being worthy of feeling good” also interfere with our ability to enjoy ourselves for no reason. What do you usually associate with pleasure and good moments?  Does it tend to involve free time, people and things, eating and drinking? Are you always engaged in some kind of (special) activity when you create this mental picture? If yes, your beliefs about personal wellbeing could be limiting the way you perceive and experience it, making it conditional.

Some people only allow themselves to feel enjoyment after a long day’s work, at the weekend or when away on holiday.  Without noticing, their lives become all about chasing that reward, as if they did not deserve to have it without sacrifice. You need to earn it to enjoy, right? “No pain no gain”, so they say. Those beliefs are, of course, cognitive traps. While they keep you running on that wheel like a deluded hamster, the true satisfaction of living that comes from true, uncompromised self-expression become even more far-fetched.

If you identify with the above, and would like to reconnect with a healthier sense of joy and wellbeing, I suggest the following:

1- Stop over identifying with negative feelings: have you lost touch with life’s little pleasures because you are so focused on the negative? When you only have time for the big fish, life becomes a tedious and unsatisfying waiting game. Try maximising the pleasure that comes from waking up in the morning and having that delicious cup of coffee, or refreshing shower. Anything that gives you a good feeling is worth your attention and can change your experience, moment by moment.

2- Master the art of feeling happy just for being alive: make a point of taking a few moments throughout the day to feel good about being you. To achieve that, show gratitude and appreciation to yourself mentally, while you connect with good feelings in your body. If they do not come up naturally, create them, consciously, and experience them mindfully for a couple of minutes.

3- Drop the perfectionism: challenge thinking that revolves around “If I…, I would…” and “When I…, I will…” and start valuing yourself for who you are and not who you “should have been” in an unfortunate past, or “could be” in an idealised future. The same applies to the people and material things you convinced yourself you should have in order to feel happy. Tell yourself you are worth happiness and joy, right at this moment. When you genuinely feel that way, you attract good things, effortlessly.

How to accept negative emotions

How to accept negative emotions
Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance

Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance. Our habit of judging and neglecting negative emotions, as well as our obsession with controlling them, often makes us more unhappy and unbalanced. If you are tired of fighting against yourself and the way you feel, and would like to rebuild a healthier relationship with your emotions, here is how to accept negative emotions:

1- Connect with the body

Emotions are expressed in the body. Therefore, anyone who wishes to fully connect with their emotions does so, primarily, through a reconnection with the body. You can achieve that through exploring bodily sensations such as those of tension and lightness. If you struggle to identify emotions, exploring your bodily sensations will give you a good sense of the impact your own thoughts and experiences have on you.

2- Become consciously aware of the presence of negative emotions

Instead of diverging your focus away from negative emotions or doing your utmost to repress or control them, become fully aware of their presence. You can do that by moving your attention towards them and creating a mental map of where they are felt in the body through direct observation of their intensity and movement, as well as the effect they have on you.

3- Observe them without judgement

Most of us were raised in a culture of emotional neglect in which “negative” emotions are thought to be an inconvenience that should be dealt with as soon as possible. Such attitude tends to be unproductive, however, since it has the potential of creating an even bigger problem. Avoiding, denying or repressing negative emotions are dysfunctional behaviours that often lead to emotional and physical problems. To prevent that from happening, just let them let them be and resist the urge to do something about them.

4- Validate their right to exist

Because all emotions are part of us, when we deny their wisdom and value, openly rejecting them through repression, avoidance or denial, we do so to the detriment of our own selves. Even when they do not seem coherent at first glance, they have a right to be brought to awareness. Every time you recognise a negative emotion with openness and respect, you become whole and complete in yourself.

5- Befriend your body

To become more tolerant of negative emotions, it is essential that you see your body as a friend. Self-love and acceptance is only viable through a strong alliance with our whole selves, mind and body. To befriend your body, change your beliefs about “negative” bodily sensations and emotions by regarding them as normal expressions of the self. Seeing them as fleeting also helps you approach them with patience, understanding and kindness.

The benefits of focusing your attention on emotions go beyond emotional regulation and wellbeing, but also help enhance your concentration abilities and regulate impulsive behaviour. To get the most out of the above, be mindful of how you feel and do what you can to remind yourself to think and act differently when worrying excessively or feeling anxious.