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Your Child’s Unpleasant Emotions Don’t Need An Apology

My husband and I were in a disagreement. 

He tends to be more left-brain and logical. I tend to be more right-brain and emotional. Because of the way he was raised, I think my feelings sometimes freak him out. He becomes a tad deer in headlights. He freezes, his eyes kind of dart side to side as if to say, “Oh shit. What do I do now?” 

As we were discussing our opposition to one another, he said something that sent me from frustrated to fuming. 

“I am sorry that you feel that way.”

Wait. What? 

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted an apology, but not for that.  

Stop Apologizing For Emotions

Emotions don’t need to be apologized for. 

Behaviors, sometimes, yes. Feelings, nope.  

We do it often without thinking about it. 

  • I'm sorry you're mad at me.
  • I'm sorry you feel disappointed.
  • I’m sorry you’re sad. 
  • I’m sorry you feel that way. 

Notice how most of those listed above are all unpleasant emotions? We rarely apologize for someone feeling happy or grateful or proud. 

Why is this?

When we grew up in a family system where some emotions were seen and supported and others were not tolerated, we develop an internal organizational system of “feel these, not those.” 

Fast forward to you now being the parent, and we too begin to apologize for the emotions that are uncomfortable to witness, the ones we have a hard time tolerating. 

But we don’t have to apologize for anyone’s emotions, not even our own. All feelings are created equal and all are informative. 

When we do apologize for feelings, we insinuate that it isn’t safe, appropriate, or healthy to feel those feelings. That inconvenient or uncomfortable feelings are to be avoided. That there is some weird hierarchy of emotions when really they are all on a level playing field. 

Start Embracing Emotions

Noticing how we feel, understanding it, and sharing our experience with another is the foundation of connection, and through connection, we heal and grow. When we put language to our internal emotional selves, we help others better understand us. 

We are all in need of expressing and releasing and we are all on this journey of figuring out how to manage the wild ride happening inside. But being human is nothing to apologize for. 

As we communicate with our spouses, our children, or really anyone, it is important to understand that while we may not approve of the behavior, the underlying emotion is always valid. 

There is this thing called perceptive reality. Based upon your life experiences, you create a belief system and then thoughts to affirm that belief system. The way we feel is influenced by our thoughts. We see the world as we are, not as it is.

When we value all feelings, we create a safe space to share, connect, and communicate, even when ideas are opposing. 

So, how do we embrace emotions without apologizing?

First, drop the “I’m sorry” and instead state what you see and then validate it. 

  • Instead of “I’m sorry you feel disappointed” try “You are feeling disappointed that you lost the game. You wanted to win.”  
  • Instead of “I’m sorry you feel mad” try “I see you stomping your feet and yelling. You’re feeling mad. I am here for you.”
  • Instead of “I’m sorry you feel sad” try “It makes sense that you’re feeling sad. Your fish died and that is hard.”

Apologize When Necessary

There is a time and place to apologize. When someone shares their feeling nature with you, that’s not it. Save the apologies for when you are truly sorry, like when making a repair in a relationship. 

Here are some tips for an effective apology. 

  • Say what you are sorry for - “I am sorry for …”
  • Say why you are apologizing - “because …” 
  • Accept full responsibility - “I accept full responsibility for what I said/did.”
  • Ask how to make amends - “How can I make this better?”
  • Commit to not doing it again - “Moving forward, I will work on …”
  • Ask for forgiveness - “Are you willing to accept my apology?”

It is important to note that sometimes an apology isn’t verbal, especially for our kids. They may offer a hug, color a picture, pick you a flower, or some other unique gesture.

Emotions are our birthright to feel. The sooner we learn this, the sooner we can re-affirm what our children already know - that emotions are a superpower. 

When we allow feelings to inform us and then choose to regulate them, they no longer rule us. Instead, we become in charge of ourselves, which is the only person we control anyway. 

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