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WHY does DD try to stifle her feelings?

760 Views 10 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  meemee
I have been a fan of Harville Hendrix since before I had children, so I have always been determined to validate my children's feelings and never make them feel ashamed of crying, being afraid, angry, etc....

Over the last few months I have noticed that my DD is increasingly trying to stifle her own emotions. For example, yesterday we were at the duck pond and she threw a rock that almost (accidentally) hit a duck. I gently told her to be careful 'cuz we don't want to hit a duck. I couldn't see her face at first, but when she turned around she was obviously distressed. The corners of her mouth were pulling down though she was fighting it hard, and her eyes were welling up with tears. I asked her if she needed a hug and she nodded. As I held her I asked her if she was afraid of that duck flying up (out of the way of the rock) and she said "no". She answered "no" to everything I suggested. She's sobbing, saying she wants to "go home", but refusing to admit she is upset.

I have tried many different approaches. Asking, suggesting, just talking about what happened. Last night she was playing and whacked her head on a bowl. It obviously hurt. And yet there she was fighting the pulling-down corners of her mouth, tears welling up, but if I said "are you hurt" or "that look like it hurt" or anything like that, she emphatically said "no". This doesn't always happen when she is hurt. But if she gets scared, it happens pretty much every time. It's like she's determined not to show fear, or admit she is upset/scared whatever....

I told a friend who witnessed this one day that it is breaking my heart that my child somehow got the message that it's not okay to be scared, that she feels ashamed of her feelings, or that she has to hide them. My friend thinks this is a natural thing for kids. DH said he thinks it's just her temperament. I'd like to believe that. But I can't help feeling like I've done something wrong. Or maybe all my questions/validations are just too much talking for her. Can this really just be an innate temperament thing? I'm so NOT like that I have trouble figuring out whether some people are "just like that".

Any advice?
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I think that it might partly be too many questions. Ds was like that, too. And if I tried to validate his feelings at all, he would have an all out temper tantrum. It's now getting to the point where I can ask one or two questions, but I have to wait until he's calmed down and I have to be careful to word them so that they're easy for him to understand and answer. He's so incredibly verbal, sometimes it's hard for me to remember that there's still a lot he doesn't understand, especially wrt to expressing how he's feeling about things.
Sometimes my kids seem to be trying to stifle their feelings or refuse to discuss them (like saying "NO!" when we say "are you scared?") because the feelings are either too overwhelming and they need some time to sort of work through them, because the feelings are just private and they don't want to talk about it, because they're embarrassed or feel guilty (like when they've hurt someone whether intentionally or not) or are confused about their feelings, because they're angry with me or dh, or they're just feeling independent that day-or any number of reasons that don't necessarily have anything to do with having received the message that feelings aren't okay.

This morning my dd was cranky, and dh said "it seems like you're nervous about your kindergarten screening." (which was this morning, and it was her first experience at this school, and she was going to be alone with a teacher she'd never met. Last night she talked about being nervous.) She just said "NO!" and scrunched up her face, wouldn't talk, wouldn't look at us. So I said "It's okay to be nervous. I think you'll be fine, and I'll be close by." She said "NO!" and wouldn't look at me, so I just said again "I understand, it's okay if you're nervous" and went about my business. 5 minutes later she was fine. Later she said "the screening was fun! All we did was play games! I was nervous before, but it was fun!"

Sometimes feelings are just hard to talk about, and so sometimes we try to hide them. Sometimes it's enough to know someone's there, and that whatever feelings you have, it's okay.
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First I want to say - I don't think you did anything wrong or caused this.

Second, I see that your DD is only 3. I think at that age it can be a little hard to explain and verbalize feelings, so she just chooses to say no.

Another thing I wanted to add, using a personal example.

Say I just accidentally hit myself rather painfully and am toppled over or breathng heavily or just screamed something. Right at that time VERY well meaning people (sometimes DH, sometimes DS) are right over me "What happen?!" "Are you OK?!" "What were you doing?!"

Ar-r-gh... I am hurt and can not talk to you right now! I am NOT in the mood to explain things!

I might like a hug... or a pat on a head... but not to be under investigation right then and there. I will tell you all LATER, k?

I know it was exadurated :LOL , but may be just a hug then and questions later?
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Mine do this too, Piglet. Esp. my older child. It worries me sometimes too, but I've grown more comfortable with it. I have a number of theories about it.

1) In the situation with the duck: Our kids are generally well-behaved, bright and confident. Mine find it difficult to be corrected - because its an infrequent thing. And they are sensitive enough to perceive it as correction no matter how gently we couch our words. They expect a lot from themselves. I seriously doubt she could have articulated her feelings about this. Mine cannot at 8 yo. Comments like, "Oh well, you didn't know," or "Everyone makes mistakes..." are helpful phrases with my oldest.

2) Getting hurt: Sometimes it draws it out and makes it feel worse to be fussed over. If you make it public, then somehow it is more real. Coping with it internally gets it over with more quickly.

3) And I think sometimes they just want privacy with regard to their feelings. My oldest (almost 9) has begun to tease me gently sometimes, commenting that I am too wrapped up in talking about feelings. He asked me about my major in college, which was psychology, and when I finished explaining it to him he laughed out loud and said, "Well that sure describes you mom -- always saying things like, "And how do you feeeeeeeel about that, honey....." I've started to realize that while having a mother who honors your feelings is usually a good thing, sometimes he just needs space and privacy to feel his feelings without any comments from mom. And believe me - he tells me when he wants the empathy! LOL.
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Could it be that our children make decisions on their own, and at very early ages, about which emotions THEY think it's okay to show?
I think alot of the people drawn to GD and AP are drawn to it because they would like to be treated in the way that so much of AP suggests. Validating feelings and talking everything thru.

But not everyone is like this. And I definitely think it can be inborn. I personally can't stand being fussed over when I am sick or hurt. leave me alone and I am very, very happy. I like the feeling of dealing with things on my own. I don't feel lonely or sad. I feel powerful and at peace.

One of my dd's is like me. Fuss when she's sick, hurt or feeling bad and she feels worse. She needs time alone to process her feelings and then seems to deal well. With kids like this its best to back off.

My other two though enjoy much of the validation and questioning and general fussing that we feel it is our job as mamas to do. But we have to remember that it in not our job to do so when it is clearly not welcome.
Ohhhh.... Piglet - please, don't stress over it too much... it's sooo about individual differences. I have a very close friend who's daughter is now.... 16? I've known her since she was born. This girl has always, always, always hidden her feelings and her Mom was in therapy for ages and was very conscious about expressing feelings & empathy, etc... Drove us both crazy for years! (We used to pay her a quarter to just name a feeling - any feeling! :Bag) Now, she will express her feelings when she really feels the need to, but not often.

However,the same friend's son is just 13 months younger and he will tell you every feeling he has and ask about yours too - all the time since he was old enough to talk. We used to have him tell us what he thought his sister was feeling. :LOL

I think the irony is that you don't want her to feel ashamed of her feelings. See you don't want her to feel ashamed. Ashamed is a feeling. It is a perfectly valid and healthy emotion. You aren't making her ashamed. She is just feeling shame. You didn't do it... it just happened and it is ok. We don't get to pick and chose our kids feelings. This one may be difficult for you because it is just what you have been trying so hard to avoid. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job respecting her and I would try less talking about it and just let her be in her feelings. Sometimes talking distracts from just having the feeling. That makes us feel like the feeling is something to stay away from.
Thanks for all your input, mamas. It is reassuring to know that there are some people out there who just don't want to be fussed over. Sometimes I feel like I'm still struggling to figure out who DD is. I feel lost when it turns out she doesn't need what *I* would need in that situation. Especially when it's her introverted side showing, because I simply have no experience with it.

It's interesting to consider that she might, in fact, have been feeling bad about almost hitting the duck. Maybe I don't give her enough credit, but it didn't occur to me that she could get upset at the possibility that her actions may have hurt an animal (inadvertantly). But you know, interestingly, just before we went to the duck pond, we'd been at the playground nearby, and while she was on the swing a little girl walked right in front of her and DD kicked her (totally not her fault). DD kept saying afterwards "don't want to do that again" (like I'd just taken her to the dentist or something). Hmmm, I guess she was feeling bad about hitting the girl, even though I reassured her it was an accident. Maybe almost hitting the duck was too close to home.

I'm thinking that probably you guys are right when you say I'm saying too much. And also, some of you have suggested just waiting until they come to you, or until the moment has passed. I guess I'm afraid that she's too young to take that initiative, that she won't "know" to come to me. I don't want her to think I'm brushing it off...

Usually when DD is hurt she has no qualms about running to me and begging for hugs, etc. That's why last night's little mishap took me so much by surprise. I guess since this usually happens when it's fear she is experiencing, I panicked thinking this "repression of emotions" was "spreading" to other situations, like some sort of disfunctionality cancer. Actually, it's more like a maternal guilt cancer..."great, first she's ashamed of being afraid and now she can't even admit she got hurt? I must really suck as a mother!".

eta: maureen we cross-posted. thank you for that. it makes alot of sense.
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piglet i am like u. validate feelings. talk about them. over the past two months or so my usually sensitive daughter 2 months younger than yours seems to have gotten even more sensitive. a tone of voice can upset her. just saying no upsets her. what she usually does is totally pouts and goes to a corner or another room and stays away for a few seconds and then comes back and joins the group serious and then continues playing. i have never done any kind of timeout with her. i also notice she does not have that many tantrums. instead it is all pouting and sad. if she is really upset with me then she will either shout and tell me mama dont talk to me like that, or dont shout at me or she'll go away and then come back and tell me those same words.

if she wants me she tells me i am sad mama give me a hug (she could be sad because of other reasons like trying to catch the kitten but failing in hwat accord. to her is a reasonable amount of time). so i dont struggle with my emotions watching her deal with her emotions.

like others i think its a sign of them trying to be independent and deal with it themselves. sniff sniff. it definitely shows IMO that our children are seriously growing up.

i think in this regard, the 3s are going to be much harder to deal with than the 2s.
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