From 2000 to 2016, opioid-related deaths in the U.S. increased by 300%. In contrast, Germany, the 2nd largest opioid prescribing country, did not experience an increase. The huge difference is that Germans believe discomfort is a part of the healing process while Americans believe it should be fully avoided.
I believe that the American culture’s avoidance of discomfort has led to our current mental health crisis. Many Americans fully embrace the idea that “bad feelings” are unhealthy and “good feelings” are healthy. This could not be less true. Mentally strong individuals are able to be comfortable with the full spectrum of human emotions.
It is important to teach children that negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions are simply part of the human experience. When parents immediately intervene, they are inadvertently eliminating opportunities for the development of healthy coping behaviors.
Humans display three unhealthy behaviors to “bad” thoughts, feelings, and emotions: fix, control, or avoid. Unhealthy fixing is when you meet your child’s need too early. You may notice that your child’s drink cup is empty and fill it. This may prevent your child from being upset, but it is not teaching her to independently identify the problem and ask for help. An example of unhealthy control is immediately telling your teenager “no” when he asks to drive to the store after dark. He is definitely safer at home, but you have removed an opportunity for your teen to build trust and learn how to be a better driver. Unhealthy avoidance is when you let your child win a game because she gets upset when she loses. She must experience losing to learn to tolerate it well.
How can you teach yourself to embrace “bad” thoughts, feelings, and emotions?
1. Sit with them. When difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions arise, do not control, fix, or avoid. Simply sit with the discomfort.
2. Ask yourself if your thoughts, feelings, or emotions are true and/or helpful.
3. Your brain will overwhelm you with opinions and judgements, so make sure you refocus to the facts.
4. Ask yourself, “What response is most consistent with who I want to be?”
Act in a manner that is consistent with who you want to be. Sometimes, the healthiest response is to fix, control, or avoid something. However, mentally strong people take the time to choose this response instead of instinctively reacting.
How can you teach your child to embrace “bad” thoughts, feelings, and emotions?
1. When they become distressed, DO NOT REACT. Sit with them for a second. Every huge mistake I have made in life, is when I reacted without thinking.
2. Make sure you understand what happened and talk to your child about the facts. Avoid telling children how they feel because your opinion of their feelings may be incorrect. STICK TO THE FACTS! The cup is empty, the chore is not done, etc.
3. A child views opinions as facts. Refocus them to the facts.
4. Ask, “Who do you want to be in this moment?” Give them options of responses. Act out good and bad examples. Children find this hilarious.
5. Reward and praise any attempt they make at a healthy response.