Tips on living a healthy and full life

Aging parents & your emotional wellbeing

Do your feelings about your parents and your relationship with them ever trip you up or get the best of you? Yes, that was a test to see if you are a human or a robot.

Seriously, all of us get caught up in a feeling that we can’t seem to let go of, or have moments when our feelings are running the show. We explode, rant, can’t sleep, think clearly or focus on our work.

As daughters and sons, there is no shortage of feelings when it comes to our parents. Add aging to the mix and you have a whole lot of intensity. Knowing how to manage this intensity is key to your wellbeing and your relationship with your parents!

It’s important to remember that feelings are just feelings. I know, that may sound silly, but the truth is we often give our feelings more power over ourselves than we should. There are certain myths that we operate with that can mess up our ability to both process and manage our emotions.

6 myths about feelings

Myth #1: The source of our feelings is external or outside of us; someone or something makes us feel a certain way.

The problem with this commonly perceived myth is that we make other people and situations responsible for how we feel. More pointedly, your parents don’t make you feel anything, as in “They make me so mad.” The problem is we give away our power and become helpless victims. We then become completely dependent on others for our wellbeing and we blame others for our negative emotions. This can become fodder for fights and drama—it is no secret that arguments centered around blaming usually end badly. We also begin an endless search for people, things, and situations to make us happy and we avoid, cut out, or resent people who we have deemed responsible for our bad mood.

It’s important to remember that we do not have to be victim to our feelings!

Myth #2: There are good feelings and there are bad feelings.

We begin to judge our feelings and create an endless list of rules for how we should and should not feel. We then project our list of rules onto all of the people in our lives. There is a loss of spontaneous living with this approach to feelings. Also, it isn’t possible to live only with the “good” feelings and avoid the “bad” ones.  Feelings are not good or bad—they’re just feelings. I swear there is a song with this line in it. Do you know what it is?

When we give up judging our feelings as “good” or “bad” we are able to flow better with life and the inevitable range of feelings.

Myth #3: Feelings will go away if you ignore them.

This is related to the belief that there are good feelings and there are bad feelings. We tend to censor or ignore feelings that we label “bad.” Feelings that are ignored tend to get buried in our unconscious which does not allow for reflection and examination of them. Ignoring them does not make them go away. What we resist, persists. Avoiding and repressing feelings can and will literally make us sick.

When we ignore or avoid feelings or try to push them away, we do not learn how to cope with more difficult or challenging feelings such as sadness, fear, anger, or shame. Instead we develop avoidant behaviour in the form of addictions and distractions so that we do not have to feel emotions that we have labelled as “bad” or “negative.” We can also become emotionally numb and disconnected from our feelings completely (this can also be a symptom of PTSD).

When we accept our feelings and let them rise up, we are also teaching ourselves not to be afraid of our feelings or be ruled by them. We are saying to ourselves, “I can handle any and all of my feelings.”

Myth #4: We should always trust our feelings.

Feelings are powerful. This is what leads us to believe that they must be true. However, we often respond to situations with a backlog of feelings that have been stored, unexpressed, or held onto from the past. Feelings are real and need to be acknowledged and experienced, but they are not necessarily the truth.

So, when can we trust our feelings? When would it be wise to use our feelings to guide our actions? To learn from our feelings, we need to process them. Self-reflection is required to explore the meaning of the feeling and the thoughts and beliefs that precede the feeling. Please note that I am not suggesting that you ignore gut feelings, which are instinctual responses based on a present threat or danger.

Myth #5: Feelings always need to be expressed.

While it is never helpful to repress or deny feelings, they do not always need to be expressed in the moment that they are being experienced. People mistakenly believe that expressing feelings, especially difficult ones, is the best way to get rid of them or move on. While this can be true, it is not always the case. For example, have you ever noticed that the more you express your anger, the bigger it can get? Sometimes expressing our anger fuels it. While we often imagine that we will feel better if we just get our feelings out, we can at times feel worse. This is particularly true when the expression is an uncontrolled outburst or is intended to hurt someone in that moment.

Before emoting ask yourself, “Does this need to be shared? Is it wise to share this right now? Will this help the situation in this moment?  These types of questions put you squarely in the driver’s seat and can help move you from reactivity to responsiveness.

Myth #6: Feelings always need to be acted upon.

Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. We are letting our emotions rule us when we act on them impulsively. There are situations where we decide that we do need to take some action based on our feelings. However, we do not have to act on them at every opportunity. Pausing to acknowledge the feelings and exploring what may have triggered them can help us handle them the next time they arise (and there will likely be a next time!).

An emotional journey

Experiencing emotion is part of human nature and caring for aging parents is a particularly emotional journey. However, this does not mean that we need to be slaves to our feelings. Paying attention to our feelings, acknowledging and accepting how we feel, and when appropriate, expressing our feelings and taking action will build both self-esteem and possibly a healthy relationship with our parents (there are of course 2 sides to this coin!).

Thoughts and beliefs precede feelings. You can develop self-awareness of your beliefs, thoughts, thought patterns, and their impact on your feelings. If you do not buy into the myths that have been described, you are well on your way to both processing and managing your feelings!

When you think about your aging parents, what feelings do you struggle most with? Are any of the above myths at play in your mind? Tell us in the comments below!

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