11. Regarding Loss pt. 2
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Good Morning Families, today is Tuesday March 31st 2020 and it is now time for moment of SEL.
How are you feeling? What thoughts are you thinking? How are you feeling in your body? How do you want to express yourself? How can you express yourself?
Here’s a big question; what do you do with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings? Here are some common uncomfortable feelings: apprehension, worry, envy, fury, restlessness, anxiousness about something bad, loneliness, alienation, hopelessness, helplessness, unwanted fear, embarrassment, shame, self-pity, deep sadness, high anger, humiliation, regret, remorse, disgust, unwanted surprise, self-loathing, and guilt. That’s a lot. By the way, just hearing those words may be priming those feelings. Sorry. How about this.
All of those feelings can have corresponding or complimentary or inciting thoughts such as: Something unwanted is going to happen – apprehension, I can’t control that unwanted thing – helplessness. It’s my fault that unwanted thing will happen – guilt or regret. That unwanted thing doesn’t happen to such and such – envy. I can’t do anything about it – hopelessness, I deserve it – shame, because I’m terrible – self-loathing, I’m the only one who these things happen to -self-pity, no wonder I’m utterly alone – alienation.
Here are some of the less healthy behaviors I find myself choosing when I experience this type of cycle: complain, gripe, plow through a whole bag of chips, complain some more, really dig into myself that I’ve been forsaken by God, I deserve it, complain some more, where’s the salsa for these chips, look at my stomach in the mirror, swing my arms wildly in anger at the sky, get the hummus out too, you see the pattern.
I’m not making light of these feelings, they are real and they are very uncomfortable and I probably experience some of those thoughts and feelings a little each day. Not in the extreme but they are as much a part of my life as positive feelings. However, when these feelings are around I notice them way more. Probably because of the discomfort I experience when they are with me.
These feelings can all be connected to loss. They can come in the form of what Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology termed, attributional or explanatory style.
You can go to https://positivepsychology.com/ for a ton of supportive reading and learning. Essentially, explanatory style refers to the ways in which we explain to ourselves the reasons behind why things happened or could happen.
In the case of loss, the way in which we frame the “why” something has happened can shape our ongoing thoughts and feelings. And that can be very tricky many times there is no definitive explanation as to why something has happened. I have recognized that in many instances when I have experienced loss I my find any wide variety of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that arise in my own mind, as a way to explain to me the why.
So for today, regarding loss or any sort, try to identify the way in which you explain to yourself the “why” behind the event. You’ll want to give yourself the opportunity to listen, without prejudice, to the way you explain the loss to yourself. This will help you when it is time to talk to your kids or loved ones about loss.
One of the best ways to help others gain SEL skills is to model the use of the skills. For example, it is definitely okay to say to a friend, “This thing has happened, and I can hear myself saying that it happened because of *blank*, and when I think that I can recognize I am feeling *blank*” If you use this language you are demonstrating for others that it can be natural to have those thoughts and feelings and that a person is capable of recognizing and labeling his or her feelings without immediately acting on them, which is a form of self-management.
Please be patient with yourself. These skills are wonderful in the abstract but can be very elusive when the temperature is turned up in real time. But, like muscle memory, the habit of practicing when things are calm can help when they are not.
Also, this question came up yesterday from a family I want to provide a some support here. What do you do if while you are building these skills your kids or friends bring up something uncomfortable that you’re not ready to talk about?
Here is the million-dollar skill that teachers practice all the time, especially, since this happens all the time in classrooms. Ready for it? It is simply this, Focus on the Feelings. Let me repeat it. Focus on the Feelings.
What that means is this. If you recognize that someone has shared something or asks something that involves details that you may not be ready to discuss or that are not appropriate to divulge, you focus on the feelings, not the details of the event that brought the feelings .
For example, in a class meeting a student shares his or her sense of loss that their dad is going to jail. Happens more than you think, and it can produce a feeling of panic for the adult in charge because, as I’ve heard more than once, “I’m not a counselor, this is not what I signed up for.” True. So what teachers who are using Social Emotional Skills will do in a situation like this is: thank the child for sharing, and then ask, how are you feeling about that. Notice they didn’t say, “What? Why?” “What or why” questions could elicit details that would not be appropriate for the whole class. However, asking a student to name the feelings associated with this loss would elicit emotion words like, sad, scared, angry, disappointed, depressed, relieved. Now the teacher is able to help the student connect the feelings with others by asking the class, “I hear such-and-such saying they feel, sad or scared or angry or disappointed, who else has ever had those feelings?” The teacher can then ask the whole class to share some strategies they use to handle those feelings. In this way the teacher has provided a safe place for other students to connect with the student who shared the loss and a means to support the whole class without going into the details as to why. The teacher of course can follow-up with the student privately after the class meeting or connect with the family or counselor later in the day.
You can use this same skill at home, if your kid or kids ask you about corona virus or Covid 19 or express some anxiety about health and wellness in general. If you are not feeling ready for going into details, or you think that details right now could make things worse for the kid, gently steer the conversation toward the feelings. You could say, “how are you feeling about that?” or “how is that making you feel or think?” Try to get them to name a specific feeling. Once they have, you are now able to validate their feeling by telling them that you also experience that feeling and here’s what you do when you experience it. In a lot of instances, just sharing that you also experience that feeling tends to drive the conversation to a solicitation of some past life experience of yours. Kids love stories. Why? Because they’re people and people love stories.
I wish you the very best and look forward to connecting in whatever way we can, tomorrow.
May your thoughts and feelings be with you,