I spend a lot of time trying to figure out my emotional states. I don't mean I spend long periods navel-gazing, of course, but instead, what is it, exactly, precisely, that I am feeling? Why am I feeling that way? Is it an appropriate emotional response? Do I need to reframe the situation and alter my emotional response? What if I keep feeling one way while knowing intellectually that it's not the appropriate response? Even worse, what if my rationalization for my physical responses (shortness of breath, flushing, a sinking feeling in my stomach, etc.) is completely off the mark (as it is likely to be since we tend to connect our physical states with the situation we find ourselves in)?
So, if I, at my mid-forties, can have such a hard time, imagine how hard it is for kids in general and those specifically with language difficulties to connect words and meanings with their physical and emotional states. A lot of what we do as parents and educators is help our children sort all that stuff out and figure out appropriate ways to handle all those messes we feel inside, where words are often inadequate even when we have a wide repertoire at our disposal.
When we feel multiple, conflicting emotions, it's even worse. Sorting them out, deciding how to respond, whether to respond, when to respond...oh my. It's a wonder we are able to have functional, healthy relationships, especially since we often don't even bother to do all that work. Instead, we react in the heat of the moment, while those emotions are washing over us, before we give ourselves a chance to process the situation.
This means that sometimes our decisions in the moment, after a lot of reflection, are not the ones we would have made if we'd had the opportunity to reflect first. Conversations and in-the-moment interactions rarely allow for any pause and consideration of all the potential consequences to a spur-of-the-moment response.
We've all had to deal with the fall-out of a hastily murmured acquiescence, where we have felt pressured to respond immediately and in the way the other person is pushing. Salesmen are good at that--putting pressure on us. So are a lot of people in our lives--if they are extremely motivated to get a particular response, we're going to have a harder time fending them off and sticking to our resolutions.
One way we deal with people we know are high-pressure is to work out ahead what our positions are so that when we are put to the test we can keep saying no to someone else's demands, especially when those demands are counter to our own beliefs.
It isn't easy. And often the stakes are high. Peer pressure works because our ideas about ourselves are often tied into what others think of us. Arming our children with the tools to figure out their own emotional states, their own priorities and principles and then helping them learn how to navigate peer pressure, salesmen, con-men and others who would pressure them into doing things they'd really rather not do--well, that's asking a lot, especially if we haven't quite figured that all out.
Emotional chaos, to say the least.
We've also got to show our children how we handle the fall-out when we fail to withstand the pressure. We've got to show them that it's okay to amend what they've said if it doesn't match their principles. We've got to create a system that lets us be confrontational in a non-aggressive way to go back to those who've pressured us into doing something we feel is not in our or anyone's best interests and change our response to one that is in line with cool, rational reflection of the situation.
None of these things is easy to do for ourselves, let alone helping our children learn how to do them. It's why our relationships are often rocky, and why so many of them simply don't work out. Both parties have to be willing to forgive and let go of preconceived notions. Compromise so that everyone wins and no one loses...easier said than done, and some times, it's simply not possible. Someone is going to lose in some situations. And sometimes, it's both sides.
Erich Segal may have immortalized the idea that love means never having to say one is sorry, but those of us in long-term relationships know that love means owning our errors and making amends to those we care about and, if we truly care, not continuing to make the same mistakes repeatedly.
Part of that is learning when to recognize someone isn't really reciprocating. And that, that is often the hardest thing of all to figure out--how to tell if someone is genuine or not. If we get it wrong, in either direction, someone's going to be hurt, and sometimes, everyone is going to be. In that situation, figuring out how to handle it with the least amount of collateral damage is key.
I can't help but wonder at the incredible optimism that most people embody. We know we're going to screw up. We know the people we care about are going to screw up. And yet, almost all of us are willing to keep trying, keep risking, and keep believing, despite all the times things just don't quite work out. That is, my friends, faith.