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The concept of "meta-emotions"

Thread starter #1
So, I generally think I'm quite well-read when it comes to psychology, but every now and then I'll stumble across something that is new to me and which feels like a real "ohhhhh" moment, where things fall into place. Often it's things that I've sort of half-realised, but finally seeing it put into words concisely can be such an eye-opener.

So the concept of meta-emotions... The feelings we have about our feelings... Like feeling sad and then feeling embarrassed about feeling sad... Or feeling scared and then feeling confused about feeling scared... Or feeling depressed and feeling frustrated about feeling depressed... And so on...

So, I think I was half-aware that yeah, of course we have feelings *about* our feelings...

But reading the wikipedia page about it, I was fascinated to see that in terms of parenting and in terms of our (abusive or non-abusive) childhood experiences, parents actually have meta-emotions about their kids' emotions... And as kids we learn our meta-emotions from our parents' meta-emotions...

So that's where it gets complicated and interesting.

So there are 3 main categories of how parents have meta-emotions about their kids' emotions: good, neutral-ish and bad.

And the crux of it is, how do the parents feel about/ think about/ deal with their kids' negative emotions. (As we all know, positive emotions are a walk in the park compared to the intense complexity of negative emotions).

So, the positive meta-emotion approach is called "emotion-coaching philosophy"

Here, parents think it's normal and healthy for their children to have both positive and negative emotions. They don't feel threatened by their kids' negative emotions. They view the child's negative emotions as learning and growth opportunities and help the child process their negative feelings in that way.

Then there's the neutral-ish approach (which isn't really neutral, but it's less crap than the really crap approach. This is called "dismissive emotion philosophy".

These parents don't see their kids' negative emotions as something normal and healthy. They view negative emotions as negative. They feel that negative emotions are scary or harmful. They want them to go away. So they may try to "cheer up" a sad child or "distract" a grumpy child in an attempt to get rid of the negative emotions. Or they may feel threatened by their kids' negative emotion... that their child feeling sad means that they are a bad parent... and will wish to "cheer up" the child in order to feel like a "good" parent.

And then there's the really crappy type, called "disapproving emotion philosophy".

These parents think that children shouldn't have negative emotions. So, if a child is upset then the parent thinks the child is being "whiny" or "selfish" or "bad". These parents disapprove of their child's negative emotions and use sanctions or discipline to demand the child stop having and/or displaying the negative emotion. Which is obviously *quite* a headf*ck for kids and qualifies as emotional abuse in my book.

So yeah... the wikipedia article on it: Meta-Emotions was quite an eye-opener for me, cos so much fell into place about how my parents had (both in different ways) thought/ felt/ reacted to any negative emotions I had as a child, and how that formed the inner dialogue of my meta-emotions and how I deal with my negative emotions.

It's also making me reflect how I respond to other ppl's negative emotions. I think I had zero chance of learning a healthy approach to emotions in childhood, so I think I mostly respond with the middle reponse (e.g. trying to cheer ppl up when they're sad).

So I'd like to shift to that healthier stance... Of genuinely viewing my own negative emotions as "a growth and learning opportunity" and seeing other people's negative emotions as "a growth and learning opportunity for them".

Which, to my brain, sounds like someone talking in a foreign language... (thanks childhood trauma). Not sure I can truly wrap my head around "negative emotions = growth and learning opportunity". But I will try to get there.

(I'm going to @Freida and @Freemartin cos we've talked about the "omg negative feelings" thing so often. And @Innordinate and @Chris-duck we've talked about this stuff countless times too, so maybe you'll find it interesting too.)
 
#3
Definitely affects me a lot.

I was thinking about this, though not the same (although I feel embarrassed, ashamed etc , expressing sadness, etc), how just passed I wished someone had felt badly I felt badly, or more importantly they had felt badly for how my heart broke for another's situation, they had felt sadly for them. It sort of has left me feeling, that others don't care. But still, it comes back to feeling it supports the belief that emotions? Have no purpose. Or their absence is more proof of no purpose for me, maybe too same others in the same spot.

Ugh. I hope that makes sense. 🙄 Down time for me.
 
Thread starter #4
emotions? Have no purpose.
I read a really detailed, interesting, helpful article about this the other day - including the evolutionary reason of why emotions ARE important (hint: they are else evolution wouldn't have made us all have them)

This is the article which also includes this cool overview of why each emotion matters in terms of survival.

But yeah, I get that if people ignored your emotions, you'd feel like they were irrelevant.
 
#7
Which, to my brain, sounds like someone talking in a foreign language... (thanks childhood trauma). Not sure I can truly wrap my head around "negative emotions = growth and learning opportunity". But I will try to get there.
@Sophy (in lockdown) My brain processor is running on low Battery, I’m sure I am overlooking your core argumet.. emotional neglect, originating from a unstable and violent home life and an insecure attachment parenting style, it’s side/fundamental effects are still hard to deal with (For me) after so many years of therapy. Maybe, I can admit (Although I tend to always be sceptical) That the initial Blows have lesser impact on my own self identity. Hard lessons that I have learned (Mostly through Body therapy less cognitive based ones) is to draw the line between me and the Other (If that makes sense...)
 
#8
I think what's missing in the theory of meta-emotions responding to (parents' ) meta-emotions (although good, but not complete) can be the fact that for all the talk circumstances don't always allow emotions to be expressed: the parent with their hands full or crisis isn't going to be available or approachable; the 911 dispatcher isn't going to lose their sh*t; the kid told to hold down the fort or look after mom isn't going to identify with being dependent; the child watching another's need or illness isn't going to start crying (at least publically) or demanding. That's why (as adults) we have de-briefings. I don't think a lot of people are comfortable with tolerating other's emotions, and even less with empathizing in the painful sense of the word. So a person can be grossly sensitive, and stay pretty quiet, which might be seen as indifferent which is the polar opposite.

I read an article about a little Jewish boy who sat down beside his friend because his bike was stolen and cried with him. When asked why, he said that was because that was all that he could do for his friend.

And then there's the beliefs- where do staying in negative emotions get us? Further in, more than cathartic a lot of the time, IMHO.

More than use or having a developed range, it's about survival. And if it hurts or you've been hurt or disappointed for it, you do learn lessons but hard to find growth opportunities in them. Other than to seal the deal on internalizing them even further, or seeing it as a need to.
 
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#9
My father would ignore me at times when I wanted something. Take the time I wanted a candy bar while he was purchasing some meds for my mom and him at the drug store. I started off pleasantly enough. Then I got kind of whiny and eventually stole the thing. I don't think he knew about that last, because I never got punished for stealing. I guess I've always believed that the druggist either swallowed the cost or somehow charged him for it. Either way, I guess I got what I wanted,but! I stole and I regret that now. So I have mixed emotions about my emotions back then. I do know one thing, my father sure could have handled it better. I was maybe four years old.
 
#10
I am very caught of guard by this concept, never looked at things this way. I find it may even apply to my abusers, but in application it may help me understand their abusing behavior. Something i will explore with my therapist being were already working on being able to outwardly express emotions again. (I feel it inside, may even tear up, but my brain stops it from being an outward expression, all because in the time of my abuse, expressions or emotions and crying gave cause to be abused even more, i adapted subconsciously to not express because expressing got me hurt). I thank you for posting this topic as it may be very helpful to me.
 
#11
Here, parents think it's normal and healthy for their children to have both positive and negative emotions. They don't feel threatened by their kids' negative emotions. They view the child's negative emotions as learning and growth opportunities and help the child process their negative feelings in that way
This is a really key thing to take note of... because I live in hippy-dippy-fruitcake-land... and the number of parents who went all woo-woo with their kids being “allowed” their negative emotions is through the roof with first kids in the early years. And then -MOST- parents smarten up right quick. Because going to the ER 2 or 3 times a week for split foreheads, broken noses, knocked out teeth? Because their kid was throwing themselves on the floor in a tantrum, into walls, windows, streets, sidewalks, etc. is a helluva wake up call. As is having every object in your house used as a weapon against you, your pets, and other objects in the house. As is becoming a social pariah that none of the other parents -or preschools, including Waldorf!- will let you and your kid around them and theirs... Because your kid is a violent bully who has never learned/been taught any kind of self control when they’re upset.

parents actually have meta-emotions about their kids' emotions... And as kids we learn our meta-emotions from our parents' meta-emotions...
Something you didn’t mention, that’s a lot-standing trick in parenting-circles / is very much part of the metaemotions sphere... is HOW you ask your kid about their day.

- “Hey Kiddo! Did you have fun? What happened today that was interesting? What happened today that was silly? What happened today that waaaaaaaaas.... weird? What happened today that was totally AWESOME?!?”

- “Hey Kiddo! OMG!!! I’m so glad to see you! Are you okay? We’re the other kids mean to you? Were you scared? Did they share? Did they leave you out? Was it really, really hard?”

^^^ The questions we greet our kids with teach them what to look for IN their day, what to notice as it’s happening, what to place value on, what to remember in as much detail as possible.

If you’re using the first set of questions that doesn’t mean you won’t ever have an angry toddler stomping out to the car to tell you all about the no good very bad day they had; nor that they won’t come out all sad face and quivering lip because Waaaaaaaaaaaaah!

And if you use the second set that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have a totally self confident kid bounding out to tell you about the awesome hilarious king of the world day that they had.

((And, clearly, there are dozens of other question sets parents ask, with different motivations in mind. I just chose 2 very clearly loving-wanting the best for your kid choices to demonstrate with.))

It just means that those days will be the minority report, rather than how your kid usually views themselves and their day; because they’re being taught to be confident and excited, or anxious and scared, by what we’re directing them to place value on.

It‘S this LITTLE tiny thing, the sentence that pops out of your mouth... but it’s day in & day out, during a developmental time in kids lives where they’re learning at WHAT to look at/look for/and how to rate it on their priority scales.

Quirky, right?
 
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