Everything is Fine
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2013
Being able to be real and to be in touch with whatever feeling we are experiencing is vital to honest and healthy social relationships, particularly between parents and their adult or youthful children.
To be in the company of someone we care deeply about, whose affect, demeanor, body language, tone, and energy indicate that things are FAR from FINE, but who insists, verbally, that EVERYTHING is FINE can be confusing and frustrating, particularly for children observing their parents. Children's intuitive sense (gut feeling) especially as it relates to their parents' moods, is usually accurate. Imagine how "crazy-making" it can be for them to witness their parent in distress but to have their parent deny it.
I am not suggesting that parents go into a detailed analysis about their emotional life with their children. I am suggesting, however, that each of us "own" our emotions and be truthful. We can "name" how we feel and validate for our children that their sense is correct. And, despite efforts to deny or hide our true feelings from our children, they are often revealed in our behavior, particularly when we are short tempered or extra demanding. Some examples of naming feelings are:
-- "I am feeling a bit sad, confused, disappointed, unsure, (whatever) right now and that is what you are seeing. You don't have to worry. I will work it out, but yes, I am not feeling great and you can sense it."
-- "I need some time to sort things out; I will take a walk and be back in an hour."
-- "I know I am distracted, short tempered, (whatever); I appreciate that you noticed. I will deal with what is bothering me."
When parents validate that what their children observe is correct, they teach their children many things, among them: to honestly identify the way they feel; not to be afraid of emotions; and how to move through them.
Children also learn empathy as they have opportunities to accurately identify other people's emotional responses. If parents lie to their children when asked, "Are you okay?" with "Everything is Fine" (and it clearly isn't), kids get confused, often spending time worrying, fixing, trying to deal with, understand, stay out of the way, or change, what is obviously going on with their mom or dad. Their insides tell them one thing that feels true, yet their parent tells them something else. What to do? Believe my parent's words despite the incongruity with everything else or believe what is inside of me?
Some of us believe the positive suggestion that if we ACT AS IF everything is good, before we know it, it will be! That is fine advice for those of us who are willing to change our attitude which, in turn, can help how we experience our reality. I am talking about something different. When a parent says "Everything is Fine" with conviction, a positive and hopeful attitude, and body language to match, that is quite different from saying "Everything is Fine" in a sullen, negative, or barking tone. Which is real? Which is believable?
In order to deal with our own emotions we must first admit to what they are - if not for our own mental, emotional, and spiritual well being, than for those who care about us. There are few things that strain and potentially separate parents from their children (whether adult or youth) from each other as emotional dishonesty.