I was first introduced to the term, “Super-Feeler,” when I began seeing a new psychologist a couple of years ago. I knew she was specialized in something called, “Emotion Focused Therapy,” (EFT) but to be honest I had zero idea what that even meant. Needless to say, I was quite shocked (and intrigued) when a couple sessions in she used me and the term, “super-feeler” in the same sentence. “I’m a… what?”
Emotion Focused Therapy is a form of therapy based on helping people accept, express, regulate, make sense of and transform emotion. It is within only the past 5-8 years, as I understand it, that this approach has began gaining momentum, especially in the field of child development and mental illness. Although still new in the research world, it is quickly becoming a leader in the research and treatment of eating disorders.
At some point, it was engrained in our society that feeling emotions is somehow “bad.” We are very resistant to feelings – we don’t like how they feel. In general, the “baby boomer” generation did not live in a world where emotion was accepted or communicated. Therefore, as parents they simply did not know how to raise their children with a healthy level of emotional awareness. Please, I am not blaming anyone here. If these parents were not raised in an environment where processing emotion was a norm, how would they know how to raise their children any differently?
That being said, it is now catching up to our children and to todays’ generation. Children who are not raised in a household where their emotions are validated; where they are taught that it is okay to feel whatever it is they are feeling; and taught how to manage these emotions may very well develop more pressing difficulties later in life.
Before I continue, let me disclose that when I speak of the term, “super-feeler” I am not pertaining to those who, naturally, tend to tear up easily and cry at seemingly “anything” (movie theatre waterfalls). Although this is another form of high-sensitivity (and nothing wrong with it!!) I am discussing something that runs much deeper.
According to the research of EFFT, super-feeler children are basically the “emotional-sponges” of the house. They experience emotions very intensely – both their own and those of others. Some common characteristics include:
The threat here is that, when a child experiences such strong emotions, it can be extremely overwhelming to them. If they are not put into an environment where they can be guided through these feelings and taught that it is okay to be having them, they – not surprisingly – will try to find ways to block them out. They begin to internalize and avoid their emotions, and in a word, begin to “harden.” As a result, super-feelers are vulnerable to developing eating disorders, OCD, self-harm, anxiety, depression, as well as other mental illnesses and chronic health issues.The connection between #eatingdisorders and emotion regulation. #copingmechanism #avoidance Click To Tweet
As long as I can remember, I have never been one to talk openly about my emotions and have always had a very difficult time accessing my feelings. I always just assumed I was “cold blooded”. Emotionless. Or maybe just too “independent” to need any of, “that.” Turns out, as I have now been learning through personal work and therapy, I actually do feel things. I feel them very deeply. But since being very young, I’ve achieved a superb talent for numbing myself off from feeling what is hurting me.
It can be really scary – feeling so deeply for others when you see them hurting, all you want to do is take away their pain. All you care about is that they are okay. You will, hands down, put your own feelings aside just so that you can be assured the other person feels better. For me, I always felt as if as long as my parents – or others – didn’t feel hurt, everything was fine. “I can handle it. I’ll take it.”
But actually – no. I could not handle it. In fact… I so very much couldn’t handle it that I developed a very serious eating disorder to help me take away and manage all these overwhelming feelings.
I really don’t know if I am indeed a “super-feeler.” All I know is that somewhere in childhood I developed a serious core belief that I was wrong to feel what I would feel – that I was “crazy”, “weird,” or just “too sensitive” and that this was a sign of weakness. And my parents… my beloved parents who I love and cherish more than words can say… I don’t think they saw this. They did not see that, as a child, I would feel things to an overwhelming degree. My mother (who again, I love terribly) would immediately turn to rationale when I went to her feeling hurt. She immediately tried to just “fix the boo boo” and move on. It’s taken me years to figure out why everytime I go to her to talk about something I am feeling, I always just end up angry and abruptly stopping the conversation.
I now know that I do this because I feel like she does not truly hear me. Although she does not mean to say this, I feel like she is undermining what I am feeling. I end up feeling like what I’m feeling is silly or stupid. And so therefore, I shut down and turn cold, thinking “You don’t get it.” “Forget about it.” “You don’t understand.”
No, a parent does not need to necessarily, “understand,” or feel the severity of what their child is feeling, but they do need to hear them. They need to make their child feel like they are validated, and that it is okay to be feeling this way. They need to make their child feel that they are safe to be telling their parent what they are feeling.
Many parents, like my mom, have their hearts full of intention of helping their children the best way they can. They really are saying what they think their child wants to hear. They just don’t realize that, infact, what a child needs is something far simpler.
All I want is to hear is,
“I hear you.”
“That must really hurt.”
“It must have felt really embarrassing to be excluded.”
“It makes sense you are feeling angry. Let’s talk about it.”Super-Feelers. What We Need to Hear. #emotions #parenting Click To Tweet
This is me speaking not yet as a parent, but as a former child. To shed light on what a child may feel and how they may be spoken to. This is me speaking as someone who is still learning how to be okay with feelings and who is now needing to re-learn how to manage them without running to coping mechanisms to just take them all away. I believe my eating disorder grew in a desperate attempt to be heard. Because – for whatever reason – I felt so unsafe showing that I was hurting, and felt like no one would ever understand. I needed to find a way to make others see.
This subject goes hand in hand with my post on Balancing the Solar Plexus. I have been working with these exercises to help me be able to finally release all the emotions I have repressed for many years. And as such, this has been a very large part of my recovery. I’m literally trying to recover from all those years of blocking. And now that I am learning to release these new feelings, I need – more than ever – validation that it is okay. Like I mentioned in my post, I will shut in immediately if I feel rejected. But I’m not looking for a pity party. I just need to know I’ve been heard and that my feelings are seen as real.
Thankfully, there is now more information being brought forth on child emotional development and its connection with eating disorders and other mental illness. But our society still has much to learn. A parent has the hardest job in the world, and ontop of everything else, they must raise their children in a way that fosters healthy emotional coping strategies. Children need to be encouraged to speak up about their messy inner emotions, and be applauded when they do. Only then will they learn that emotions are temporary and that they can and will pass.
Linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud Thursday
Sources (in addition to my personal work with an EFT coach):
Do you have a super-feeler in your life?
What were your experiences with emotions and growing up as a child?