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The World of a Super-Feeler: Parenting a Child Through Difficult Emotions

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

Super-Feeler What We Need You to Know

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.

i used to dislike being sensitive super-feeler

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:

  • very sensitive to – and immediately pick up on –  stress in their environment
  • want only to make this stress around them better  
  • worry about the feelings of their parents/family/friends more than their own
  • become more upset than others when a parent or teacher raises their voice

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.” 

Super-Feeler Others' Emotions Are Not Your Responsibility

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

Super-Feeler What We Need You to Know 

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. 

 

being a sensitive artist super-feeler

Linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud Thursday

Sources (in addition to my personal work with an EFT coach): 

(Affiliate Links)

If looking for information on how to begin breathe work for grounding and emotional release, see parts 1, 2 and 3 of my current breathe and chakra release series. 

Super-Feelers explained. What we all need to know. #emotionsareokay #validation Click To Tweet

Do you have a super-feeler in your life? 

What were your experiences with emotions and growing up as a child?

 

 

 

 

42 COMMENTS

  1. chasetheredgrape | 7th Apr 16

    This is really interesting and as I’m sure you are aware, in reading it, anyone with a past or current mental health condition will try and relate. For me, I was brought up in a family where we did express our emotions and it was ok to feel. Both my brother and I were able to talk about anything to my parents and it really was an open house when it came to emotions… Yet both my brother and I have dealt with/ dealing with mental health conditions.
    I do however believe that there is a real problem with people not listening anymore. Like really, truly listening when people talk. So often we just need to talk, without advice or opinions being given… And there are very few people who will do that without giving their two cents on the topic. I hope our generation starts to become listeners again – to our family, friends and society. I think this would make a big difference.

    • Cora | 8th Apr 16

      Of course mental issues can arise from allll different sorts of experiences. This is only one of many many possibilities for what could have been a trigger.
      Yes – absolutely – the problem with listening transcends into all facets of our society. Its not a bad thing to want to always give an opinion or help, but very few people realize that in fact – just a simple ear and nod of acceptance is what is needed. I hope we learn to listen better as well.

  2. SuzLyfe | 7th Apr 16

    Um this is fascinating. I always have thought that a child and indeed a generation is a reaction to their parents and the preceding generation–some children seek to emulate, some rebel or try to find the opposite (you know the phrase “every girl wants to marry her dad”). I think that we are indeed seeing in this new generation a different type of sensitivity, one that is fostered by technology and stimulated by the fact that sometimes the baby boomer generation doesn’t know how to deal with the new level of feelings.
    SuzLyfe recently posted…Currently… April 2016My Profile

    • Cora | 8th Apr 16

      Technology in todays’ society adds a wholleee other area of difficulties – more to run away to, more distraction to keep one from listening, more to keep us from learning how to truly communicate and listen to each other. We really are a reaction of our parents, but we are not stuck in it and can choose to see what needs to be changed.

  3. Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets | 7th Apr 16

    I’m not sure about super feelers, but I do know people need to be heard, period. I’ve learned it at work over the years and I really try to make my employees feel this way. You may not always agree with a person, but just hearing them out and even using the phrase, I hear what you’re saying” can make all the difference in a conversation. It can also teach you new things if and when you are willing to listen.

    • Cora | 8th Apr 16

      Yes exactly! This goes for ALL parts of our day to day life and society. Genuinely saying “I hear you” can mean a world of difference in gaining trust and feeling respected. This is such an important part of any work situation dealing with employees/clients. We want to know we are being heard and seen as a real human being.

  4. Kate | 7th Apr 16

    This was super helpful. While I am more of a super thinker, Terry is a super feeler. I definitely tried to do things like your mom for the longest time until Terry said “I just need you to tell me it sucks.” And then a light bulb kind of went of for me. I don’t know if it’s conditioned in me, but I don’t like to feel too strong of emotions, except for peace and contentment. I know there is nothing wrong with feelings, but I just get overwhelmed.
    Kate recently posted…Choosing blogs to readMy Profile

    • Cora | 8th Apr 16

      Wow – so interesting! Its so important in a relationship to know how the other person “works,” emotionally. To be able to have already learned this and learned what Terry needs is amazing. He hit in on the head – sometimes all you really do need to hear is “that really sucks.”

  5. Emily Swanson | 7th Apr 16

    I’m so thankful that my mommy and daddy have always been really gentle and kind about our feelings as we’ve grown up. They’ve listened. They’ve counseled, and they’ve become more and more, some of my best friends as I’ve gotten older.
    Emily Swanson recently posted…Is Your Body Worthy of Worship?My Profile

    • Cora | 8th Apr 16

      Wonderful <3. Parents are true gifts. No other relationship will ever come close.

  6. Heather @ Polyglot Jot | 7th Apr 16

    Yes I am a super feeler and my husband is a super thinker! Hes still learning to just be like wow that sucks! instead of trying to fix it! Total relate to this post!
    Heather @ Polyglot Jot recently posted…WIAW: Saturday DelightsMy Profile

    • Cora | 8th Apr 16

      Wow – but how awesome is it that you are aware of this!! Knowing how your partner “works” is so important – though it still means it may take a while to truly learn/get used to what to say. Especially for those super thinkers like you or my mom, it must be SOO hard to not just want to go in to “fix it mode” immediately.

  7. Heather@hungryforbalance | 7th Apr 16

    This is so fascinating Cora!!! I don’t know if I’m a super feeler either, but those tendencies sound eerily similar to things I do or have done. Thank you so much for sharing this and the resources!!!

    • Cora | 8th Apr 16

      Interesting if you found some similarities! I’m sure everyone can relate at least on some level. We all need to be heard.

  8. Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy | 7th Apr 16

    Thanks for bringing light to this, Cora. So many of us don’t consider that the (lack of) our words, thoughts or behaviors can really impact someone, and that acknowledgement is so important. I don’t think I’m a super feeler, but I can see the consequences that small words or actions can really have, and I think there definitely needs to be more awareness. Like you said, if people weren’t raised in an environment of processing emotions, they may not know better. Like Suz pointed out, I think that technology has changed so much, and now rather than sparking conversation among families, technology may take that away, or provide a haven for someone with emotions to find solace.
    Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy recently posted…Sesame Almond Meal Tofu ParmeseanMy Profile

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      Technology worries me for this very notion. We are losing our ability to not only communicate but also listen. Thank you, Sarah. Its amazing the affects we can have on someone else without hardly realizing it.

  9. Alyssa @ renaissancerunnergirl | 7th Apr 16

    I’m fascinated by this, because I often felt like the article describes – like I experienced every emotion very intensely, unlike a mom and to some extent a dad who really didn’t feel them quite so much, and certainly did not express feelings so much as thoughts. I know that they did the best they could, but I needed something different than perhaps they had the ability to give, and I would really love to be more aware when my own time hopefully comes to parent a child.

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      Thank you for sharing this Alyssa. This is exactly what I was trying to convey with my own experiences. “…did not express feelings so much as thoughts” —> This, exactly. This is the action of “super thinkers” in their sincere attempt to help – its how they are wired – unfortunately it just doesn’t help as they expect it would in many cases. It is also my hope that I – and our generation coming up – can be more aware of these issues when we have children.

  10. Aubrey Powell | 7th Apr 16

    This has really intrigued me. I had genuinely never thought about the possibility of this in my own life but reading thins made sense in quite a few ways. I think this is something a lot of parents, those who are the children of a “we can have it all” generation, are unconsciously raising children to be more in tune with emotion because of their own suppression in childhood. This is something I’m going to take with me when I have children. Thank you

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      This is exactly what I was hoping for when sharing this – just to spark thought and awareness for when we – our generation – has children.

  11. Suzlyfe's mommy, Clare | 7th Apr 16

    This is extremely interesting and a topic I want to further delve into.
    As a Baby Boomer, I wasn’t taught not to express my emotions, however, I was taught to express ONLY the positive ones. If I felt badly or my feelings were hurt, I kept it in. I still do.
    I try to fix whatever hurts someone else, to take their pain away, but not by dismissing it–rather by taking it onto myself.
    I was trained, and believe to my toes, that I should fix the boo-boos, everyone else’s boo-boos
    This is ingrained deep in my core— to not cause pain or hurt to someone else. As Mammy in GWTW said, “it ain’t fitten” and I was trained not to do it.

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      Wow. First of all, I am absolutely flattered and humbled to have Suz’s Mom comment on my blog!! Thank you so much for reading and contributing, Clare. This is especially wonderful hearing from a mother – and one from the boomer generation.
      Yes – you are absolutely right. Its not that many are taught not to feel anything – it is that they learn to stay away from the negative ones.
      I wonder how many from your generation would feel this same way. I would say my Mom does. However, this is how I feel as well. I’ve grown up believing I just need to take everyones’ pain away even if it involves taking it onto myself – as you say. Not a safe emotional place to be for an individual. It can be very hard taking everything onto yourself. We can’t do it all!

      • Sulfyfe's mommy, Clare | 9th Apr 16

        I think it’s not so much to not have negative feelings, rather it is not to express them outloud. To do so, to express a negative thought or emotion, might bring pain to someone else–an action to be avoided at all costs.
        Rather than hurt a boyfriend’s pride or feelings, I just kept it all inside. Ultimately, I had a guy in every port– not to be a badass, but so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. My feelings were so far down the line, they didn’t count.

        This was long before cellphones or facebook– if you wanted to hide, you could, and I did…….sparing someone else’s feelings was paramount.
        It was a way of life, this keeping emotions inside, and it wore away at our very souls.

        I hope that your generation, or any generation post baby-boom, will not let it poison you, as it did us.
        We could have it all– so we HAD to have it ALL. Whatever it was….whatever it took….we had it and we did it.

  12. Ellie | 8th Apr 16

    I think I was a super feeler and still have lingering effects from it…but I have done a lot of work on myself to change that. I realize feelings have value but that I don’t need to act on them. I realize it is not my responsibility to make everything “ok” and it is alright to be in an uncomfortable situation. I don’t need to fix everything or take someone else’s bad aura and assume it’s about me or I can change it. Sometimes it’s hard, but other times it’s so freeing!
    Ellie recently posted…Syracuse Half Marathon 2016 Race RecapMy Profile

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      Wow, Ellie. This is absolutely everything I am currently working on – especially not feeling the need to make everything okay or assume someone else’s negative emotions have to do with me (thats a huge one). I’m curious to know how/when you began realizing this and working on changing it? Was it self induced? You are so, so wise and WELL beyond the years of so many. I think many people go their entire lives without this kind of personal insight. I look up to you!

      • Ellie | 9th Apr 16

        Honestly, it took a lot of effort. I felt a lot of guilt and shame in my family for having feelings. We were basically taught not to have them and God forbid acting on them, it was sinful. It started with my first boyfriend and all hell broke loose. This led to some destructive patterns for me, which I only got out of once I removed myself from my family situation. When I moved out, I was a hot mess, seriously and it took almost two years of minimal contact with my family and working on myself to get to a better place. So first step, eliminate contact with toxic people (this is hard, but easier when you’re older and have your own income). Step 2, remind yourself everyday that you are only responsible for and to yourself, not anyone else. The hardest thing for me was thinking that if someone was rude to me or just in a bad mood, it was about me. This is almost never true and once I got over that (how selfish right? To think everything is about yourself, whoosh that hit me hard) it was easier to allow feelings to happen but not act destructively with them. You have the power to choose how to act. And if all that seems too hard, fake it till ya make it. Act how you want to feel and the feelings will follow. I hope this made some sense <3 email me if you want

  13. Miss Polkadot | 8th Apr 16

    Wow. Whew. I’m – no pun intended – feeling and thinking so much right now it’s hard to say anything aside from: thank you. Especially after an intense conversation touching upon my overthinking and all the emotions drifting around in my head – exhausting – I recognize myself in this so much. Sorry for being confusing here but I’m really just processing a lot right now. In a good way :).

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      …. I know exactly how this feels. You aren’t being confusing.
      If you’d like to discuss it any more, I’m just an email away. <3

      • Cora | 9th Apr 16

        (speaking of which my reply is in the making)

  14. BeautyBeyondBones | 8th Apr 16

    What a beautiful post. You’re right. I think receiving the words, “I hear you” is so healing and powerful. You’re an incredible writer. Hugs and love xox
    BeautyBeyondBones recently posted…Dear Beyoncé,My Profile

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      Thank you. Those three words can be monumental. <3

  15. cookiesnchem | 8th Apr 16

    This is such a fascinating post, as always. Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂 You always come up with such thought-provoking things!
    cookiesnchem recently posted…De-Stressing AprilMy Profile

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      Thank you Cindy. The world has a lot to discuss!

  16. masala girl | 8th Apr 16

    this related to me, a scary amount. i feel like it kind of put my life into words. i’m no one to express how i feel (until lately, after years of bottling it up!), but i definitely sense everything around me, analyze it, ad not be able to forget it. sharing this with the world now.
    masala girl recently posted…Channa Masala, Quick & Easy & Just Like Mom’s!My Profile

    • Cora | 9th Apr 16

      Wow – I’m really touched and glad you resonated with this (though not the difficult aspects of it, of course). I really just hope this can be something that more people become aware of and that information can be spread! Thank you <3

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  19. Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar | 10th Apr 16

    Absolutely fascinating post, Cora. It’s so interesting that you perceived yourself as stoic, capable of handling anything, when in fact you were feeling your emotions very deeply and intensely. What a fascinating element of human psychology that we can feel certain emotions without being aware of it. It sounds like the psychologist you have been seeing is very insightful.
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