What is your family’s emotional climate in this time of transition? By Magdalini Agrafioti, M.A, Couples and Family Counselor
The children’s holidays are coming to end and as the school starts, we all get back to “normal” life.
Depending on your circumstances and personalities in the family, you make the transition smoothly, somewhat smoothly, not so smoothly, or overwhelmed by tension or stress.
The question arises: how do you and your family members experience the emotional climate?
By emotional climate I mean the prevalent emotions that the family members experience as they relate to each other. To give an example of how we discern the emotional climate, when you return home and you are just about to turn your keys and open the entrance door what is your body telling you about what you expect in terms of how you relate to each other at this time? Do you anticipate to meet your family with joy? Do you expect you will be greeted with warmly and feel welcomed? Do you have a sense that there is an overall happy anticipation about school starting or you notice and experience an overall nervousness and tension? Your expectations as what will feel like when you enter your home reveals the overall emotional climate or atmosphere. We are social brains, the neuroscientists say, we are “wired” so that we feel each others emotions.
And who in your family exerts the most influence in the emotional climate? If you smile, I smile, if you yell at me, I get defensive. Usually, it is the one who expresses her/his emotions stronger, especially negative emotions like anger, annoyance, frustration, disappointment and overall discontent.
Now that you have put words into your emotional atmosphere what can you do with that?
Tips to improve the emotional climate:
Observe who has the stronger influence.
- If it is you, are you willing to stop and acknowledge it? You may have good reasons for your negativity, you probably do not find the cooperation you want. Give yourself empathy first. Take a few breaths. Observe yourself as if you are in front of a mirror. Try to guess what the others see as your expression. How do you sound to yourself? Perhaps, if you are frustrated, you sound as if you give orders even though that’s not your intention. Would you cooperate if someone talk to you that way?
As a corrective method you may acknowledge it to your family members: “I notice I yell at you and you may think I am trying to put you under my thumb. That’s not what I mean, I am overwhelmed with a big list to do things. I want you to share with me some of the tasks, you will help me to calm down”. It is not a guarantee you will get a positive response, but at least you made a shift in the emotional climate… And you just had the power to make that shift.
- If it is someone else in the family that defines the emotional climate:
Again start with you: Pause and listen what you feel and think right now. Take again a few breaths. These two actions helps distancing yourself not from the person but from the negative influence. What I am asking you to do next is counter-intuitive: Try to bypass the behavior and make a guess about what he/she really wants. What need of the child is not being met? For example,
Finally see you are willing to try this small experiment: introduce the idea of climate or atmosphere in words most suitable to you, to your family members:
Here are some suggestions: “what is happening between us right now?” you may get staring looks. Or simply state your needs. If the climate is a little chaotic, your need may be for some order and structure. You may say “I want not to be so confused and lost what to do. I prefer to be relaxed and productive. Can we help me with that by doing some chores?” Be prepared to hear all kind of remarks that may not please you. Whenever we try to make changes, the members feel a discomfort and express it by “mean remarks”.
In the next article I will bring some examples as to how to get “wired” on the needs level.
Magdalini Agrafioti, M.A in Counseling, is a Registered Member of the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Has been practicing individual, couples and family counselling for many years. Contact: 647 460 5085