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One of the things we learn as recovering addicts is just how harmful it can be to deny and suppress our feelings. The more we avoid feeling our difficult emotions, the harder they become to deal with, and we develop coping mechanisms that often coincide with, or develop into, addictive patterns. Many of us feel that our addictions grew out of our inability to handle our emotions and to express them. For those of us with children, the last thing we want is to pass on our unhealthy habits and patterns to them. We want to help them prevent addiction and mental illness in their own lives as much as we possibly can, in part by helping them learn about their emotions and how to cope with them. How can we teach our children to express their feelings?

 Perhaps the most important thing we can pass onto our children is the idea of embracing and honoring all of our emotions, including the difficult, painful, uncomfortable ones. When we judge our emotions as good or bad, and then accept or reject them accordingly, we’re sending our hearts and minds a strong, clear message that we are unable to cope with our pain. We avoid our sadness, grief, anger, fear, and shame. We suppress them, block them out and try to forget them. We don’t express them, to ourselves or to others. This causes our emotions to fester, grow worse and become even more debilitating until eventually we become paralyzed by them. All along, many of us have been using our drugs of choice to numb ourselves from our feelings and to self-medicate from our pain. If we had chosen instead to honor our emotions, we might have had a completely different relationship with our emotions, and perhaps never developed addictive patterns in response.

We want to teach our children that emotions are neither good nor bad, they are complex and they make us think and feel different things, all of which we are strong enough to handle. We can process them. We can embrace them and give ourselves a safe space to feel them. We can honor ourselves and all of our experiences, feeling gratitude for all the emotions that make up our life story. We can talk about our feelings with someone we trust. We can write about them, make art about them, or sing about them. We can cry if we need to. We can talk about how someone has hurt our feelings or angered us. We can express that we’re afraid if we need to, and none of our difficult emotions make us bad people, shameful, or weak. Our emotions are part of who we are, and learning how to express them makes us stronger.

Riverside Recovery is committed to helping you uncover the issues fueling your addictions. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops, and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.