I am trying to learn how to stop feeling my children’s feelings. Today at the end of a challenging basketball game, which our side lost, I was working vigilantly to bear witness to my daughter’s frustration without feeling it. When I mentioned that I was trying to stop feeling my daughter’s feelings to another mother, she said: “Good luck- let me know how that works for you…” I am not alone in this strange space, of allowing what other people feel to saturate you. It is a strange zone- this intense emotional sharing that happens in intimate connections.
Experiencing other people’s feelings is a high form of love known as compassion. Feeling responsible to take care of other people’s feelings is a common form of codependence. Between mothers and children it is a dance between these places that can go on for so long, that the experience of feeling other people’s feelings in place of your own takes on an odd normalcy. By the time your children hit their teen age years, they need space and distance from the people who have been in the midst of their experience.
I don’t want to cut off the experience by hardening myself to their feelings, although sometimes it is the only way out. I want to lean closer to the practice of compassion, where I can leave my heart open to their pains and challenges and simply give up the need to do anything to fix it. This is surprisingly more complex than it sounds. A spiritual teacher once told me that letting go is just the space of not holding. You open your hands.
I resist the empty-handedness the most. Eventually, I will realize that their feelings have never been mine to hold and I will have the courage to feel the space that is inside me. Amazing how many ways we resist feeling our own feelings.