Beyond Reflecting Feelings

What happens after reflecting feelings?

The answer to that question depends upon many things. To name a few:

  • the nature of the relationship
  • the age of the person
  • the intensity of the feelings
  • the reasonableness of the feelings

Clearly with infants and babies, we simply continue to meet their needs. Meeting their needs is reflecting their feelings and caring for them all rolled into one package.

As toddlerhood commences, we reflect their Big Feelings and try to help them cope with the feelings by distracting them or comforting them. Boundaries are involved if they are lashing out violently–we protect people and possessions either by using a bear hug or having them take a break.

When they are preschoolers and distraction is less successful, we reflect their Big Feelings and if their reaction doesn’t abate (and we’ve looked for other causes of the meltdown like tired, hungry, overstimulated), then we use boundaries. We explain that we know how they feel, but that they cannot use their feelings to justify holding people hostage to them. We enforce a time out and taking a break from being around people.

With teens and adults we reflect feelings and suggest solutions and then use boundaries. Big Feelings do not justify bad behavior. I can understand WHY someone did something while not excusing their irritability or selfishness or hatefulness or entitlement. I use boundaries to minimize the impact of their bad behavior on me and on others.

Reflecting feelings is valuable, but we cannot always stop there. Often we have to move on to holding people accountable through boundaries.

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