Appropriate emotions

I've written before about how sometimes children coming out of difficult living situations have learned to disassociate from what they are feeling. It can mean some odd looking behavior... laughing at something that is not funny or not crying when they are obviously hurt. It is survival behavior that allows them to function in hard circumstances, but it is not healthy and not appropriate in a family setting.

This has been true for all of my children who were adopted, each with varying degrees of impact. But with H., the continued absence of genuine sadness has been, well, odd. She is a naturally cheerful and positive child, so her overall good nature doesn't surprise me, but life doesn't always go her way. Occasionally she will do something that gets her in trouble, or she will not get something she wants, or any of the other small disappointments that come in life. When this happens, she will look a bit sad, but then agreeably go along with whatever comes next. This is in stark contrast to every other child living in this house. I don't know if I live in a more tearful house than others, but crying from a child because of hurt or disappointment or just whatever is a normal part of the day. I don't think I've ever had a day without tears of some sort since I became a parent.

That is why I am heartened by what happened this morning. I'm not happy that the event occurred, but I am happy for the reaction. H. had gone down the front basement stairs to get one of the games that we keep down there. Through a series of events that I still don't quite understand, she believed that the door at the top of the stairway was locked. (It can't lock, so there was never any real danger of it happening, just the perceived danger.) D. let her out once he understood why she was upset and brought her to me and explained what had happened. I could tell she was shaken up so had her come over so I could give her a hug. Once I had wrapped my arms around her she started to cry. Real crying. She was scared and she reacted to that fear in an appropriate way and experienced comfort from her mother as a result.

I am sad that she was scared, but at the same time I was so happy that she felt safe enough at last to express that emotion and not stuff it down inside of her. It was a huge step toward emotional healing.


LisaE. said…
It's a strange thing. They laugh when you give them bad news or stare off into space. We had to tell Jasmine that it was ok to cry about missing her friends. They get told so many things from others about having to be good and happy. I remember our guide telling her she had to be good for us. The guide also told Jasmine to not be sad and not cause us any trouble. We had to clarify that before we came home. They take all those things to heart. Happy for H's healing.
Owlhaven said…
One of mine has such a tough time even identifying her emotions. I think she'd rather not go there, so she just denies her emotions exist. Then of course they squirt out sideways in anger and tough behavior. We're working on naming emotions, and she literall needs me to name several different ways she might be feeling, most of which she denies. But I think me naming ways she might be feeling does sometimes help clarify things in her head a bit.
thecurryseven said…
Mary - I completely understand the child who can't even identify emotions. We have one like that here as well. We also do a lot of naming for him (though often it's the same thing... NO I DON'T!) And talking about what other people must be feeling and looking at pictures of people and talking about what they must be feeling, etc., etc. It's like living in the Ungame. (A game I particularly detested as a child.) It's hard.

Lisa - I also wonder about what was told to H. before (and during) our adoption of her. I really wished I was travelling with a Mandarin speaker so that I could get an unvarnished translation sometimes. We've also had many of the "you can be sad and we'll still love you and you will still be part of our family" discussions.


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