Getting in Touch with Emotions

Q: I have a family of seven children, bli ayin hara, and devote a lot of time to their individual needs.

My 16-year-old daughter is quite shy and is feeling isolated at school. She has been taking out her anger over her school situation by losing patience with her 12-year-old brother. She is critical of every small thing he does, and screams at him when she feels he is manhandling their babysister.

When I try to discuss feelings with her, she clams up instantly. Ever since I can remember, certain things have gotten on her nerves, but she can’t get past the present situation to see the source of her emotional reactions. She seems almost plastic in relation to her emotions; it’s difficult to explain. When she says that she is upset, she doesn’t really know why. I can suggest reasons, but it sometimes feels as if I’m feeding her ideas. She lets things go until they build up, and then she has these intense emotional outbursts. She denies being jealous and downplays her eruptions of anger. It’s so hard to help her when she is so closed.

When it comes to devising solutions to her social situation in school, she says that I “just don’t understand.” I want to take her for professional help, but I’m afraid she’ll just keep quiet and it will be a waste of time.

A: Clearly, your daughter has a difficult time getting in touch with her emotions. She might be a perfectionist with definite ideas about what she “should be” feeling. Perhaps this perfectionism is stopping her from dealing with the negative emotions people experience from time to time. This is most problematic if her feelings are being projected onto her younger brother, causing him to become victim to these misdirected negative emotions. Her shyness, also, may be due to a fear of saying the wrong thing — another example of possible perfectionism.

As your attempts to help her deal with her feelings have met with limited success, it is an excellent idea to take her for professional help. Therapists are trained in various modalities to facilitate a person’s being in touch with her emotions. A skilled psychotherapist can use therapeutic games for children who do not feel comfortable sharing thoughts and emotions. Bibliotherapy is one technique used, where therapist and client use book-reading in order to elicit feelings experienced in the story. A therapist can utilize “mutual storytelling,” by the therapist disclosing personal stories (which touch upon universal issues of being disappointed in others, or angry) to help the child share her feelings.

There are times other modalities have proven very helpful in connecting clients with their emotions. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) helps clients be in touch with past negative experiences that have had a great impact on their lives. Through specific procedures, clients re-envision these experiences and take away the “toxicity” which has been causing so much emotional pain. After better understanding parts of themselves, they can more properly re-frame these experiences as a springboard to emotional growth.

Emotional regulation is a necessary acquisition in the process of becoming a balanced adult. A person needs to first be aware of what she is feeling in order to avoid outbursts of frustration and anger like those your daughter is exhibiting. A competent therapist can also assist with socialization skill training and help coach your daughter in handling social situations in school.

Hatzlachah in this most worthy endeavor!