At our house, it’s ok to be angry

This is an edited version of a post originally published on Respectfully Connected

When I was growing up, my parents didn’t allow me to express any emotion that they saw as unacceptable. There is research that says that humans have six basic emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust and fear. Of course, contradictory theories exist, but this post is not about theories of emotion. It’s about the validity of all emotions.

For my parents, unacceptable emotions were the ones that people see as negative: sadness, anger, disgust, and even fear. It was unacceptable for me to express any of these emotions in front of my parents. As a result, I learned how to effectively fake happiness to be acceptable. That really didn’t do me any favours.

As a parent, I want my son to grow up being happy. In one way, it would be amazing if he never experienced anything that led to feeling sadness, anger or fear. On the other hand, the reality is that no one can be happy all the time, and we probably shouldn’t be either.

There seems to be a societal construct that happiness is better than any other emotion. But, can we really strive for happiness all the time? If we lived in a perpetual state of happiness, then happiness probably wouldn’t feel as good as it does.

So, I have never told my son to go to his room until he cheers up. He is allowed to express whichever emotion he is feeling. Whenever possible, I acknowledge how he is feeling. I want him to know that even though some emotions – such as anger or fear – are not pleasant physical experiences, they’re still valid and acceptable. There are times where I ask him whether he needs some space to work through his feelings. Sometimes, he needs that space, and at other times he doesn’t want space. Rather, he wants to know that what he is feeling is ok, and it will not last forever.

Allowing my son to express his emotions means that we can find ways of expressing those emotions constructively. That includes the emotions that people often perceive as negative. We have been able to have some meaningful conversations about what to do when we feel things. For example, it’s ok for my son to express his anger by shouting. We’re allowed to shout in our house, but we don’t express anger by hitting, kicking or being mean to each other. We can figure out ways of dealing with our emotions constructively. We can use anger as motivation to do things differently. By focusing on each emotion as we experience them, we can work together to figure out what to do about them, rather than pretend they don’t exist.

So, at our house, it’s ok to be angry, scared, sad, or any other feeling – because all of those feelings are equally valuable parts of our own experience.