I’m completing my Gottman Level 2 training right now. Every time I have this opportunity to sit down and get my geek/nerd learn-on, I feel so lucky. Especially because I am such a fan of the Gottman’s work and how it works in a couple’s counseling session. Something that John talks about in the L2 training, which he also talks about in the L1 training, is this idea of meta-emotion. As he describes it, which I think is a great definition, is “how we feel about feelings”.
The first time I ever heard of this concept, it seemed really abstract. How I feel about feelings? What does that even mean?
There are three types of ways one can understand how people feel about feelings:
- Emotion Coaching
- Emotion Dismissing
- Emotion Disapproving
The first, emotion coaching, is the ideal emotional viewpoint. Those who are emotion coaching types, view emotions as learning opportunities. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion. When there is a negative emotion (sadness, anger) it is seen as an opportunity to build intimacy.
With emotion dismissing, the thought is “get over it”. Unpleasant emotions are looked at as choices, so those who see negative emotions from this point, dismiss their partner (or child’s) negative emotions as a choice and something that can easily be overcome. If you can choose the negative emotion, you can also choose to get rid of it.
For those who are emotion disapproving, emotions are seen as extremely negative and damaging. More than just viewing emotions as a choice, they resent the person experiencing the negative emotion, viewing them as weak or needy. When there is a bid for emotional connection and understanding from a partner and the emotion is one that is not accepted or understood, the partner will leave the person to solve it on their own.
Most of the research Dr. John Gottman has done on meta-emotion has been done in regards to how we raise children and teach them about emotions. Obviously though, these behaviors bleed into our romantic relationships. If we are raised to think sadness and anger are not valid emotions, then when our partner is sad about something and they come to us looking for empathy or comfort, and we shame them for not helping themselves – we create attachment injuries and we ultimately teach our partners that we are not in their lives to help them. It’s a negative and toxic pattern. It’s one of the first things couples counselors are taught to look for in ailing relationships.
So, why am I sharing this with you?
I hope you take the opportunity to think about how you feel about emotions, especially the negative ones. If your partner comes to you feeling sad, do you look at them as weak or whiney? Do you feel their sadness is a burden on your day? Or, do you take ownership of their bid for your help and step into your role as a “we” problem solver or a “you” problem solver. Relationships get distilled down simple tricks and methods for “making love last” but at the end of the day, a lot of it is how you feel about how you feel about each other and your relationship.