When you take a child to Disney World for the first time, it’s your job to go with the child on rides that the child finds challenging. When you become a parent, and bring a child into the physical world, you also bring the child into the world of emotion. Just as you would accompany a child physically at Disney World, it is your job to accompany the child emotionally on its roller-coaster through Emotion World.
For your child to be secure, you must share what the child is experiencing. For the first few months, that means every emotion. Around 18 months, you can back off a bit, and share just the emotions that remain challenging for the child.As you accompany the child through Emotion World, he or she learns that feelings – even intense ones – are endurable. We have feelings for a reason. Feelings give us information. We need to take that information in, and not resist it. By sharing emotional experiences, your child learns to label emotions, to “contain” emotion. and to naturally regulate emotion.
Most anxious fliers will recognize that, on their early trips through Emotional World, they were on their own. They were not adequately accompanied. As a result, benign emotions are seen as dangerous. And reglation of emotions, instead of developing naturally, does not develop at all. This leaves the person able to control emotions only by controlling everything that could cause an emotion.
When control of a situation is not possible, the person needs to be able to escape the situation. If escape is not readily available, anxiety arises because the person knows that if they start to panic, there is nothing they can do.
When a parent won’t – or can’t – accompany a child through Emotion World, the child doesn’t learn what emotions mean. Though, arousal is merely a signal to pay attention. the unaccompanied child becomes an adult who believes arousal means danger. When the mother will not accompany her child through Emotion World, what is the child to think? Perhaps, “Am I crazy? Am I bad? Is this dangerous? If I can’t get out of Emotion World, what will happen? What if it is too much for me? Will I have a heart attack, or suffocate, or go crazy?”
Dr. James Masterson, M.D., taught those who studied with him that the cause of personality disorder is the emotionally unavailable mother. For a chile, being abandoned in Emotion World is devastating. But overreaction to emotion, as though the emotion signifies the end of the world, can make any and all arousal seem threatening.
Having not been accompanied through Emotion World as a child, the significance of arousal remains unclear to the adult who, when trying to fly, equates arousal with fear, and fear with mortal danger.