Do you know about the magic of “once-removed”?
Children need to feel their vulnerable feelings—sadness, loneliness, longing, loss—in order to mature. In fact, emotion is the engine of maturation.
Children don’t get to choose which feelings they feel: either they feel them (all) or they don’t feel them (at all). The vulnerable ones are the hardest to feel, so those are the ones that often lead the brain to essentially say “Enough! No more feelings!”
Once this happens children don’t feel much: they don’t feel empty but they don’t feel full either; no sadness but neither any joy. This shutdown of feeling leads to developmental arrest; kids get stuck which shows up in many ways: from impulsiveness to lack of empathy, from addiction to bullying.
But! the magic of once-removed helps make those difficult emotions a little bit easier to tolerate. Once-removed is just what it sounds like: intense feelings with a little of the edge taken off, making them easier to bear.
When our children can feel heartbroken while reading The Yearling, can cry while watching “Wonder” or can be the “dead grandma” while playing they experience crucial emotions in a form that is a little easier to tolerate because there is a little space. The important work of emotion still gets done and our children’s brains are less likely to shut down.
In our straightforward, literal, highly therapized culture we often make the mistake of thinking that we need to go right for the high intensity, the heart of the matter, the traumatic event, the straight-talk, the death, the adoption or the divorce head-on, with straight-talk. Whereas, truly, children are much more likely to stay open when we touch things lightly, obliquely, once-removed…