This is part 2 of our conversation with Natalie. Read Part 1 here.
Sage Moon: Why are you passionate about emotional awareness? How can it change our lives?
Natalie Christensen: I was a very observant child and tried to make sense of the world. I felt adults did not give me enough information. It felt like they would give me vague answers and I didn't enjoy this feeling. I felt frustration and anger because I wasn't getting it all. I think I was wanting to know the emotional landscape. "I understand we have to hurry because we are going to be late, but what is this vibe I am feeling, why is everybody freaking out?"
Nobody could answer that for me because they didn't have that skillset.
Something tragic happened to me when I was 7. I was abducted on my way home from school and then dropped back off. There was a huge amount of emotion in my family around that event and I understood two things. My parents can keep me safe, keep it from happening again, accompany to and from school, they can care for me. But in the emotional arena, I am on my own with these fears. My parents can't stop me from feeling afraid.
I decided to take responsibility for my emotions. I realized that I could have all the external circumstances managed and cared for but that there was this fear landscape that didn't change what was going on inside.
I developed this placid lake exterior. I felt that if I wasn't upset, everybody else would be less upset. I was so uncomfortable with being the one this happened to and my parents being upset, that I developed this superpower "I will just choose to never be upset, then I will be able to control their emotions". This was a juvenile thought but most of us feel that we can control someone else's emotional experience.
That strategy denied me emotional support. I didn't give them the opportunity to connect with me around the fears I had. And our community didn't give my parents the support or space they needed to express their anger and sadness. Their friends would say: "Don't worry, this will never happen again" or "It's not your fault, you are good parents."
When I first partnered with Nathan, we struggled with parenting his two young daughters and knew there had to be a better way than yelling and time outs. It was not working and was upsetting to everyone involved.
When we stumbled upon these teachings about emotions, it felt like a fog lifted. There was finally a way to talk about feelings and get connection around feelings. I now can perceive the entire field of emotions around a mundane scene. When I see a mother telling her son he cannot have a cookie and the son expressing strong emotions, I know it's not really about the cookie, it's about all the other emotions that haven't been heard. The cookie is just an opportunity for these emotions to come out. If the mother can pause and see this as a good thing, healing and connection can take place, instead of avoidance, blame and anger.
I'm still rewiring my own brain around feelings. I am still working on my tendency to protect everyone in my family from having emotions.
It's uncomfortable on so many levels, but incredibly healing and essential to do this work. It brings meaning to our lives so we can thrive. Not because our lives are perfect, but because we embrace the messiness and beauty of being human.
Natalie Christensen is a life + parenting coach, writer, illustrator, and mother living in Missoula, Montana. She is co-founder of The Center for Emotional Education and co-creator of Feeleez, a line of tools that support the emotional development of children. She also co-teaches Annapurna Mother, a course with Carrie-Anne Moss. Contact her at natalie@