Complex Feelings

“I feel silly!” This was my 8-year-old’s exclamation after just finishing the final pages of her Harry Potter book.

“What do you mean – silly?” I ask.

“Well…I feel super happy because I loved it, but also sad because it’s over and I don’t have the next book.”

In unison, me, my husband and our 5-year-old all sing the chorus of Kasey Musgraves’ hit song Happy and Sad (at the same time). She rolls her eyes, only slightly annoyed at us, and giggles.

Have you ever felt happy and sad simultaneously?

What about….full of joy and also heartbroken?

Have you shed happy, grateful tears while also feeling bereaved?

Furious and inspired? Exhausted and satisfied? Depleted yet restored?

It is hard to explain how this feels – holding two very different emotional experiences simultaneously. In the vocabulary of an 8-year-old, “silly” describes it rather well.

How can such seemingly opposing feelings coexist?

We have such a vast, beautiful, complex, and intricate emotional landscape after all. The more open and willing we are to entertain these varying emotional states, the deeper our capacity to hold them all…at the same time.

Mindfulness literature often refers to the “window of tolerance” when discussing these experiences.  In neuroscience, the window of tolerance is the degree to which we are able to access and “tolerate” various emotions without shutting down or becoming overwhelmed. Did you know - Our emotional window of tolerance widens with mindfulness practice? It also widens with emotionally attuned experiences with other caring people in our lives.

Particularly in the lives of children, attachment figures are the primary people in a position to reflect and respond empathetically to the big, complex feelings of kids. This is a tall order for parents and caregivers, and while it is not one to take lightly, it is also not one we can aspire to “do perfectly”. (Is there such a thing?) Rather, it is helpful to keep in mind as we have conversations with our kids about their BIG feelings. We are in a position to normalize our kids’ feelings. We can value their feelings, even the not-so-fun ones to feel. We can validate them. We can acknowledge their presence, power, and potential. These conversations make the wide range of feelings less scary to encounter and, hopefully, more tolerable.

The next time you feel “happy and sad at the same time”, talk to your child about it! Be a model by sharing your complex feelings and holding them together. Describe what it feels like when you feel two very different ways. Help children to stretch emotionally and develop their capacity to feel without being overwhelmed. And have fun with it – invite them to MOVE the way that feeling feels in their body, draw or color it.

If you are interested in exploring what it is like to embody your emotions through movement in a fun, safe atmosphere, check out the next Qoya series this November 2019.



Ballinger, J., & Barrio Minton, C. A. (2012). The integration of mindfulness-based practices and counselor relational qualities. Session presented at SACES Conference: Savannah, GA.

Siegal, D. (2012). Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology: An integrative handbook of the mind. New York: Mind Your Brain, Inc.