Have you ever been so mad that you flew into a rage and screamed your head off into your pillow or while driving in your car? And then, inexplicably, you started bawling? Unbeknownst to you, you experienced a phenomenon that I call Root Beer Feelings(RBF’s).
Savannah, 13, was upset after her friend ditched her for the popular group. When I asked her how she felt about it, all she could come up with was angry. I pushed her to go a little deeper, to check in with herself about what other feelings might be under the anger, and that’s when she started crying.
“I have been feeling so lonely since she left me. It hurt my feelings because I had stood up for her earlier this year, and now I feel so betrayed.”
The Root Beer metaphor helps kids understand their emotions at a different level. Let me explain. When you pour a can of root beer into a mug, you get some foam on the top, and if you keep pouring, it eventually spills over and makes a mess. People pour the soda because they want to drink the root beer, not the foam, so the actual soda on the bottom of the glass is the most important thing.
The same goes for our emotions. The foam represents the anger family of feelings: mad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, pissed off. These aren’t bad feelings; they are just emotions. But if you foam on people, i.e. express your anger at them, that is what makes messes in relationships.
But underneath our angry feelings there are always other more important and causative feelings: hurt, sad, disappointed, disrespected, worried, embarrassed, scared, betrayed, lonely etc. These RBF’s are what we feel first, and the anger is a reaction to feeling these. But if you can become aware of your RBF’s in that moment, and express those in healthy ways, the anger melts away. It’s NOT about the anger! So when I see girls in my counseling practice whose parents have labelled them as being very angry, I don’t focus much time or energy on the anger, I go right for their RBF’s. Sometimes people need to blow off some steam or tension in order to slow down enough to get to the deeper feelings, and that’s certainly okay. So exercising, running, or hitting a punching bag can serve that purpose, but it’s not enough. I want girls to then spend some time journalling, drawing, dancing, or talking about their RBF’s in order to release them and to process through them. That is how to help girls to not become so overwhelmed with built up emotions that they end up using destructive ways to manage them: cutting, alcohol and drugs, sex.
At a recent middle school girl retreat I facilitated, I had every girl think back to the last time they were really mad at a friend, a teacher, a sibling, or a friend. I then had them figure out what their RBF’s were in that moment, and they were all able to do so. It’s great practice for them to heighten their awareness about what is going on inside of them, and then to teach them the skills to effectively deal with all of their emotions. Girls undergoing the transformative and challenging times during adolescence will have lots of feelings to process through. The RBF metaphor will be a great tool for their toolbox.
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