I’ve been an emotional person for as long as I can remember.
I’m more easily drawn to tears than others. When I feel a strong emotion, whether it’s anger, sadness, frustration, jealousy, disappointment, or even happiness, it all seems to flood out my eyes.
I learned early growing up that many view tears as a sign of weakness.
Or an attempt at manipulation.
At best, they are seen by most as an uncomfortable annoyance which should be kept private.
I was a Theatre major in college, and while my ability to feel deeply was an asset on stage, I got the feeling there were people who didn’t take me seriously because of my tendency to be overwhelmed by my own emotions at times.
So I learned to shut down and distance myself from others. I tried to put up a front and keep my emotions hidden behind it.
I especially learned to hold back my emotions in romantic relationships. Too many of them ended when the other person felt they had to reciprocate the deep emotions I felt for them, and because they didn’t know how to respond to my emotional intensity.
My current partner has come a long way in helping me learn to accept this part of myself. When I become overwhelmed by emotion, he doesn’t take an emotional step back from me. He doesn’t try to fix it. He doesn’t shame me or minimize my experience. He just holds me and tells me it’s okay.
Having the permission to feel what I’m feeling to the fullest extent helps me to purge it. Feeling bad about feeling bad only makes things worse. The more I try to stop myself from crying, the more the tears well up despite my efforts. But if I allow myself to sob, I can usually get past it pretty quickly.
My therapist has me working on a workbook surrounding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I can’t bring myself to use the acronym because CBT means something else entirely to me) exercises.
Right now, I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Because it seems like those exercises want me to rationalize away my emotions like I used to.
I’m supposed to analyze moments of emotional intensity, identify the thoughts behind them, and then eventually stop thinking those thoughts.
So it seems like the end game is no longer having those highly emotional moments.
And I’m not sure how I feel about that I guess.
As much as they are a social annoyance at times, I’ve always viewed my ability to feel deeply as an asset of my humanity and capacity for empathy.
The more I think about it, I’d rather learn tools for working through intense emotions rather than tools which would try to stop them from happening.
Because even if I tell myself not to worry or be anxious or upset, my circumstances aren’t changing. Life is difficult sometimes. And I should be able to respond emotionally to my circumstances.
I think some people just have a wider range of emotional response. My pendulum may swing higher than yours. But why should I be punished by society for that?
Part of me wishes there were better ways to express and work through those emotions without feeling I’m supposed to short-circuit them.
Because that just brings up all these gross feelings of anxiety and shame. Like I’m a failure for feeling.
I do wish I didn’t get so completely overwhelmed by my emotions. But I don’t want to feel as if I can’t ever have strong emotions again because that’s not practical.
Life is always going to have hard, stressful moments, and I think we’re too emotionally shut-down in the West already.
Sometimes there aren’t really even any strong thoughts associated with the emotion I’m feeling. There’s just a ball of emotion in my chest and it has to get out somehow. In those moments, I don’t want to be upset, but it’s just there.
To me, putting a positive spin on my thoughts feels like denying my experiences in a way. There’s a balance between wallowing in self-pity and not allowing oneself to ever think a negative thought. I don’t really think it’s healthy to try to deny negative emotions all the time because they can serve an important purpose.
I don’t want my life to be run by emotions all the time. But is it possible some people just do really have higher emotional variability, and that it’s healthier for me to have a good cry sometimes instead of trying to convince myself that everything is okay?
One thought on “What to Do When You Feel Too Much”
“The more I think about it, I’d rather learn tools for working through intense emotions rather than tools which would try to stop them from happening.”
Trying to stop them from happening is an invalidation of your own experience, and invalidating anyone’s experience, even (especially?) one’s own is not a decent or compassionate thing to do. (Nor is it at all helpful.)