As Christine Fonseca pointed out on Monday, emotionally intense individuals experience extreme highs and lows. The intensity of these emotional reactions can cause difficulties.
- Depression is a risk for children who experience too many lows without balance or awareness of the temporary nature of emotional responses.
- People who wear their hearts on their sleeves can be vulnerable to manipulation by others.
- Children who cry in school can become the targets of bullies.
- Emotional variability can make relationships challenging.
In addition, the extreme variation between high and low can lead to misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder.
I want to take a moment to reflect on the positive side of emotional intensity. Seeing the challenges posed by my intense emotional reactions is not difficult. It is sometimes harder to see the benefits of emotional intensity.
The biggest advantage to being emotionally sensitive is that positive emotions are stronger. The good times simply are better than for less sensitive people.
The Tool Set:
Awareness of the balance between highs and lows is a valuable tool in learning to manage the variation. Emotionally sensitive individuals react strongly to both positive and negative triggers.
Every person takes pleasure in different things. Knowing our own positive triggers and the positive triggers of the people around us gives us power. We can make choices that increase our own positive experiences.
For example, imagine a teenage girl who consistently responds positively to Celtic rock music. After a bad day at school, she might do better to listen to a Dropkick Murphys album rather than curling up with a novel or watching the tv show all the kids are talking about at school. But her best friend might be better off watching the tv show if she responds strongly to the interaction of the group. A boy who responds to the beauty of nature might benefit from a run in a well-kept park or conservation area and not a game of basketball, but the thrill of a competitive game might be just what another person needs.
Everybody benefits from knowing what makes them feel good and choosing to add more of those activities or experiences to their lives, the emotionally sensitive especially.
In addition to being able to use positive triggers to counter a challenging emotion in the moment, building up a store of memories of extreme joys can establish a base from which to remember that all emotion is transient. During the good moments of our lives, we don’t like to be reminded that the experience is temporary, but we need to remember exactly that in the rough patches. The more intensely we experience the bad times, the harder it is to remember the good times when we are sad or upset. Paying attention to the roller coaster of emotion helps us see the patterns, not just the experience of the moment.
Emotionally intense people can be overwhelmed by emotion. Positive emotion can be exhausting, but it is a very welcome antidote to the intensity of negative emotions. By acknowledging one’s own intensity and cultivating positive emotional experiences, individuals can lower the destructive power of intense negative emotions.
But, cultivating the positive triggers isn’t just a balm for pain. The emotionally sensitive experience happiness with a depth that is of value in and of itself.
If you are emotionally intense, I invite you to join me in seeking out your happiness triggers. The world will be a more wonderful place for it.