living with strong emotions

I have big feelings. By that I mean, my emotions frequently overpower me; I’m always at the superlative end of the emotional spectrum. Enraged, distraught, overjoyed, overwhelmed.

This isn’t a particularly popular trait. Perhaps it’s a British thing – a lingering hangover from those cheery Victorian folk, all stiff upper lip and saucy table legs – but strong emotions are still seen as the hallmark of the weak, irrational & immature.
While the latter might sometimes be true, I dispute the other two: it takes a wily sailor to stay on course through fierce emotional storms. You learn an awful lot.

Emotions are, after all, entirely outside of our control – the result of our brain chemistry and childhood experience. Whether the reason some of us feel them more greatly is physical – more agents released, for example – or psychological – we notice their effects more – is really an arbitrary distinction. They are real, & to judge someone for feeling overwhelmed by emotion is not all that dissimilar to judging a diabetic for overreacting to ‘a bit of sugar’.

It’s like living with the colour saturation set too high; vibrant and beautiful, but lacking in quiet subtlety. How do you live like this?
Joyfully. Knowing that you will feel every delight so much more deeply than many others.
Despairingly, feeling sadness that gnaws at your soul with dully pointed teeth.
& occasionally hazily, when you’re brain clinks into place, you’ve had a gin, or perhaps just the right prescription medication.

There are times when I envy the people whose emotions don’t go to 11. R tends to live around a steady 4-5, and he’s generally level, cheerful and calm because of it. I ricochet from glee to despondency in the space of an afternoon, needing a nap to recover, and it doesn’t seem all that fair, to be honest. We don’t get to choose how our brains work. If we could – if we could medicate for over-emotion – there are days when I would happily do so. I think I’d trade all the highs, all the spontaeous songs about kittens & victory-laps in response to a twitter-like, just to skip the times when the world looks so bleak.
I’m getting better at handling it, the older I get, and perhaps my emotions are mellowing a little. But still, if such a drug were there, I think I’d be tempted.

I know I’m not alone. Us over-emotionals tend to flock together in life; I can easily know somebody shares the affliction by their response to my story about crying at Supermarket Sweep. It’s only when I talk to other people who get it that I really appreciate the gift of this problem: the magic of empathy, the dizzy depths of love. & then I think about history’s other big emotional types – Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath, Sukie the chef in Gilmore Girls – and realise it’s no bad team to be on.  Normal is overrated. Who wants every day to feel the same?

So, for anyone reading this who suffers the same, here are my top tips for living with big emotions.

  1. Cathartic playlists. Make extremely emotional playlists to suit your common feeling offenders – anger, sadness, joy, inappropriate terror – and play them loudly on car journeys whilst singing along. Play them whilst hoovering. Dance around your living room until you break a sweat.
  2. Be honest about it. Accepting that you have big emotions and being able to talk about this aspect of yourself is surprisingly liberating. Trying to hide and suppress your emotions just leads to even more emotions, like shame, despondency and frustration.
  3.  Don’t act in haste. When your emotions take over it’s easy to feel certain that something is imperative to say or do. Hold back, and wait for your feelings to pass. If it’s the right course of action, you’ll still feel it once the tidal wave subsides.
  4. Point & laugh. Often our big emotions are disproportinate and really quite funny, once we stop to think about it. ‘I’m really sad right now because I think Mark Hamill might have muted my friend on Twitter‘ was perhaps not quite such a big deal, now I look back on it. ‘I stood on a snail yesterday and I’m still not totally over it‘ might, on reflection, be one of the funniest things I ever said.
  5. Art therapy. Sod the mindful colouring books – you know what really helps me? Drawing spiteful pictures of people I hate. I give them spiders in their armpits and and pigs trotters and sacks labelled ‘grudges’ and ‘bad ideas’. It is neither mature nor particularly clever, but it’s better than two hours of bitchy conversation for getting all that anger and hurt out, and this way I can turn the page and let it go.
  6. Take a nap. Living with big emotions is exhausting, and just like toddlers, when we’re tired it tends to be harder to emotionally regulate. Cocooning yourself in a duvet and giving your brain permission to switch off is sometimes the kindest thing you can do for yourself. The world often seems much more manageable again when you wake up refreshed – and if it doesn’t, you can always just roll over and opt out some more. ?

Do you have big emotions? Got any hilarious examples or brilliant solutions to share? Comments make me SUPERLATIVELY happy! 

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  • Paula Solar

  • December 30, 2016

The worst part about this, I mean for me, is not being understood. It makes me feel so lonely. I have all these feelings and I need a hug or a pat in the back or a kiss on the cheek… and people think I’m just messing around or being a pain in the ass. So I always end up like Bridget Jones in that scene where she sings “All by myself”, remember?

  • Kate Hansord

  • August 09, 2016

No-one has ever put into words how I feel like you have in this post. Big emotions, nail on the head. I’m so so glad I’m not alone in it, it’s so hard sometimes not to punish myself for being like this when my partner is also a calm 4 ALL THE TIME!! I know it wouldn’t work if we were the same – my mum often tells me how lucky I am because you couldn’t have 2 of me in a relationship, thanks mum – but I do envy his ability to let things wash over him. On the other hand he says I make him experience life more fully, whether up or down & he’s grateful for that, maybe I am lucky ? I am going to come back to this when big emotions hit in the future & I know it’ll help so thank you. Kate x

  • Lindsay Eryn

  • May 02, 2016

Same. Here.
My husband is on the opposite end of the spectrum, and we often clash like the Titanic on an iceberg. Disastrously.

I’ve started going to counseling, actually, not because big emotions are bad, but because I can’t always handle them by myself. Talking them out and winnowing down my thoughts into the Facts and Feelings columns helps me see where I might be giving into emotions when I don’t have to. Honestly, I also hope to learn how to better regulate my negative emotions. I’m in a strange place right now of trying to figure out where I need to place boundaries around myself so I don’t hurt others but also standing up for myself and not ignoring my feelings or allowing them to be invalidated by others.

One thing I know for sure, having big feelings leads to big compassion, but often leads to helping others. Hurting people need sympathy and empathy and a listening ear so dang much, and that’s where people like us can really help. It’s not always fun to have deep emotions that carry me away, but if it moves me to help and heal others, it’s worth it. I’m actually planning on writing about all of this soon! Thanks for the nudge!

  • Polly Rowan

  • April 29, 2016

Oh gosh I’m so one of these people too! I need to learn to not open my mouth when I’m feeling super strong feelings sometimes, I often end up saying things I regret when I’ve calmed down. I’m such an anxious person it’s ridiculous! But I think it does have its positivities too… I find I’m way more enthusiastic about things than some people which I think is a great thing! I also think that us emotional types have a lot of love to give 🙂

  • Nikki Stark

  • April 28, 2016

The last time I cried I was watching fixer upper on youtube! If I’m in the right mood I will cry at almost anything. My other half is totally bewildered he really doesn’t do emotion at all, I honestly don’t know what it would take to set him off, but a LOT more than just a really really pretty shop and some folk music.

  • Darragh Graham

  • April 27, 2016

It takes me a really long time to get over accidentally stepping on small creatures too! I can still remember vividly a time when I was walking along the sidewalk crushing fallen leaves and *almost* stomped on a toad in my path.

  • runwiki

  • April 22, 2016

I’m feeling the “I can relate” emotion at an 11 after I reading this. I just love the tips you provided. I use Art Therapy quite often and for me running is another form of therapy.

  • Erin Ramsay

  • April 22, 2016

Emotions are an amazing phenomenon, they bring so much good but can be so hard too. I really appreciated reading your thoughts as well as your ideas to harness and focus these big emotions. Thank you for sharing.

  • Sara Tasker

  • April 22, 2016

Yes! Send em over, and I’ll argue them into submission :D. It is hard, and so so exhausting. I’m actually slightly better these days, after pregnancy, perhaps – but the tiredness never leaves! 🙁

  • Sara Tasker

  • April 22, 2016

Ah! Thanks Erin – I actually have a couple of friends with a diagnosis of BPD so I know about the inclusion of the emotional strength on the diagnostic criteria (& the whole separate can of worms of ‘is it even a diagnosis any more?’). This only strengthens my belief that we all feel emotions at different levels – because it’s medically accepted in the case of things like BPD! It’s so frustrating that our minds are the one part of our body we treat without ever having them physically examined. I hope science catches up soon and we can start understanding how we work with a more specific approach 🙂

  • Sara Tasker

  • April 22, 2016

Hahaha! Perhaps we should gather our menfolk together to form some sort of ‘hyper emotional partner support group’? Only they don’t need it because THEY FEEL FINE, ALL THE FREAKING TIME. It’s so unfair. I like your phrasing – ‘exhausted, but have lived every second’ – that’s a really nice way of phrasing it. and FYI you do hide it well – I’d have assumed you had it all under control! xx

  • Sara Tasker

  • April 22, 2016

Damn… I relate to every single word of this. Especially the exhaustion. For ages I thought I had to have some sort of fatigue syndrome or perhaps an adrenal problem, until I realised how much daily energy I expend just riding the waves of my emotional extremes. So pleased you survived the spreadsheet and it did not in fact end your life. Sounds like it was touch and go 😉 xx

  • Sara Tasker

  • April 22, 2016

Neil! I always smile so much when you pop up in my comments 🙂

  • Peta

  • April 21, 2016

Oh yes, complete overwhelming huge yeses. I try to suppress emotions and then they all come tumbling out in a snot ridden moment at 3 am on my living room floor with my cat clutched to my chest. He never quite knows what’s going on… I must be such a difficult cat mum to live with at times. Thank you for this fabulous post that I am sure makes every one who reads it feel a little more ‘normal’.

  • Maria

  • April 20, 2016

Yes, yes and yes. Really great to know I am not the only one who can go from tears of joy to tears of despair in mere minutes… It’s exhausting and that can be hard to explain to people who don’t have all the feels. Maybe I’ll just direct them to this post from now on!

  • Amanda @ Rhyme & Ribbons

  • April 19, 2016

It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one. My other half says that he doesn’t wish that I was less emotional, but he does wish he could take about 5% of the things I feel upon himself instead. I’ve just always felt the world really strongly and if you see a random girl crying on the Tube, it’s probably me.

  • Shrads

  • April 19, 2016

Uh-huh, yup, yes, definitely *nods head vigorously*
This post is everything.
And I totes agree with the playlist-making. Although whenever I do it I’m reminded of the Nick Hornby – High Fidelity quote “What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

  • Neil Dhillon

  • April 18, 2016

+1 for the Sukie mention

  • Kathi

  • April 18, 2016

I definitely have all the emotions, though I’m super good at suppressing them. Thanks for writing this, made me braver about sharing my ‘feelings post’ scheduled for tomorrow.
xx Kathi

  • dianne tanner

  • April 18, 2016

Yeah today was one of these days for me. Mondays always are. Wake up, feel fine, do some yoga even. Have a coffee and a laugh with the cat and get to work and FEELINGS. SO MANY FEELINGS. This afternoon I heard myself say “this spreadsheet is going to end my life” and then spent 15 minutes laughing hysterically. I then spent a long time feeling like I was drowning/losing my mind under a tide of emotions, and now I am exhausted. Its really nice to know I’m not alone in this kind of ridiculous reaction to every day life!

  • Fi Cooper

  • April 18, 2016

All of this is very familiar! I have learned to handle it ‘better’ as I’ve got (much) older, but there are still occasions when I have to ‘go for a bit of air’ so I don’t actually scream at someone (anger, its the hardest one) and have been told I’m overexcitable (this was at a gig!, when else should you be overexcited?!).

  • Rebecca @ Strength & Sunshine

  • April 18, 2016

Yes, yes, yes!

  • Holly Koppel

  • April 18, 2016

THANK YOU!!! I thought it was just me. I feel things so intensely, super happy or really sad. Anger is the worst one to deal with because it’s not like I get a little upset, it’s big raging annoyed screaming, throwing things anger. Thank goodness for my husband because I don’t know of anyone else who could deal with this.

  • Freya

  • April 18, 2016

I’m sending this to Adam with the subject line “SEE, I’m not the only one!!!” I so wish I could be a little more even too, sometimes I think my heart will just give out with all it’s backing and forthing on emotion. And all the feels, all the time – especially when laying despondent in a face-plant for being a failure at life and/or because I’m too tired from being too excited all at once. I’m exhausted, but I have most definitely lived every second. I’ve got pretty good at hiding it over the years too.

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