Emotions. Everyone deals with them differently. I can assure you that handling my emotions is not my strong point. Growing up, I wore my heart on my sleeve, as they say. I cried whenever someone hurt my feelings. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing. It didn’t matter. If someone said something that upset me, I would cry. I remember my dad telling me multiple times that he didn’t know how I would survive the real world if everything upset me so much.
He was right in that it was hard. I remember my first job, waitressing. One night, another waiter made a comment that really struck me. I remember crying nonstop while cleaning up that night. I was completely unable to control my emotions.
It wasn’t just sadness that sent me over the edge. It was anger too. I vividly remember putting my hands around another little girl’s neck in anger when I was 6. I remember the look in her eyes, and I let go, scared of myself. That incident has stayed with me throughout my life, and I can’t type it without feeling intense shame. How easy it is to be an animal rather than a caring human being.
I’ve grown much better at controlling my emotions, though I am still learning. I’ll probably always have room for improvement in that area of my life. Some of the control came from aging and maturity. A lot of learning to control my emotions stemmed from child-rearing. I had to be strong and calm for my children. And a lot of it has to do with decreasing my every day stress.
Stress affects everyone differently, but for me, it’s the most noticeable in my emotional stability. I’ve always been a cup is half full kind of person, even though I grew up in a stress-filled environment. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t even realize how much stress I was under because it was all I had ever known. Even though my parents genuinely loved one another, yelling was the norm in my house and insults were given when angry. My mother was an alcoholic, and of course a ton of problems came with that. My father worked long and irregular hours.
As a child and teen, I had to deal with a lot of disappointments and situations. Many of which adults would find difficult to handle. I clung onto friendships and boyfriends to get the loving support I was missing at home. When these relationships disappointed me in any way, my emotions would crush me. They would take over who I thought I was and turn me into someone I didn’t like.
For a long time, I comforted myself by thinking that I was being real for having extreme emotions. I wasn’t being fake about how I felt. I was passionate. Besides, I had always heard you weren’t supposed to suppress your emotions. Having emotions is a good thing. And to a certain extent, that is true. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I can still be a real person without overreacting. I can have feelings without them taking over as they used to do. Don’t get me wrong, I still have intense feelings. Managing these feelings allows me to choose my own behavior rather than letting those out-of-control feelings dictate my behavior. That doesn’t make me fake. It makes me a person with intense but managed feelings. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out.
In the context of my relationship, my husband has graciously navigated my strong emotions throughout our many years. He is extremely level-headed and patient, a perfect match for me. He gets mad like anyone else. But he doesn’t huff, puff, storm, yell, hit, cry or sob uncontrollably. I, on the other hand, had no experience in dealing with strong feelings in any other way. However, there came a point when my husband did lose his patience with me. And that’s when I realized I needed to make a change for my marriage and my family.
I eventually learned that stress affects how I manage my feelings. When I am under a lot of stress, I have an extremely hard time controlling my feelings. And usually when I have intense emotions, it’s a sign that I need to look at my stress levels. Managing my stress is extremely important for me to keep a level head. How do I manage my stress levels? I follow the usual advice, trying to:
- eat healthy, and for me particularly, I avoid sugar.
- exercise regularly.
- prioritize sleep.
- remain positive and look for the bright side in life.
- manage my expectations.
- appropriately manage my finances.
- have meaningful friendships, investing in them as best I can.
- take pride in myself and my family.
- love freely and generously.
- keep space in my schedule.
- focus on the here and now.
I don’t do all of these things perfectly, but I do them well enough to manage my stress levels. This keeps me from being overwhelmed. And in turn, this keeps my emotions from taking over when I am upset or mad.
That being said, I am human, and I still get overwhelmed. This is where practicing mindfulness comes in handy. As soon I start to get that sinking feeling of being overwhelmed, I take a breath and look at my situation to see what I can do to relieve some of that pressure. Realizing this feeling before it gets too big is so important. If I let that overwhelming stress take over, it will be hard to recover. I have to stop it before it gets out of hand.
It’s hard to admit you have problems that require a lot of work. Hopefully if you are experiencing anything similar with excessive emotions, you will feel like it’s possible to change. And you will take steps to take charge of your own feelings. It’s not only possible to do so, but it’s the responsible thing to do. It takes practice to realize what triggers your emotions and to figure out what you need to do to stop a negative cycle from starting. And clearly, there are some emotional stressors you can’t remove yourself from, so do what you can with what you have. What works best now may not work best later, and that’s okay. The point is to do the best you can with what you know to be true in your particular situation and to figure out what works for you currently.
In the comments, I’d love to hear how you deal with strong emotions. I’m always ready to learn a thing or two! 🙂