The Emotional Spectrum

“Don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while,
even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller’s Wife

I am an emotional creature. Many a tear has been shed in my lifetime, that psychological water that flows in streams down cheeks, physical echoes of the yearnings of the heart inside. They accompany movies, books (tell me I wasn’t the only one who bawled for an hour after reading The Time Traveller’s Wife?), songs, weddings, goodbyes, stress, love and pain, and sometimes, the act of crying can be cathartic. A good sob, we’re told, can allow pent-up feelings of sadness, loss or frustration to be set free, leaving more room inside for more positive, forward-moving feelings. But sometimes, being more emotionally sensitive than The Norm can make you look like a total sap.

The same goes for the other end of the spectrum: joy. During my first Skype conversation, after hearing some good news, I was asked: “…Was that a happy clap?”  Yes, was the answer – when I hear something awesome, or have something to look forward to, I will run shamelessly up and down my stairs, start applauding, or otherwise have one of those Laura Linney moments in Love, Actually where the compulsion to run around the corner, stamping your feet and squealing like a schoolgirl proves impossible to ignore.

The yawning gulf of my emotional spectrum has been the subject of many a debate with friends and loved ones. “If you didn’t get so excited in the first place,” I’d be told, “then you wouldn’t be so disappointed now!”  “Don’t rush into things.” “If you stayed closer to the middle, not too high or too low, you’d be much better off.”  I had to wonder. If I tempered myself a little – refrained from showing too much excitement, would things be less disappointing if they didn’t work out? If I didn’t give my whole heart out so openly, would I have saved it such ache in the past? If I didn’t become too emotionally invested in people so quickly, would it be less painful when they moved away? And if I didn’t allow myself to cry so often, at the mundane and the painful, would life be that much easier?

Perhaps. But a bigger part of me says that these are the things that allow you to experience life to the fullest – drinking in every drop; allowing yourself to feel the heights of pure joy even if that means risking the lowest of the low.  I’ve heard of many people who’ve worked on themselves, making sure what would be their instinctive, automatic reaction is moderated; socially acceptable, not so extreme, guaranteed to save them from disappointment or funny looks. But is being too emotional such a bad thing? Surely, if naturally, you wanted to shut yourself in your bedroom, hide under a blanket, pound your pillow and wail from the bottom of your lungs, allows all that sadness to escape? We’ve all seen what happens when things get pent-up inside; the feelings of sadness give rise to feelings of anger; as they grow stronger and get further pushed inside, they can only be repressed so much until something snaps. And that’s never pretty. On the flipside, why would anyone deprive themselves from living with their heart caged in by self-constructed walls? Because we’ve been hurt before. Because there’s a risk of everything falling apart. Because people might think we’re strange. I get it. But what we devise to protect ourselves can sometimes deprive us of the heights of happiness. The true depths and heights of human emotion can be amplified when exposed to the outside world, but moderating them takes away the potential for greatness. Why not show the world your true colours, even if that does include jumping up and down and shouting from the rooftops every now and again? When we look back on our lives, do we want to say we lived a sheltered life, never too excitable nor too down, or do we want to be able to say we gave it our all, and lived?

After all, as the old saying goes, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Are you, too, an emotional creature? Or do you tend to be more even-keeled? I’m interested to hear your thoughts. 🙂

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45 comments

  1. What I need to work on is trusting people with my whole heart. Past pain prevents that sometimes.

    I think it is completely acceptable to be an emotional creature, just with it a little logic mixed in. Emotions can be fleeting, ever-changing and evolving…going purely on emotions would be an insane ride! But after reading your blog, I know you have enough logic and common sense to accompany your emotions 🙂

    1. Haha, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but you’re right – 100% emotion and 0% logic would be a VERY crazy ride 🙂

      I think past pain definitely can play a role in not allowing us to live with our whole hearts – but when you look at it for where it came from, the PAST, sometimes all it takes is a simple decision to let it stay there 🙂

  2. I think this applies:
    “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelangelo

    Living in the middle is comfortable and safe, but like you said, you don’t get to experience everything fully

  3. Hi Emily Jane,

    We’ve exchanged comments before! Always enjoy your writing. Enjoy your excitement. Lots of people can’t find it anymore.

    Life is a series of ups and downs – a roller coaster of emotions if you will. In youth, the roller coaster can have steeper drops and tighter corners because folks don’t know what to expect from love and friendship.

    Happiness can be thought of as a relative state, reflective of your life journey. I’m sure when the Chilean miners get out, they’ll be giddy with happiness just to see the light and touch the fresh air, something those of us wandering above ground take for granted.

    There’s move underfoot to take the “life” out of being alive. To sanitize it, to make sure no one gets offended, to make sure no one feels pain – what’s left isn’t living, it’s dying.

    Let folks be human! Thanks … G.

  4. Love this post Em! (As usual!) I’m definitely an emotional creature – I became even more so ever since I got engaged. Now I well up at commercials! I used to always tease my mom for crying at silly things but if I’m already like this now, who knows what’s going to happen when I become a mom! 😀

  5. I am working on broadening the spectrum, personally. My childhood and teens years were so structureless, and chaotic that when things go right, I am usually really surprised. This leaves me with a “Huh, that’s weird” kind of feeling, rather than the appropriate, “Yay!” feeling. Now that I have significantly more control over my life than I did as a child, and I’ve spent the past several working to make the life that I want, it’s always “Huh, that’s weird,” I went to Mexico, and felt like that the entire time. Such a bummer! I know my feelings are in there somewhere, but now that it’s safe to let them out, I’m having a hard time finding them. I would absolutely love to feel the things you described above, but it’s going to take some work, for sure.

    1. I guess the way you grew up will definitely have an impact on how you take things emotionally – but I think it’s for sure possible to decide how you want to allow yourself to react to things. D & I are quite opposite on this – but he’s told me he’s worked on NOT being so emotional and being more even keeled. I can see benefits to both sides – I guess all we can do is what feels natural, and what’s more important – great joy at the risk of great hurt, or not 🙂

  6. Oh, Time Traveler’s Wife, how I love you…I love most books that make me cry!!! I think that makes me a fairly emotional person myself. I used to get really weepy over things and I don’t as much, but I can definitely get very excited about things very easily. I agree that it’s completely worth it to get excited about things and to truly enjoy life versus not doing things or taking risks because of being afraid of what might go wrong. I’m so the person who gets excited and yells something out before I realize I’m being insanely loud and people are staring at me. I’ve come to realize though that there are people who don’t get excited and that I can’t let those people get me down. Likewise, if something doesn’t work out that I was looking forward to I’ve learned to just say, “Oh, well…” and to let it go. I know that no matter what, whenever it’s my time, I’ll be able to look back at all the fun times I’ve experienced and have no regrets!!!

    1. It can definitely be difficult when you’re surrounded by people who’d choose the safer route not to just conform, or not to allow your heart to express itself fully for fear of the past repeating – but I love that you agree, I think the possibility of great joy is worth the risk (and the funny looks!)

  7. I appreciate this post, as it comes in a very timely moment in my life. I’ve been thinking about this myself. I’m very emotional, but more prone to the sad side of things. I absolutely allow myself to get excited over the good parts, but I feel as though I really ache harder with sadness than others do. And try as I might to correct that, it seems to be an ever-present part of myself that I cannot change. Plus, like you said, a good cry can be cathartic and freeing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Stacey 🙂 I hear you on aching harder than others – I work with two very tough cookies, and when I’m stressed or emotional, I tend more to bawl my eyes out than “suck it up, Princess”!! A good cry can definitely get it all out though – especially when accompanied by a kitten or a hug 🙂 I don’t think being too emotional is a bad thing at all – it shows you care.

  8. I am definitely an emotional person. What I try to strive for is to be aware of the thoughts that create my emotions so that I know that I am being somewhat rational, and that I’m not adversely affecting anyone else.
    I’ve been told all of the same things as you regarding my tendency to get over-excited, but as you said, we would miss those heights of pure joy. It isn’t worth it.
    What’s more, what if we all just chose the middle ground. How would we inspire each other?
    Beautiful post Emily. This is one of my favorites for sure!

  9. I think I may be a bit of an enigma [or not…I don’t know], but I’m an emotional person on the inside while maintaining the look of “even-keeled” on the outside. I agree whole heartedly with your comments on crying, but I’ve always had a difficult time expressing my emotions in public; makes me feel far too vulnerable.

    if I didn’t allow myself to cry so often, at the mundane and the painful, would life be that much easier?

    From experience, I can tell you that refraining from crying can be far more difficult than letting the emotion pass thru you and do it’s work. It is, at the very least, more emotionally healthy to express what you’re feeling regardless of the extremity.

    Great post! (c:

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad I found your wonderful, music-filled blog and I appreciate you stopping by and reading 🙂

      I WISH I could maintain an even keel on the outside – it’s been slightly detrimental when getting affected by high emotions sometimes, especially in the workplace!

      I think I’d feel worse after bottling it up though, than having a little outburst of tears every now and again. They’re far less frequent than the outbursts of clapping and skipping anyway 🙂

  10. I am happy to report that you were NOT the only one who bawled an hour after finishing the Time Traveler’s Wife.

    From one emotional creature to another…. 😉

    1. *High five* The movie didn’t do it for me at all, because they changed the very thing that made it so heart-wrenching, but I think I could read that last part a million times over and it’d get me each and every time!

  11. I was just writing an e-mail to someone about this very issue, how I’m someone who doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. I am very reserved, and keep a lot of my emotions to myself. And I’m usually the one to keep all my pent-up feelings inside until I just attack! It’s so awful, and I wish I was more open with my emotions and feelings like you are! Keep it up. 🙂

  12. I am sooo an emotional creature, and I’ve just come to terms with it. I think some people are just meant to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. I believe in embracing feelings. Every single one.

  13. Oh <3. I agree with alot of this. That feeling all you can feel is what gives moments meaning. But at the same time, as much as I can give into the highs, and find delight in those moments, I really suffer with the downs. That when something knocks me off my feet, I feel like I've been knocked not just off my feet, but had the world pulled out from underneath me, and that's tricky to deal with. Sometimes I wish that I didn't feel as often, or as intensely as I do. *shrug* Still, its nice to know that I'm not the only emotional creature out there. 🙂 And yeah, I cried after the book AND the movie!

    1. Really, the movie too? But they left out the letter!! 😦

      I think as long as we’re aware of our own emotional tendencies, we can prepare for them – and as long as we’re okay with potentially paying the price of disappointment or heartache, it shouldn’t stop us letting our hearts live to the fullest 🙂

  14. i feel like you JUST described me. i am over emotional and i hate it. i love that i am passionate, but at times it just is too much. with everything that has happened to me and teaching right now, i can’t talk about not teaching this year without my eyes welling up with tears. and i feel like i read any book and i cry and most movies too. i wear my emotions and sometimes i wish i didn’t.

    1. Oh but you have to ask yourself why you wish you didn’t. Is it because of what other people think or is it because you’d rather save yourself the heartache? I guess it’s a matter of whether the passionate highs of emotion are worth the potential lows of wearing your heart on your sleeve. I hope they outweigh them ❤ Let me know if you ever need to talk?

  15. I bawled after reading the Time Traveler’s Wife. I bawled after seeing the movie. I bawl at commercials. I bawl at other people’s birth stories. I bawl at EVERYTHING.

    But that’s ok.. because it’s just one of my weird quirks. Jason has learned to pat me on the head and let me go, because I’ll be fine (mostly) a few minutes later! x

  16. I suppose it depends on what is going on in my life and that is what dictates whether I’m emotionally charged or not. Typically, though, I think I’m pretty even keeled, but I’ll admit that every so often a sappy movie will drive me to grab the Kleenex box. 😉

  17. There are definitely times when I wish I was a little bit less emotional. Especially when it comes to dating. I fall so hard so easily and I sort of hate that sometimes as I often date men who just don’t seem to let themselves fall hard like I do. I’ve had conversations about it with exes and they said they just aren’t built like that. So sometimes I wish I was like them – a little bit more reserved. But then I think about how great it will be when I actually fall in love with the *right* guy. Then I will be glad that I still have the capacity to feel such a wide range of emotions….

  18. Word. It’s funny how we’re told to suppress our emotions like that, I just don’t get it. I don’t necessarily cry my face off in front of other people, but I do get sad. Also, definitely cried after reading that book…it’s my all-time favourite. 🙂

  19. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, always. But since giving birth to my son, I’ve been even more emotional than ever before. I cried during the commerical for ADT home security, when the woman was talking about how they saved her dog Molly from a fire. I DON’T EVEN HAVE A DOG! But I bawled my eyes out, because I was so glad that they were able to save the dog. And that? Was like a 2 minute commerical.
    Yeah.

    I’ve *tried* to pull myself in a bit, and not react to openingly to things {because crying at work over being SO happy for a pregnant coworker is NOT really a good thing}, but it’s hard. And there are times when I’m not even sure I want to. I like that I feel so much. I like that I have so much in me to give. I like that I can experience things the way I do.

    P.S. I bawled for three days after reading The Time Travellers Wife, so no, you’re not alone 😉

  20. I do think it is important to keep emotional responses somewhat appropriate in professional situations (though I actually haven’t quite mastered that), but in private? I am not one to pretend I am something I am not. To me that would be being fake and unnatural. Who wants to be like that all the time? I’d rather be truly happy and truly sad than just somewhere in between most of the time.

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