We all experience emotions, but we don’t experience all emotions in the same way. It isn’t news that we’re each built differently, but it can still be a surprise to realize just what that can mean. Even in situations when we react with the same emotion, our own experience can be vastly different than someone else’s. For people who are more sensitive to anger, happiness, grief, anxiety, or all of the above, it can often feel isolating and as though your reactions are wrong or misunderstood.
This can create a really difficult dynamic, whether it’s with a partner, a parent, or a friend—an experience is overwhelming, and instead of offering support, the other person tells us to “get over it”. They don’t understand our reaction and they want us to change something that we may not even fully understand about ourselves; that’s because the intensity of our emotional experience comes, in part, from our biological makeup. Some of us anger more quickly while some of us experience everything more intensely.
Our sensitivity isn’t limited to just ourselves—we can be more tuned in to others’ emotions as well. Highly sensitive people are often better at picking up subtle clues like body language, changes in tone of voice, and other cues someone might give off without even realizing. People who are more sensitive, however, do pick up these subtleties. For them, this can make social interactions feel more intense and draining.
Our perception, after all, is a reflection of our experience—two different people can have the same conversation and come out feeling miles apart. People with more sensitivity to emotions often observe details about their interactions that others do not, and so their reactions can be completely different than someone who’s less emotionally sensitive. When this happens, the other party may be left feeling confused or frustrated which can lead to arguments or mishandled interactions. However, by learning to recognize our feelings and how we react, we can take steps to manage the intensity of our reactions and how we interact with others.
Mindfulness techniques can be fantastic place to start learning more about your emotions and to begin separating your thoughts from your feelings. When a situation feels overwhelming, one of the most helpful skills we can develop is to recognize our discomfort early on and use helpful skills like deep breathing and grounding to reduce the intensity before it reaches its peak.
If you find yourself continuing to struggle with your emotions, reaching out can do wonders. Sometimes, talking with an understanding friend or family member can help. Sometimes, that may not feel like enough—in those times, therapy can be a great space to gain perspective on our experiences and find support for learning how to manage our emotions.
Torie Cueto, LMFT is a licensed therapist in San Diego, California. Torie provides in-person therapy in San Diego and online video therapy throughout California.