Are you too sensitive?
Throughout our lives, we are constantly told how to feel by parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and bosses. We try to meld our emotions to fit how we’re being told to feel when in reality, emotions are out of our control. When arguing with someone, it’s expected to feel angry. But it’s completely acceptable to also feel sadness, shame, surprise, or guilt. Some people feel motivated when their coach yells at them during a game; others feel embarrassed or ashamed. Some people hear a joke that makes them feel happy, while other people may feel angry upon hearing that same joke.
Finding Nemo – A Simplified Example
Three 8 year-olds are having a playdate – John, Lucy, and Davey – and they decide to watch Finding Nemo. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, a shark kills Nemo’s mom in the very opening scene. Upon seeing this, all 3 children start crying and their parents come over to comfort them. Eventually, the movie continues, the parents go back to what they were previously doing, and the kids’ attention shifts back to the movie as it continues.
The movie ends on a good note when Nemo and his father reunite, and the children are once again happy. Like typical 8 year-olds, John and Lucy quickly lose interest and go outside to play.
Davey, however, remains on the couch crying. When his mother comes over to console him, she is surprised to hear what is upsetting him. Davey tells her about Nemo’s mother dying in the beginning of the movie, frustrated that he has to explain this again to his mother. In response, Davey’s mother flippantly tells him “it’s only a movie, go and play outside just like the other kids”.
In doing this, she is not only dismissing Davey’s feelings and emotions, but she is also telling him that his feelings are abnormal, especially in comparison to his peers.
The Emotional Roller Coaster
When I was young, my parents used to call me a rollercoaster because I had highs and lows. Anytime I was “too high”, they would tell me to chill out – “We don’t want to deal with your crash later”. It would make me so angry.
As I got older, I realized that a lot of these “lows” came as a result of being referred to as a rollercoaster or being told I was too happy. But I never understood how it was possible to be “too happy” or what could possibly be wrong with being happy.
When I heard the reference to Finding Nemo, it felt like a light bulb went off; things started to make sense. I couldn’t stop thinking of examples in my life when my feelings and emotions were not only dismissed but I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me for feeling the way I did.
The problem in today’s society results from the invalidation of one’s emotions; if they don’t conform to the social norm, we are led to believe that it is wrong to have these thoughts and feelings. These invalidating environments result in the inability to regulate emotions, trust your feelings, tolerate distress, or form realistic goals and expectations.
How many times have you been told:
“It was just a joke”
“Stop being so serious”
“Don’t be so sensitive”
But not everyone is going to think it’s funny, it’s okay to be serious, and you’re not too sensitive. However you feel is okay. Your emotions are valid, which is the foundation of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).