Are your emotions never far below the surface?
Does phony behavior make you cringe and superficial chatter leave you frustrated?
Do you worry that people think you “want too much” or get hurt “too easily”?
Were you teased or bullied as a child for being “too sensitive”?
Are you at your best in situations where people are being very open and honest, and don’t understand why others don’t seem to want it the way you do?
Have you ever felt you must hide your emotional nature to avoid being ostracized?
Does it sometimes feel like your emotions are too accessible? Do you get tired of how emotional you are, and sometimes wish you “didn’t have to work so hard” to feel balanced and even-keeled?
If this sounds like you, you’ve probably suffered a lot of judgment from others, as well as self-judgment. There are so many negative labels placed on highly emotional people—people who “feel too much.” They’re “irrational,” “immature,” “childish.” Or maybe you’ve read or been told that your “overreactions” are caused by unresolved trauma. That still suggests that your emotional nature is something that has to be changed, or “therapy-ized” into calmness.
Now, it’s true that very painful past experiences could be causing current distress. Those feelings need healing.
But what if your passionate nature, despite the problems it sometimes causes you, is not a weakness? What if it isn’t a deficiency, defect, or the result of psychological trauma? What if it’s a gift that needs to be developed, like a great mind or a musical ear?
It could be that people who are extra-emotional were born with an exceptionally high aptitude for something everybody has, but most people have never heard of: Interoception.
Interoception: Your Emotional Sixth Sense
What is interoception? It’s the awareness of what’s going on inside you, which arises from a vast network of internal senses.
Everyone’s heard of the five external senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. But few have learned about the amazingly intricate network of inner senses that tell your brain everything that’s going on within you. Millions of signals from every corner of your body, but especially from your heart, lungs and belly, travel up your nervous system and get combined in your brain to form a kind of internal weather report, updated many times a second.
This entire process of sensing internal bodily signals is called interoception. It forms the basis for how you feel, moment to moment. It’s literally what makes us know we’re alive!
Interoception happens in everyone, but most of it occurs below conscious awareness. People differ greatly in how many of these internal bodily signals “break through.” People who don’t consciously register many of these signals are not very aware of what they feel, or even that they’re feeling anything.
But extra-emotional people hear those signals loud and clear. They’re viscerally more aware of their feelings. Contrary to the stereotype, many extra-emotional people are highly successful and accomplished. They have a strong drive to grow and feel fulfilled in both their career and personal lives. Quite often, their interoceptive acuity makes them highly attuned and empathic to other people’s vulnerable feelings. They’re often the person people turn to when they “need someone to talk to.”
Your greater interoceptive awareness, then, can make you a wiser, more caring, loving and perceptive person, if it hasn’t already. But in a world that doesn’t understand or trust feelings, it can also create for you a great deal of trouble.
That’s because those extra internal signals you receive amount to a whole lot of information and “juice” flowing through your system. They activate you, energize you, and sometimes overwhelm you. At times they can lead you to feeling hurt, lonely, misunderstood and terribly isolated. Knowing how to make sense of all those signals and use them effectively is not an inborn skill—it must be developed.
Chances are no one taught you how to develop this gift of inner emotional awareness. You’re like someone who was gifted at birth with a beautiful and powerful singing voice and an irrepressible desire to sing—but, sadly, born into a tribe that allows very little singing, and only if it’s nice and quiet. No matter how wonderful that person’s parents might be, it’s unlikely their singing will sound the way it could— and they might feel irrepressible urges to sing at the worst possible times!
It’s time we start looking at a highly emotional nature not as a flaw that needs to be changed, but as a wonderful quality that needs a little developing.
Becoming An Emotional Virtuoso
So, how do you become a virtuoso at living as an emotional person?
To start with, you don’t need to be less emotional. You need to be more emotionally connected than the average person….to yourself, and to other people.
What does it mean to be “emotionally connected”? It’s not opening the spigot and letting all your emotions flow with abandon. It means bringing the thinking brain and emotional brain together—not one dominating the other, but as equal partners.
So how do you bring your emotional and thinking brains together?
By listening to your emotional brain the way you’d listen to a close friend who has something very important to tell you.
Your emotional brain is a very strong part of you, a part that’s been told it’s wrong so many times in your life. Despite this, it still refuses to be pushed aside. It knows it has a valuable contribution to make, and it demands a significant place at the table.
Yet it still is only a part of you. It doesn’t have the whole truth. Feelings are not facts. The main skill of becoming emotionally connected to yourself is learning how to slow way down and really listen, attentively and nonjudgmentally, to what your inner bodily emotional signals are trying to tell you, without either sinking into your emotions or letting your thinking brain take over. It means being in both brains at once, until they’re both on the same page.
Learning to Accept Your Extra-Emotional Self
But emotionally connecting to yourself is only half the story. Extra-emotional people have a need for relationships that are more open and authentic. Much as they might wish they could at times, they can’t block out knowing when they or others are being guarded and inauthentic. It bothers them. Yet when other people don’t seem to be bothered, or even notice, when relationships are fake, it’s easy for extra-emotionals to feel shame for “wanting more,” and not accepting or appreciating people the way they are.
Here’s where self-acceptance is so important for extra-emotional people. Like any member of a minority group, it’s easy for EEs to see their difference as a flaw they should fix if they can, or keep hidden if they can’t. Past experiences of rejection for their difference can make them extra-sensitive to the possibility of rejection now.
The greatest danger and vulnerability for extra-emotional people—their true Achilles’ heel—is when their own feelings of hurt, rejection and “difference” become so strong that they block out other people’s feelings. At that moment, they feel so strongly that others are rejecting them for the way they are that they put up a shield themselves, and stop caring or even being aware that other people have feelings, even though they may not be showing them. The challenge is to learn how to handle and decode your powerful emotions and express them to others with vulnerability and grace in ways they can hear and accept, so you can stop feeling afraid to show your true self.
If you as an extra-emotional person embrace your difference, what gifts of creativity, authenticity and deep connection could you bring to the world? By embracing your ability to feel deeply and strongly, you can learn to embrace your deep needs and wants, feel them without having them overwhelm you, and listen to their guidance—and help others who don’t have that facility to do so as well. You can become an emotional superstar—a positively passionate person who is able to affect, influence and bring people together through the power of emotionally connected truth.
That’s something the world needs now more than ever.