When I say “highly emotional”, I don’t mean those people who get a bit weepy at commercials featuring puppies being put down at the pound or teary-eyed at the end of the end of a romantic film; that’s just called having a heart. To qualify as someone highly emotional, you have to be someone whose feelings are at the core of your life, often expressing itself situations where emotions are deemed unwanted, unnecessary or excessive – at least to other people.
For the those who fall under the Highly Emotional Umbrella, there are the usual transgressions: believing inanimate objects have feelings (when you pick up one apple from a bowl that contains two, you feel a twinge of sympathy for the rejected fruit), feeling as if you offend nearly everyone you meet because you read an eye twitch as a sign of dislike, crying just by imagining a tragic scenario. Those, however, are private examples, where as long as you don’t tell anyone what’s going on in your heart, only you know how much of a work-out it is getting.
In this day and age showing emotions are almost seen as a moral weakness. The paragon for both men and women is to be a high-functioning, quick-thinking, unemotional creature, able to make decisions on the fly, exude charisma, and never shed so much as a tear. Men who are too emotional are wimps; women who are too emotional hysterical. To be a highly emotional person is to be constantly told you are “overreacting” and need to “calm down”. Worse is when the disapproval is implicit, emanating from all the other people in the room like the waft of cold air when you open the freezer whenever you express something with a great deal of feeling. In an impersonal world that breeds impersonal people, letting your emotions bubble to the surface makes you feel oddly weak and inadequate, sometimes even a show-off, because no-one else seems to possess the same depth of feeling as you do, or at least feel the need to express it.
For instance, one time in History class when I was around fifteen, we were learning about the Holocaust. On the pages of the books we were assigned were photographs of the thousands of dead bodies of Jewish people piled on top of each other in mass grave. It was, to say the least, horrific. The corpses were skeletal, bent backward and collapsed in odd and ungainly positions like cast-down puppets, their rib-bones pushing up against the thin skin on their chests, their mouths tugged wide in paroxysms of agony. Around eleven million people were thought to have been massacred in the genocide. That is the number I still remember. Eleven million people who died in fear, and most likely pain, eleven million people who had had their own internal lives, dreams, family, talents, skills. Next to the photograph was a small box filled with questions students had to answer regarding the event. Around me other people, though quieter than usual, were obediently scribbling down words, but for me the words were beginning to blur on the page from my tears. The teacher noticed and came after to ask me if I was feeling unwell. I nodded. In front of the whole class, with tears leaking from my eyes, I spoke aloud my anguish at the barbarity that orchestrated such destruction, expressing my fear of the darkness latent within humanity.
And then someone, two rows in front, turned around, and said, “Well, there’s no use crying about it.”
Six measly little words, yet he might as well have slapped me in the face; at once, I felt ridiculous, stupid, childish, fresh tears pricking at my eyes. Being sensitive to criticism on top of having such strong emotions only worsened matters. He was right, my tears wouldn’t be able to bring back those who died – but didn’t I have a right to let my heart express itself? That is something I know now, but not then. Then, I merely burned with shame, looked down at my page, wiped the stupid little tears from my eyes, and began answering the questions.
On countless occasions in my life my outbursts of emotion – not always sadness, sometimes anger at injustice or mistreatment, sometimes immense joy– were met with similar distaste by other people, and sometimes something worse: lack of understanding. As you work yourself up into an emotional high, eyes shining, breath excited, they look at you as if you are a strange creature who perhaps has lost its way from the zoo. I gasped and squealed with excitement at the sight of a blue butterfly – a blue butterfly! – and received odd looks from passers-by. I stepped on a snail and felt guilt stab my heart: and my sister stepped on a snail herself to show me how silly my reaction was.
It is a cold fact that anyone who possesses any trait which goes against the norm, be it in terms of race, sexual orientation, physical defects or personality quirks, are made to feel less-than by the majority. As a result, I learned to hide my emotions behind a cold and aloof exterior. For me, it was a choice between either letting loose all the emotions or blocking all emotions; there was no-in-between: one crack in the dam soon led to a full-on deluge.
But emotions are, irrevocably, a part of who I am. In repressing them, I was repressing myself, and you cannot do that without sooner or later becoming a little crazy. Repression eliminated the crying sessions and the bursts of anger, but it also killed my ability to feel any delight or happiness. Emotions unexpressed externally through speech or writing do not disappear. Instead, they fester until some other outlet is found: self-hate, self-disgust, controlling one’s diet. Trying to not be emotional, to not feel so much, to be more impersonal and logical as I “should” be, made me sick. I spiraled deeper and deeper into self-destructive behaviors, ranging from procrastination to digging my nails into my skin, in a subconscious effort to gain equilibrium.
Recovering myself and accepting my emotions is still an ongoing process. When you have such a surplus of feeling within you, trying to fit in with society is nearly impossible. You constantly feel as though you are ready to burst into pieces, always scared you will receive odd looks or downright disgust from other people when you show your true self. To this day, I still struggle with the balance between expressing myself and reining in my natural emotionality so as to not “cause a fuss” or bother other people – which is probably one of the reasons I spend much of my time alone. Rejection triggers my emotions, too, so it’s better to secrete myself away rather than risk getting hurt by simply being who I am.
What I have found is that to possess an excess of emotion frightens people. All people are born emotional – just look at the how children spend their days. Among children, high emotionally is attributed to immaturity and acceptable; but the moment you crest around ten years of age, society begins to dampen your natural exuberance, turn a disapproving eye upon too much sadness, too much anger, too much joy. People, I believe, are taught that to be a grown-up is to be unemotional for a reason: a more impersonal world is easier to govern, a society of people ruled by logic rather than the fire in their hearts easier to control and manipulate. That, I think, contributes to so much of the problems in the world. Corruption, environmental disregard, wars and hatred – all these are the aggregate result of millions acting from the mind, which likes what is logical and effective and self-serving, rather than the heart, which works from a place of love and wonder, the place we all inhabited as children. Most children share and play with others; it is the adults fight, argue, kill and exploit, because in the transition from childhood to adulthood, the connection to the heart is deliberately blunted and dulled by social and cultural forces.
Which is why I, as someone who was born with a slightly hotter heart than those around me, am determined to allow myself to express myself more often, without feeling guilty or afraid of rejection – and if you are a highly emotional person, I would suggest you do likewise. The world needs hotter hearts. Hearts that not only flicker, but rage and roar in great spews of flame. It was those whose hearts burned with undying fervor throughout history for causes or personal projects that made the greatest differences in the world. Rather than try and stamp out the flame, let it fuel you in all your endeavors to make the world and the lives of the people within it a little better for you having lived by channeling all that feeling into good causes, into Art. Let your passions burn and burn inside you, propelling you forward, until, at the end of life, like a match, you are crisp and all burnt-out, and have fulfilled your purpose.