When I apply sunscreen, I am not trying to control the sun. I’m trying to enjoy the sun without causing unnecessary suffering.
When I practice daily wellness rituals, I am not trying to control my emotions, I am trying to enjoy them without causing unnecessary suffering.
I remember the first time I got so sun burnt, the bed sheets seems to be scraping my skin off. I also remember the first (and last) time I angrily yelled at the top of my lungs at my little brother and watched tears well up in his eyes, and spill on to his reddening cheeks before he ran away from me.
I’m highly sensitive. I feel deeply. I have learned how to control my response to emotions and sensitivity in a way that enhances, and doesn’t hurt my life or the people around me. Boxing is great for anger and hyper-activity or silliness. Journaling is great for sadness. So is restorative yoga or long walking.
The distinction between controlling emotions and controlling the response to emotions is important. I often get hired to teach people how to control their emotions. That’s the first mistake. We don’t control emotions, just as we don’t control the weather. Rather, our work is to learn the weather system of our own little climate. Just as I would google the climate of Lima, or London, or Bangalore before travelling there, I learn as much as I can about my own emotional landscape so I can best navigate through my life with ease and joy.
If I tell a kid that we are going to learn how to control her emotions, the next time she feels overwhelming sadness, anger, or excitement, she’ll also feel shame, and “bad” for not being able to control it.
Shaming someone for being too sensitive, is like shaming a fair skinned person for getting a sun burn. To live in the world, the sensisive person must understand her limits, when to take a pause, and who to spend time with, in the same way the person who burns to a crisp needs to wear a hat, long sleeves and sit under an umbrella when at the beach while her bronzed friends might float on the salty waves all day with no negative consequences. She cannot control her skin. Asking her to would be illogical.
As a sensitive person, these are some of the ways I manage my response to emotions:
A daily physical practice like yoga, boxing, running or walking that helps release emotional tension.
A self-knowing practice like journaling, ayurveda, human design, or talking to myself to help tease-out and distill a confusing cluster of emotions.
A breathing and meditation practice to help create more space between rapid-fire thoughts which trigger rapid-fire emotions.
A “weather tracking system” aka a period tracker, so we can plan for different emotional climates.
Studying the common emotions of different life phases, in the same way one would study how to prepare for motion sickness Ferry between Croatia and Ancona, Italy, or altitude sickness in Cusco, Peru.
I’m highly sensitive, so that means I need to manage what I eat, who I spend time with, what kind of media I consume, how I release emotional tension, so that I can increase my chances of feeling calm, alive, and joyful. I cannot control my sensitivity. I can control my daily choices, self-awareness, and moment to moment response so that my sensitivty doesn’t is an asset and not a hindrance to myself or the people in my life.