The video comments range from amazement at the baby's emotional development to criticism of the mother for eliciting a crying response from a baby. When I watched it, I was in awe by how easily this infant girl accessed her emotions, so much so that she became tearful. I also thought the mom did well in helping her daughter return to a content emotional state with her words, tone, and most likely her body language.
The topic I want to focus on is can you be too sensitive or access your emotions too readily. I regularly tell patients there is nothing wrong with a feeling, the problem arises when poor decisions and actions happen because of the feeling. So how do we find that balance?
A behavior or thought becomes a problem (clinically) when it impacts your daily life in an intrusive way. If you double-check the alarm system, that's not intrusive. If you double-check the system and then come back to check it again, causing you to be late for work, then it's intrusive. The same concept of intrusion applies to emotions. You still want to experience and acknowledge emotions, the problem arises when the emotion can't be contained. If you find yourself overwhelmed by emotions to the extent that it negatively impacts your thinking, productivity, and/or relationships, then you might be experiencing your emotions too strongly.
Last thing on the video. If I had a concern, it would be that this little one may be more emotionally developed than her peers and that trend may continue. Most may think that is a good thing, but it can lead to trouble. Imagine being 10 and having the ability to empathize with your peers, but your peers are still struggling with empathy (which is developmentally normal into the teen years). It would be heartbreaking at times to not understand why you are sensitive to others' needs but your peers aren't that way. I've worked with kids and adults like this. I find myself telling them that they will have an easier time as they get older, but for now we have to find a way to feel and contain the emotional impact of an experience.
Containing emotions is actually a part of therapy. You may think therapy is a space to dump your emotions out like a psychological landfill. This happens and is appropriate, but another part is helping the patient regroup during and at the end of the session. This process includes learning how to express and contain emotions. If a patient is emotionally fragile, I'll spend the last part of the session helping the person return to a sound emotional state. This may happen by processing the experience, by shifting topics, or even by saying stop. You'd be surprised by the power of saying “stop” or “no”. In the end, you have to find what works for you. Whether that is going for a walk, changing the subject, listening to music, venting to a friend, or even smiling.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!