4 Reasons Why Some People Experience Emotions More Intensely Than Others

Photo via Unsplash by Verne Ho

Photo via Unsplash by Verne Ho

You don’t just feel things—you REALLY feel things.

Maybe you’ve always been told that you’re “too sensitive”. Maybe you’re often left wondering why people, places, and situations seem to emotionally impact you more than other people. Maybe you’re just beginning to notice how your emotions seem to be at the wheel a lot of the time.

I get this. For most of my life I was told I was “too sensitive”. I cried easily, felt a lot of feelings, and sometimes certain emotions felt like they were uncontrollable (hello, anxiety!). After hearing “you’re too sensitive” for so long, I began to feel like an outsider—like something was wrong with me. As a result, I tried many, many different ways to suppress what I was feeling out of fear of making others uncomfortable.

It took some major spiritual awakenings (or as Brené Brown likes to call them, “spiritual breakdowns”) to realize that method wasn’t serving me. With time, great personal therapy work, and yoga I eventually learned that I was NOT my emotions. And that there’s NOTHING wrong with being a sensitive person. I discovered that my sensitive nature was not a weakness but a strength, when tended to and understood in a healthy way.

It was also extremely healing for me to learn WHY some people experience emotions more intensely.

One of the concepts that I like to teach my clients in order to help them better understand the “why” part too, is through the Biosocial Theory developed by Marsha Linehan. This theory concisely breaks down why some people experience intense emotions and/or have a difficult time controlling them:

 1.  You’re just biologically more sensitive to emotions.

Yep. Some people are just born more sensitive to emotional stimuli. An example of this might be that you experience emotions much more often than others or you experience emotions really intensely.

 2.  The environment you were raised in invalidated your emotions.

Basically, the environment you developed in during those formative years throughout childhood, adolescence, and even young adulthood (i.e., family of origin, peers, relatives, teachers, coaches, religious organization, etc.) told you that your emotions were weird, wrong, invalid, or bad OR they ignored your emotional reactions altogether. This is where that infamous example of hearing “you’re too sensitive” comes into play.

3.  You weren’t taught by the people in your environment on HOW to regulate your emotions.

More often than not, the people in your environment did the best they could—even if that meant it wasn’t enough. Perhaps they were under a lot of stress, had few resources themselves, or they simply weren’t a good fit for you. Regardless of the reason why, this can be problematic because the people in your environment who invalidated your emotions didn’t teach you HOW to regulate your feelings in a healthy way. Or maybe out-of-control emotions were even reinforced in your environment. It’s hard to know how to regulate emotions when it simply wasn’t demonstrated and/or taught to you.

4.  It’s the transaction between the person (you) and their social environment that counts.

Simply put, biology and your environment influences you and you reciprocate and influence your environment. These “ping-pong” back and forth between one another. It’s the transaction that influences to what extent someone develops a sensitivity to emotions.

When I realized there was a whole world of sensitive-feeling people out there just like me (obviously, because this theory was developed in the first place) I felt at ease and realized, I’m not alone.

There are some legitimate, concrete reasons as to why you experience emotions more intensely than others. Do you feel some relief now? I hope so.

Keep in mind, often times, our emotional experience is intensified even more so because we judge ourselves for the way we feel things. If you’re judging yourself and your feelings, you’re only putting more pressure onto yourself and exacerbating the intense emotion. Take it from me, self-judgment tends to not mix well with intense feelings.

If you’re interested in learning a few skills on how to manage intense feelings, then check out my blog post: “Feeling Stuck in Intense Emotions: Three Steps for Relief”.

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Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.