As Christine Fonseca pointed out on Monday, emotionally intense individuals experience extreme highs and lows. The intensity of these emotional reactions can cause difficulties.

The Challenges:

  • Depression is a risk for children who experience too many lows without balance or awareness of the temporary nature of emotional responses.
  • People who wear their hearts on their sleeves can be vulnerable to manipulation by others.
  • Children who cry in school can become the targets of bullies.
  • Emotional variability can make relationships challenging.

In addition, the extreme variation between high and low can lead to misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder.

The Up-Side:

I want to take a moment to reflect on the positive side of emotional intensity.  Seeing the challenges posed by my intense emotional reactions is not difficult. It is sometimes harder to see the benefits of emotional intensity.

The biggest advantage to being emotionally sensitive is that positive emotions are stronger. The good times simply are better than for less sensitive people.

The Tool Set:

Awareness of the balance between highs and lows is a valuable tool in learning to manage the variation. Emotionally sensitive individuals react strongly to both positive and negative triggers.

Every person takes pleasure in different things. Knowing our own positive triggers and the positive triggers of the people around us  gives us power. We can make choices that increase our own positive experiences.

For example, imagine a teenage girl who consistently responds positively to Celtic rock music. After a bad day at school, she might do better to listen to a Dropkick Murphys album rather than curling up with a novel or watching the tv show all the kids are talking about at school. But her best friend might be better off watching the tv show if she responds strongly to the interaction of the group. A boy who responds to the beauty of nature might benefit from a run in a well-kept park or conservation area and not a game of basketball, but the thrill of a competitive game might be just what another person needs.

Everybody benefits from knowing what makes them feel good and choosing to add more of those activities or experiences to their lives, the emotionally sensitive especially.

In addition to being able to use positive triggers to counter a challenging emotion in the moment, building up a store of memories of extreme joys can establish a base from which to remember that all emotion is transient. During the good moments of our lives, we don’t like to be reminded that the experience is temporary, but we need to remember exactly that in the rough patches. The more intensely we experience the bad times, the harder it is to remember the good times when we are sad or upset. Paying attention to the roller coaster of emotion helps us see the patterns, not just the experience of the moment.

Emotionally intense people can be overwhelmed by emotion. Positive emotion can be exhausting, but it is a very welcome antidote to the intensity of negative emotions. By acknowledging one’s own intensity and cultivating positive emotional experiences, individuals can lower the destructive power of intense negative emotions.

But, cultivating the positive triggers isn’t just a balm for pain. The emotionally sensitive experience happiness with a depth that is of value in and of itself.

If you are emotionally intense, I invite you to join me in seeking out your happiness triggers. The world will be a more wonderful place for it.


Kate can usually be found writing about writing at


15 thoughts on “Working With the Up-Side of Emotional Intensity

  1. This was a helpful post. We have recently returned to our “favorite things” journal. We each say three favorite parts of the day and write it down. Over time, the favorites may change. Also can be gratitude journal.

    1. I love it!
      At our house, the word favourite begets panic about ranking good things in the right order,so we can’t use that language. But now that I am humming the tune from The Sound of Music, I think I might be able to get some mileage out of “a few of my favourite things.”

    1. I wish you success. There are great resources in Christine Fonseca’s book, “Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students” that are useful to adults as well as children.

  2. Do you have any suggestions for determining what our happiness triggers are. I think I understand what brings me happiness, are they the same thing?
    I would also request any further reading material, now that you “lit the fire” as it were.

    Thanks for your blog, I enjoy many of the posts,

    1. I would say your happiness triggers are what bring you happiness.
      I would also suggest that you imagine what your body feels like when you are the opposite of stressed and notice what things or activities make your body feel that way. Sometimes, we interrupt our awareness of the good things by labelling them and being aware of the underlying physical experiences can help us notice our triggers.

  3. Lovely, Kate. As you know, I appreciate your perspective and writing deeply.

    I, too, benefit when I do find the emotional “up side”. And I’m always looking for ways to keep them present as I also have a tendency to (ouch) notice the “down side”.

    I’m sure this is at least one of the reasons I’m so attracted to InterPlay and to play, in general. Namely, that I need it so much.

    Playful blessings,
    Stan (aka @muz4now)

    1. Thanks, Stan.
      Noticing the down side isn’t bad – it just isn’t all there is. And those of us (me included) who see the down more easily do need the reminders to look for the good stuff, too.


  4. I guess I have a slightly different perspective on intense emotions. It’s only recently been brought to my attention that I may be a gifted individual. Until then I was simply the person that didn’t fit in due to intellectual intensity, curiosity, abstract sense of humor, etc.

    Anyway, emotional intensity.

    The problem I have adopting the two dimensional ‘up’ and ‘down’ model of emotional intensity is that it is too easily misunderstood, and thus dismissed or misconstrued, by non-gifted. Instead, I wonder if emotional intensity in the gifted is better understood in a 3-dimensional model where the new dimension is expression. For example, I consider my feeling of ‘happy’ to be on the same emotional scale as my wife’s with respect to the ‘up’ and ‘down’ emotional model (I feel good, not necessarily recklessly optimistic). However, my expression of the emotion is so altogether different that it can appear as something it is not. The emotional amplitude is equivalent, but the depth is different and this is a critical distinction. Strong emotional amplitude swings up and down with a narrow range of expression can be indicative of some significant emotional issues. Small emotional amplitude swings that have a deep range of expression is, to the gifted, just … living.

    1. Thank you, Deborah. You helped me so much through your work with #gtchat, it is an honor to be able to return some support your way.


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