I was just reliving my younger years as I worked on the Teen Angst playlist for Spotify, as inspired by my novel “Don’t Try to Find Me.” Adolescence, for many, involves overwhelming emotion, in part because so many of the emotions feel new as well as intense. What’s the best way to understand and cope with all these emergent feelings? In some ways, that’s the key developmental task of adolescence.
But for some people, the struggle continues on into adulthood. They might hear themselves called “oversensitive”‘; they might often feel misunderstood or invalidated as a result. This can lead to a difficult spiral that actually intensifies emotions that already feel like too much to handle.
So where to start?
I had a professor who once said that there’s nothing useful about comparing our pain to other people’s. What she meant is, our pain is our own, and there’s no sense in judging it. The sense is in accepting it.
She wasn’t talking about dialectical behavior therapy, though she could have been. Because DBT attributes a lot of our subjective suffering to the judgments we place upon ourselves.
It’s a crucial relationship commandment: Know thy partner’s buttons. What I mean is, learn what provokes a strong reaction in your partner (even if it makes no sense to you, especially if it makes no sense to you.)
It’s all too easy to discard our feelings: “I’m overreacting”, “I’m too busy to be upset about that”, “I shouldn’t be mad at him; it’s my problem.” To name just a few.
But we ignore our feelings at our own peril.
“I should be happy.”
“I should be having a great time.”
“I should have been appreciating the moment with my daughter. Instead, my mind was on the laundry that needed to get done, and how to get her down for her nap, and…”
These are thoughts expressed by some of my clients. I’ve also had them myself. Not that “shoulds” are relegated to parents alone, but I know that for me, they’ve gotten a lot louder since I had a baby. And the “shoulds” are toxic to mental health.