Emotional OE is often the first to be noticed by parents. It is reflected in heightened, intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification with others’ feelings, and strong affective expression (Piechowski, 1991). Other manifestations include physical responses like stomachaches and blushing or concern with death and depression (Piechowski, 1979). Emotionally overexcitable people have a remarkable capacity for deep relationships; they show strong emotional attachments to people, places, and things (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977). They have compassion, empathy, and sensitivity in relationships. Those with strong Emotional OE are acutely aware of their own feelings, of how they are growing and changing, and often carry on inner dialogs and practice self-judgment (Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Children high in Emotional OE‚ are often accused of “overreacting.” Their compassion and concern for others, their focus on relationships, and the intensity of their feelings may interfere with everyday tasks like homework or doing the dishes.
Source: Sharon Lind, educator
Emotional overexcitability is the hardest for me to write about, because it’s about the stuff that intense people learn to keep inside. A person who feels strongly learns pretty early that it is annoying, distracting, burdensome, immature, and/or unprofessional to show those feelings.
And let us be clear: this isn’t merely about concealing sad feelings. While emotional OE can also manifest in negative feelings and even depression, I find myself bottling up positive feelings more often, including excitement, enthusiasm, and joy over things that are “silly” according to some normative standard. I remember, at a Girl Scout meeting in seventh grade, going on about something I thought was delightful; while I can’t remember what it was, I do remember the girl who drove home that she preferred to be blasé by smacking me in the face so my braces made my mouth bleed. Now, as a respected professional adult, I still feel the need to conceal these reactions: for example, a few weeks back, I was excited about some artistic element I had incorporated into a project at work—and felt exposed when some colleagues noted my enthusiasm, even though they did it with a smile. GASP! YOU’RE ON TO ME!
Naturally, I don’t always hide how I feel. Around select people who don’t mind, I open up. When I was a kid, my mom encouraged me to do this more often: “You’re so bright and cheerful when you’re happy and engaged!” she told me more than once, though this cheer was never a conscious display. It only worked if it was authentic! And of course, I knew what Anne of Green Gables when she felt the depths of despair. My poor parents! And poor little sister, who once protested that I always had to like everything that I liked the most, suggesting that maybe she wanted to be the one who cared the most sometimes. (Sorry about that, Emily.)
I guess I failed to notice or identify with my sister’s feelings in that instance, but in other cases I’ve found myself doing so, up to and including those of animals. See exhibit A, at right. This bee at right was trying desperately to get out of our community pool last summer; I tried to rescue her by scooping her out of the water with my goggles. Unfortunately, her wing had been damaged. Perhaps I was the one to damage it, in my clumsy efforts to scoop her up! Though I eventually got her out of the water and set her down on the patio, where she shook the water off and then started buzzing along the ground with her single intact wing, I came back the next day to find that she had died there. I took this memorial photo. I’m sorry, little bee. 😦
Emotional overexcitability also infuses all the other OEs.
On that note, I feel that I must mention music, because I’ve always thought music is a tool for injecting emotion directly into one’s system. For this reason, I sometimes like to listen to music that I otherwise think has little merit simply because it’s upbeat and puts me in a good mood. I don’t know that that’s that uncommon, really. But my reaction to a song like Madonna’s Material Girl probably demonstrates the infusion of multiple OEs here. Intellectual OE leads me to analyze and criticize the song (as I’m not a material girl in any sense); at the same time, if I happen to hear this song on the radio, what comes to mind is an image of my dad picking me up from swimming lessons in the mid 1980s and taking me to get a Melody Pop at the Arbor Drugs, at which the song was playing in the background. And somehow that memory got affixed to that song. Sensory OE and intellectual OE all tied up with emotional OE in a big ol’ web of meaning! Most songs don’t have quite such a definite image attached to them, but I do wish that grocery stores wouldn’t play music, because I frequently have unwanted emotional transfusions while I’m trying to select a box of breakfast cereal. It might be a little easier for me if they played classical music, but then, the likes of Holst’s Jupiter can get me, too. That one’s got two memories affixed to it: one of a certain night in my freshman year of college when our band was playing it, and another of Fukuoka, Japan, where I saw a display of lights and fountains set to the piece. It made an impression.)
Or let’s go back to the topic of identifying with others’ feelings. This aspect of emotional OE fuses wonderfully with intellectual OE in my love of biographies, which I find fascinating for letting me glimpse a bit of a fellow human being’s unique window on the world. There’s little I enjoy reading more than that! Meanwhile, imaginational OE picks up and runs with this when I create my own characters.
The write-ups on emotional OE also discuss “complexity of feelings.” This one’s hard for me to talk about, because most of the people who share their feelings with me are like me in this respect, and I can’t meaningfully judge the nature of the feelings of those who don’t. I expect I do naturally gravitate toward others with emotional overexcitability, which is surely part of why it’s been hard at times to find other similarly (or just compatibly) quirky people. But that means I really, really value the kindred spirits I do find.
Thank you, friends!
I will conclude not with something I’ve experienced, but with something that I aspire to. As Susan Daniels noted in her excellent write-up of overexcitabilities,
For Dabrowski, emotional overexcitability is the most important aspect of human development. It is a significant, logical component of developing a person’s potential. Emotions can keep people in touch with themselves and their own needs for change, as well as connect them to the larger world and social fabric of humanity. . . [Emotional OE is often] the catalyst for reaching out, for developing empathy, and for seeking to make a positive difference in the world.
This represents my personality ideal, and it is the heart of why I think Dabrowski’s theory has the potential to be so valuable to the world at large and so many individuals in it.
Virtually everyone wishes the world were a better place, but making it so takes so much energy. It’s only the people who suffer because others suffer—who are therefore driven to dream those impossible dreams—who actually find the energy to try, because they simply must if they are to cope.
That’s why I agree with Dabrowski that emotional OE represents a source of hope and promise in the world, if those of us who have it can just live up to this and figure out how to use what we offer. Emotion is what makes us human, for better and for worse, and yet, the modern world is so often critical of emotion, as though it only has a negative side. Maybe that’s a hint as to where we go wrong.
Or check out these other experiences of emotional OE: