Not WYSIWYG – Emoting

Yet another What You See is NOT What You Get post! Yay!

This one is about emoting. In this case, when I say ’emote’ what I mean is ‘to display or show emotion in some way.’ Some basic examples would be smiling, laughing, frowning, crying, etc. The things we do that let other people know what it is we’re feeling, without using words.

I’ve noticed that people seem to have this idea that the amount a person emotes correlates to the amount a person is feeling, and that they can use the same basic gauge for everyone. Neither of these beliefs are true.

I do not generally emote very strongly. While my feelings do show, they show in a quieter, more subdued way than for most people out there. However, I do feel. I feel very deeply. I’m downright sensitive. However, if a person were to assume that the amount I emote indicates the amount I feel, they would believe that I feel very little. This is a dangerous assumption. It is especially dangerous with people who lack the words to explicitly say what they are feeling, such as children or non-verbal autistics.

I also know people who emote very strongly. I have gathered that sometimes people will tell them that their emotions are disproportionate. This is baffling to me on at least two different levels.

1. It is completely inappropriate to tell another person that their feelings are wrong in any way. This particular social skill seems to be sufficiently unknown that I am beginning to think it should be introduced as part of elementary school curriculum.

2. How do you know just how much they are feeling? All we know is how much a person emotes. However, I know that for me, it is not at all safe to judge my emotional level simply from the degree to which I am emoting. Nor am I willing to say that any other person *feels* more than I do, simply because they express more than I do. As such, I believe that it is *never* safe to assume we know how much someone feels, simply due to how much it’s showing. At most, we might be able to get an idea of how close to the surface their emotions sit. Maybe. Even that is iffy.

I know that seeing what a person is emoting is often our only clue to what they are feeling. I know that people, for whatever reason, rarely simply say “I am feeling x.” However, I think we need to stick to simply letting a person’s actions inform us of what they are feeling, and stop trying to measure them against some sort of universal yardstick. Beyond that, it’s all about getting to know people as individuals, and accepting that there are some things that we simply cannot know. Ultimately, the only possible way I can know if someone is feeling a lot or a little is if they tell me. The fact of a person laughing a whole lot or not very much, though, really tells me very little.



Filed under social skills

6 responses to “Not WYSIWYG – Emoting

  1. This needs to be read by every health care professional I’ve been into contact with over the past year.

    • Ohmygoodness I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with that from health care professionals. That’s terrible!

      I don’t know if it would actually help, but I totally encourage you to print this out and start showing it to health care people if/when they start making assumptions about your emotional state based on what they can see. They are exactly the sorts of people who should know better.

      • I know, it’s quite terrifying that people think I’m still calm and collected when I’m TELLING them I can’t cope and am breaking down. I mean, I broke down so badly that I ended up losing my job! And yet the THREE professionals I spoke with all reacted as if nothing was really wrong and told me to let them know if I needed any help. Um, I am telling you that I need help. But apparently I’m not asking for help in the right way. Not emotive enough.

        It’s frustrating.

  2. Dan

    I hope this is not too off-topic, but it is something I wrestle with…
    Do you think it inappropriate to tell a person that one feels overwhelmed, disconcerted, repelled, etc., by that person’s display of emotion? (Not the emotion itself, I mean, but rather their display of it)

    • Ooh, that’s tough. I would probably avoid sharing something like that unless there was a need to – maybe it’s difficult for me to get space or for some reason I need to explain why I can only be around them for short periods of time.

      It would also be important to make sure I made it about me, and not them.

      “I have difficulty being around such intense displays of emotion. It is overwhelming and disconcerting.” THIS IS GOOD. They might still feel defensive, but ultimately you are talking about you and your reactions. Maybe don’t use the word “repellent” though.

      “You emote too much and it’s overwhelming and disconcerting.” THIS IS BAD. It’s a judgey statement about them and how they display their emotions, which might not actually be in their control.

      • Justin

        This is really helpful. I have understood that people could feel deeply without emoting much at all, but hadn’t considered the opposite. There is a person in my life who emotes a lot, and I didn’t know how to cope with it. It is overwhelming for me. I will try the approach you suggested.