Dear Rachel,

I’m a very emotional person. All my emotions—joy, sadness, frustration, anger, fear—are expressed in a big way. Needless to say, I’m very effusive! I’m alsoI sometimes notice people withdrawing very sensitive and often overwhelmed by my feelings. This can alienate people. Although they like having their feelings understood, they don’t seem to be able to deal with my outpouring of emotions. I feel like going and building myself an ice castle on a secluded mountain somewhere. I don’t want people inching away from me. Not all people feel this way, but I do notice people sometimes withdrawing.

Overflowing With Emotion

Dear Flowing,

Your Ice Queen idea isn’t so bad. Not literally.

But Maimonides—a 13th-century Torah commentator and rabbi—said that when it comes to our character traits, if we want to moderate them, then we first must go to the opposite extreme. So someone who is extremely miserly would have to spend some time being extremely generous; someone who is painfully shy would have to act assertive. After a time, one could revert to the middle ground. Therefore, to curb your emotions, you would need to assume a detached, almost indifferent stance to practice keeping your emotions in check before reverting to a more medium ground.

But first, let’s examine if this is necessary or helpful.

All of us fall within a range of emotional diversity. Some people are aloof, self-controlled and utterly cerebral, while others are a whirlwind of emotion. Ideally, we should engender both possibilities depending on the situation (where we are and who we’re with). It’s not abnormal to sob at a funeral. It is overdramatic to do it if your computer is slow. It’s not unusual to whoop when someone gets engaged. It is out of place when you get served your favorite meal at a restaurant.

A richness of colors in your emotional palette makes for a masterpiece, but not if they’re haphazardly thrown at the canvas.

When collecting contributions for the Tabernacle in the desert, G‑d asked for donations from those we who are generous of heart (Exodus 35:5). The “Song of Songs” talks about the extremely emotional relationship between a man and a woman, a metaphor for G‑d and the Jewish people. However, Moses was punished by not being allowed to enter the Land of Israel because he lost his temper at the wrong time.

We must serve G‑d in a manner with moach shalit al halev—the intellect ruling over our heart. For example, let’s say you feel badly for all the sick people in the world, and you want to give them all your money. The Torah says you shouldn’t do that even if your heart tells you to, or you will become impoverished. You are certainly supposed to give charity and help others, but within limits.

People’s emotions are like a flowing river. But if the river were to flood its banks, then it would drown the vegetation it helps grow.

So here are a few suggestions:

1. Express yourself in ways that don’t involve other people: Write, paint, sing and transfer your feelings to a medium that is enhanced by deep emotion. Being creative is emulating G‑d.

2. Identify what thoughts are behind your emotions and address those concerns.

3. Avoid triggers. Identify situations in which you become overcome, and try to limit your exposure or prepare yourself to face them beforehand.

4. Find a good friend, a rabbi, a support group or a therapist to talk through some of your deeper feelings.

5. King David wrote the book of Psalms. You can see the depth of his emotions in his writing. That’s perhaps why people feel soothed when they read his words. Reciting Psalms (or any prayer) can help restore emotional and spiritual equilibrium.

6. Try Maimonides’ method of balance by going to the opposite extreme for a while.

Your emotions are a gift. Learn how to use that gift for your benefit and others. Your sensitivity can help others feel understood, and your compassion will draw people to you. But choose with whom to share your gift; not everyone has the ability to appreciate deep feelers. Learn to temper your response and direct it appropriately, and you will be viewed as a glorious fountain whose waters smoothly rise and fall to the hidden music in your soul.

Love yourself for your capacity to feel deeply and others will, too.