Being emotionally fragile means you have a hard time managing difficult emotions. This can be manifested through:
- Little bits of worry throw you into cycles of anxiety and panic.
- Small bouts of sadness lead to spirals of self-criticism and depression.
- Tiny bits of irritation quickly blaze into hours or days of anger.
- When you are emotionally fragile, even small amounts of painful emotion consume you.
It is possible to escape this pattern of emotional fragility and learn to be more emotionally resilient. If you want to be more in control of your emotions, you need a better relationship with them.
Many people have an unhealthy relationship with their emotions because they are afraid of them. So they get in the habit of running away from or trying to get rid of these painful emotions. Unfortunately, this particular fight or flight reaction to your emotions trains your brain to see them as dangerous, which only makes you more afraid of your emotions in the long run.
- If you want to feel stronger in the face of difficult emotions, you must unlearn the habits that are keeping you afraid of them.
- We all feel emotionally fragile sometimes. But if you feel this way a lot, chances are several of these habits are the cause.
- If you can learn to identify these habits and work to undo them, emotional resilience won’t be far behind.
How do we go about managing Emotional Fragility, please check the pointers below:
Trusting your thoughts
Your mind throws thousands of thoughts at you each day, many of which are accurate and helpful. Though many of them are also misguided, random, or downright untrue! This is completely normal. Emotionally resilient people understand that they should not blindly trust every thought that crosses their mind.
If you do, it is a set-up for emotional fragility:
- If you accept every worrying thought as true, you will end up chronically anxious.
- If you accept every revenge fantasy as a good idea, you will end up overly aggressive.
- If you accept every self-criticism as valid and accurate, you are going to end up with pretty low self-esteem.
If you want to stop being so emotionally fragile, cultivate a healthy scepticism of your own thoughts. Go ahead and listen to your thoughts, but don’t be afraid to dismiss them too.
Relying on coping skills
A common trap that emotionally fragile people fall into is relying on coping skills to feel good. A coping skill is a technique or strategy you use to temporarily feel better:
- Doing some deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
- Repeating your positive self-image mantra when you feel bad about yourself.
- Texting your therapist when you’re feeling down and cannot seem to shake it.
- While coping skills have their place, relying on them can be dangerous.
Coping skills are emotional Tylenol. They temporarily make you feel better, but they rarely address the underlying issue. Fear isn’t a problem: It’s a message from your brain that something in your life is dangerous or not working.
Sadness isn’t a problem: It’s a message from your brain that you have lost something valuable. Anger isn’t a problem: It’s a message that your brain thinks something in your life is unjust and should be dealt with.
If you consistently treat your emotions like problems, don’t be surprised if they keep feeling that way.
Breaking promises to your own self
Emotionally fragile people often struggle with low self-esteem.
While there are many initial causes of low self-esteem, there’s one thing that almost always keeps people stuck in it: People with chronic low self-esteem have usually gotten in the habit of breaking promises to themselves.
Think about it: If you frequently break your promises to yourself, how could you trust yourself or be proud of yourself? Low self-esteem and emotional fragility go hand-in-hand because it’s hard to confidently manage painful feelings if you don’t believe in yourself:
- It’s hard to tell yourself that you’ll be okay despite your worries if you don’t trust yourself.
- It’s hard to remind yourself of your positive qualities when all you can remember is a string of broken promises to yourself.
- It’s hard to fight back against self-criticism and doubts when you aren’t proud of yourself.
A powerful way to fight back against emotional fragility is to start keeping your promises to yourself.
The trick is to start small: If you tell yourself you’re going to finish your report before lunch, do it; if you tell yourself you’re going to call your sister after work, just do it, even if you don’t feel like it.
You’re stronger than you think, but you will never feel that way until you start learning to trust yourself.
Going with the flow
There’s nothing wrong with being easy-going sometimes. But if you always find yourself ‘going with the flow’ and following the lead of others, you are probably keeping yourself emotionally fragile.
If you always ‘go with the flow’ when your husband suggests Italian food, he’s never going to know that you don’t actually like Italian food all that much.
If you always ‘go with the flow’ and say yes to new assignments at work, your manager is never going to know that you’re burnt out and unhappy in your job.
If you always ‘go with the flow’ and agree to host Thanksgiving at your house, your family is never going to understand why you frequently seem irritable and resentful toward them.
Going with the flow seems nice, but it’s actually the opposite: it’s a lie that ends up hurting everybody in the end. If you want to build up the courage to be more of you and express what you really want confidently, practice assertiveness.
Being assertive means you’re willing to express your wants and needs in a way that is true to yourself and respectful of others. And it’s a skill anyone can learn.
It may feel awkward and scary at first, but being honest about what you really want will improve all your relationships—especially your relationship with yourself.
Being judgemental towards yourself
It’s a sad fact that most people grow up learning that the only way to properly motivate yourself is to “get tough” with yourself.
Most of us internalize from a young age that unless we beat ourselves up with lots of self-criticism and tough self-talk, we’ll end up slacking off or not performing well. Our families and culture glorify performance and success (especially academic success), we end up having our self-worth tied to our ability to achieve and be successful. So we come to over-rely on the judgemental behaviour and self-criticism as a motivator.
But here’s the problem: While fear can be an effective motivator in the short-term, it has disastrous emotional consequences if it’s your only form of motivation.
When you’re constantly critical and judgemental with yourself, you begin to feel as if nothing is ever good enough. So you double down and get even tougher with yourself, which of course only makes you feel worse.
- It’s pretty hard to feel confident when you are judgemental with yourself every time you feel afraid.
- It’s pretty hard to feel motivated when you are judgemental with yourself every time you lack energy or enthusiasm.
- It’s pretty hard to feel good about yourself when you’re constantly talking rubbish to yourself in your head.
Start to practise a little self-compassion, and you’ll find yourself far more resilient than you ever thought was possible.
Emotionally fragile people often get stuck in the habit of asking for reassurance anytime they feel scared, sad, or upset.
On some level this makes sense: If you don’t trust yourself to manage difficult feelings well, and someone else you do trust tells you everything’s going to be okay, that’s an awful tempting strategy.
But chronic reassurance-seeking has one major downside:
Every time you ask for reassurance, it’s a vote of no-confidence in yourself.
Think about it from your own brain’s perspective: If every time you feel bad, you immediately rush to have someone else make you feel better, what does that say about your own self-confidence and belief in yourself?
Of course, we all need help and support sometimes. But if other people are your default strategy for feeling better, you might need to rethink your game plan.
Staying busy all the time
One of the least well-known habits that leads towards emotional fragility is constantly staying busy!
People in this habit never let a minute go by without having something to do. They keep their schedules so packed that they never have any space for mental downtime and the chance of being alone with their own thoughts.
While this constant activity and preoccupation can make you feel productive and on top order of things, it’s often just a mask for something unhealthy:
Constant busy behaviour is often a primitive defence mechanism for avoiding painful feelings.
- If your relationship is unhappy, but you are too afraid or ashamed to try and improve it, constant busyness helps you avoid that pain.
- If, deep down, you’re profoundly unhappy in your work, constant busyness helps you avoid that pain.
- If you’re afraid to be alone with your own thoughts, constant busyness helps you avoid that pain.
But that’s not actually true. Constant busyness temporarily helps you avoid those pains, but it never really addresses them.
You’re just kicking the can down the road. And all the while, those problems are just festering and growing bigger with time.
Chronic business is a form of emotional procrastination; putting off the hard work of dealing with painful feelings by always having something to do.
Ultimately, if you want to end the cycle of emotional fragility and become more resilient, you have to start facing your fears and dealing with them head-on. You can only do this if you free up a little time in your schedule to self-reflect and ask yourself what really needs to be addressed.
Trishna Patnaik is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one-to-one basis in Mumbai.
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