John and I sat in my office making an agenda for the days Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT)session. He looked nervous and fidgeted with his pen.

I said, Hey, whats up?

I cried in PUBLIC! at med school, he said distressingly. I was sitting in my genetics class and we were talking about some genetic defects that kids develop, and I just started sobbing in my seat. It was horrifying, and I felt sooooo embarrassed.

I looked at John and said softly, Sounds like you emotionally leaked.

For overcontrolled (OC) people who tend have a lot of impulse control, showing a flood of emotion externally and in a situation where others can see it, might be very uncomfortable or shame provoking. Emotional leakage happens when an OC persons self-control has failed and their inner feelings are revealed and expressed more intensely than preferred.

Emotional leakage isnt a problem per se, except when its followed by self-criticism. Theres nothing wrong with showing people what you are feeling on the inside! Actually, research* shows that people who openly express their emotions are more trusted and feel better connected with others, even when the emotion is a negative one.

Self-criticism following an emotional leak is usually due to a rule that a OC person has about how and when to express emotions. Such as:

  • Its only okay to yell and be angry at home
  • Dont cry in public
  • Never show fear at work or to a boss

When one of the rules is broken, self-criticism erupts.

The task for John is to recognize that expressing what he feels isnt a sign of weakness or failure, but a sign of psychological health. Thank goodness that medical students feel emotional about their work. It probably makes them better doctors who are more able to relate to their patients concerns and illnesses.

Go ahead, get your feels on.

* (Boone & Buck, 2003; Mauss et al., 2011; Feinberg, Willer, & Keltner, 2011)