Emotional fragility is the tendency to easily become overwhelmed by difficult emotions. It’s the opposite of resilience.
- A relatively small bout of worry in the morning turns into a whole day of anxiety, stress, and panic.
- A tiny piece of unintended criticism spirals into hours of self-doubt and catastrophizing.
- A minor slight against you leads to days of angry rumination and venting.
And even though many things can contribute to emotional fragility, it’s often subtle habits that maintain it.
The following 7 habits are frequently indicators of emotional fragility. But if you can learn to identify them and work through them, it’s possible to become far more resilient in the face of painful feelings and moods.
1. Trying to “fix” painful emotions
It’s counterintuitive but trying to fix or get rid of painful emotions only makes you more vulnerable to them in the long-run.
See, when your brain sees you trying to get rid of or escape something, it begins to view that thing as a threat. And when your brain thinks something is a threat, it makes you afraid of it. So when you habitually avoid or try to “fix” painful feelings, you train your brain to be anxious of your emotions. And this makes you emotionally fragile.
When you treat your feelings like problems, eventually you’ll start to feel like one.
The solution is to learn to approach your emotions—even the painful ones—and welcome them. Because when you do, you teach your brain that even though painful emotions like anxiety or grief feel bad, they aren’t bad things—and you aren’t bad for feeling them.
The acceptance of all feelings is the heart of emotional strength.
“Emotional pain cannot kill you, but running from it can. Allow. Embrace. Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.”
― Vironika Tugaleva
2. Criticizing yourself for bad moods
It’s a sad irony that many of the kindest and most compassionate people are incredibly judgmental and critical of themselves. And a perfect example of this is how they deal with bad moods…
If a friend came to you and shared that they were having a hard time and were in a bad mood, how would you respond? Probably with compassion, understanding, and gentleness. But the minute you find yourself in a bad mood, you start judging yourself for being weak or selfish or irrational or whatever. You criticize yourself, judge yourself, and compare yourself.
Feeling bad is hard enough without feeling bad about feeling bad.
When you judge yourself for your bad moods, you end up feeling bad about feeling bad. And when you compound painful feelings, it’s a recipe for long-term suffering and emotional fragility.
The next time you find yourself in a bad mood, try a little self-compassion before you jump to self-judgment.
“Words matter. And the words that matter most are the ones you say to yourself.”
― David Taylor-Klaus
3. Getting lost in worry
Chronic worry makes you emotionally fragile because it kills your self-confidence.
Think about it like this: How much confidence would you have in a leader who was constantly fretting about everything bad that might happen, catastrophizing every negative possibility, and worrying about how they won’t be able to handle difficulties in the future?
Yeah, not a lot of confidence!
Well, this is what you’re doing to yourself when you allow your mind to get lost in chronic worry—you train your brain to believe that there are terrible things constantly around the corner, and worse, that you won’t be able to handle them.
If you want to be emotionally stronger, make time to thoughtfully plan and problem-solve for realistic threats in the future. But outside of that, resist the urge to follow your worries down all those unproductive and confidence-killing rabbit holes.
“If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.”
― The Dalai Lama
4. Dwelling on the past
Dwelling on the past is the flip side of worrying about the future…
When you habitually remind yourself of all the ways you’ve screwed up and made mistakes in the past, you train your brain to have a false and confidence-killing view of your current abilities. And this makes you emotionally fragile.
The cost of living in the past is the inability to live fully in the present.
Of course, it’s important to reflect on our past mistakes and learn from them. But that’s a very different thing than habitually and mindlessly losing yourself in self-criticism about the past.
Accept your past failings. And learn from them if you can. Then find the courage to let them go and live your life going forward.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”
— Albert Einstein
5. Depending on other people to feel good
It’s human nature to want comfort and support from others when we’re upset or feeling bad. And for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s a very good thing to surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people!
The problem is when you rely on other people to feel okay.
If you’re in the habit of constantly seeking reassurance and outsourcing your painful feelings to other people, you’re telling your brain that you’re not capable of handling those difficult feelings yourself. And this makes you emotionally fragile.
Ultimately, your feelings are your responsibility and no one else’s.
Emotionally strong people are able to ask for help and support as part of a larger strategy of working through emotional difficulties. But if other people are your entire strategy for working through emotional struggles, you will be stuck in a pattern of low confidence and emotional fragility.
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
― John A. Shedd
6. Refusing to enforce your boundaries
A healthy, confident, and strong self depends on healthy boundaries. On the other hand, emotional fragility is almost a guarantee if you fail to set good boundaries or refuse to enforce them.
Now, I get it… setting healthy boundaries is hard. And enforcing them is even harder. From worries about people getting upset with us to awkwardness to indecision and self-doubt, there are all sorts of difficult feelings that make enforcing your boundaries challenging.
But here’s the thing:
Setting and enforcing good boundaries is a sign of self-respect to yourself.
But when you don’t set good boundaries (or fail to enforce them, which is even worse), you’re basically telling yourself that you don’t respect yourself. And it’s hard to build emotional strength without self-respect.
If you want to become less emotionally fragile, start with the courage to stand up for yourself by enforcing your boundaries.
“If people keep stepping on you, wear a pointy hat.”
― Joyce Rachelle
7. Trying to be happy all the time
Everybody likes feeling happy. But it’s a profound mistake to assume that you should always feel that way or even aspire to always feel happy.
And the reason is straightforward:
- Feeling bad is a normal part of the human experience. Sadness, anger, shame, fear… these are all perfectly normal things.
- You might not like them, but that has nothing to do with whether they’re good or bad.
- But when you insist on always feeling good and happy, you invalidate feeling bad. And when you’re in the habit of invalidating your own painful feelings, you end up feeling more and more miserable and more and more desperate to feel happy. See where this is going?
Insisting that you should always feel happier than you are is a great way to always feel worse than you should.
Ironically, trying to feel good all the time is a recipe for emotional fragility and suffering because it leads to emotional invalidation.
On the other hand, when you’re validating of your emotional pain and unhappiness, it leads to emotional strength, and eventually, more frequent levels of happiness (or at least, less frequent bouts of unhappiness).
It’s not about feeling good or bad. It’s about having a healthy relationship with whatever you’re feeling.
“Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.”
― Eckhart Tolle
All You Need to Know
Emotional fragility is often the result of bad habits that interfere with our natural resilience:
- Trying to “fix” painful emotions
- Criticizing yourself for bad moods
- Getting lost in worry
- Dwell on the past
- Depend on other people to feel good
- Failing to enforce your boundaries
- Trying to be happy all the time