How to stop pushing emotion away
May 30, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I don't go to movies all that often. It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I get really caught up in them emotionally. I've always been quite sensitive and I find emotions to have an uncomfortable physical quality to them. So, when I go to the movies, a lot of my effort goes into clamping down on what I feel. I was so excited during the Avengers fight scenes that I am shaking trying to control myself. My question: Anyone experience this? How do you let go?
posted by tcv to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well I might not be super helpful but I like getting super caught up in movies because it's so nice to get that escape. But going to the theater is a much... heavier experience than watching a movie at home. You might just save theater movies for lighter things like comedies.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:36 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Learn to voluntarily dissociate, as follows:

See The Avengers playing in front of you.

Now imagine you are slightly behind yourself, and see yourself in the movie theater.

Now position yourself up in the projection booth, and look at the you sitting in the audience seats.

Now position yourself elsewhere in the projection booth; look at the you standing at the projector, who is looking at you in the seats.

With every remove, you should feel your reactions diminish.

As a rule, whenever you decide you want to reduce your reactions to some event, just make a mental picture of yourself, and put that image into the distance.

For the record, this is basic NLP.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Why are you trying to exert such control? What are you afraid will happen if you just feel the feeling? I've cried in theaters - like, full sobbing, can't see crying - and howled with laughter and cheered when the good guy beats the bad guy. When I'm watching something at home, I tend to hit the mute button if whatever I'm watching is too intense (scary, realistic violence, a character being humiliated), which I obviously can't do in a theater.

I guess I just...let go? Not helpful, I imagine. But nothing bad has ever happened - I tremble or shut my eyes or cry or cover my ears or whatever, and know that a ton of other people in the theater are doing the same thing.
posted by rtha at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

This exact thing happens to me when I go to the movies (and, for some reason, only when I go to the movies.) There's just this weird, immediate lightning bolt of feelings and it's hard to take. For a while, I was really uncomfortable with it and more than a little embarrassed at myself. I tend to only go to theaters for shit-blows-up blockbusters (e.g. Avengers,) so we're not talking about getting teary at Schindler's List.

Trying to control it didn't do a bit of good (outside of distracting me from the movie,) so I just acknowledge the emotion, acknowledge that there's nothing to be afraid of, and just let it run its course. I've yet to explode.
posted by griphus at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2012

Once in a while I remind myself that the people on screen are actors and take a minute to admire the special effects. This is what I had to do when I was a child and wanted to watch horror movies without being afraid. It takes me out of the story and the emotions a bit.
posted by sarae at 11:46 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I deal with my wild screamy feelings of movie glee by shrieking about them endlessly on the internets, really. Most of the time I am also bouncing up and down in my seat and clapping like a demented seal. With the kinds of movies I prefer, I am never the only person in the theatre behaving thus.
posted by elizardbits at 11:52 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FWIW: I'm still dealing with the trauma I experienced during RENT. ;-)
posted by tcv at 11:54 AM on May 30, 2012

I find it easier to let go when I feel 'safe.' For me, that means knowing that nothing bad is going to happen to the characters that I get attached to. Yay for formulaic movies, established genres, and (if all else fails) spoilers! If I know what's coming, it's not so overwhelming and I can save the twisted plots for home viewing.
posted by oryelle at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the advantage of spoilers. I find it helps me prepare myself and I don't get attached to characters that will die horribly. Also it helps you avoid films that you suspect might upset you.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:00 PM on May 30, 2012

I tell myself it's Just a Movie, and that my feelings are super intense because I'm imagining how _I'd_ feel if I were in that situation, but I'm not. I'm out at the movies, not saving the world. Lucky for me, I don't have to save the world. The characters, who are completely fictional, and much capable than I, can probably save the world. I can watch a movie. Sometimes I have to remind myself that later I gotta go grocery shopping, just to pop myself back into my own mundane life briefly.

As I'm sure you know, this doesn't work as well for movies of true stories. Skip those when you can.
posted by ldthomps at 12:02 PM on May 30, 2012

Best answer: My mom gets into her movies. She lets out little shrieks and gasps during surprising parts, and taps her feet on the floor and can't hold still during exciting sequences. I took her to see one of the LotR movies and passed her whispered spoilers, and she still had big reactions. The thing is, she's genuinely enjoying the movie. It's a delight to go with her because she gets so much out of it. The woman sitting beside me during the LotR showing exchanged a grin with me at my mother's obvious enthusiasm.

My mom can be disruptive to nearby moviegoers, so we typically wait for the movies that have been showing for a while so we'll get a mostly empty theater and we pick seats that are isolated. But I do really like to go to movies with her because half the fun is seeing how she reacts. Sort of like a kid at Christmas.

Yeah, you can tamp down on that - whiteknuckle your armrests or mentally interrupt yourself - but sometimes it's part of your charm. I'd pick movie going companions who understand that (and can grab your popcorn before the shock scare so you don't fling it everywhere). You make a great person to see a second viewing of a movie with, because you can amplify the fun-ness of the best moments.
posted by griselda at 12:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's taken me pretty much my whole life up to this point to understand that I'm not afraid of most things I think of as scary, but am instead so overwhelmed by my emotional reactions to them that I dislike my feeling out of control as a result of them. First, growing up, this was about my fear of clowns and people in costumes and elaborate makeup. In order to help me get over that fear, my family rented a few behind the scenes of the circus sort of movies for me, that I actually became enthralled by. (They actually bought the video tape from blockbuster!) It spun out into a fascination with theater makeup and costume design, and a relationship with the concept of masks that I'm still unraveling in my brain. As a side effect, I also know a lot about special effects and film making techniques, just because it's among my interests.

Now, when I'm watching something and I start to feel that pull of anxiety from being overwhelmed, I can quickly snap into a more analytical mode. "Oh, is Robert Downey Jr. standing on an apple box in this shot?" "Hey, I know how to make those types of arrow wounds!" "I wonder how many layers of real explosion sounds I'm hearing right now." "Whoever decided Captain America's butt needed uplights should be commended." Then, as I'm drawn back into things, I can let that part of my mind go quiet and enjoy the rest of the film.

Anyway, all of this is to say, you should look into the techniques behind narratives and storytelling in general, film making in specific, maybe acting techniques? Knowing the how of these things has really helped me in my life, because I can always choose at what distance to enjoy something from. And of course it's helped me in my own creative endeavors, if maybe you are of a similar creative type.

Also it's totally okay to cry and jump and scream and shiver in a movie theater. So maybe it might be something as simple as attending a few midnight premieres, where everyone is in a heightened emotional state, to help you normalize your perception of yourself.
posted by Mizu at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I get into movies a lot too, and also into some books. Usually I wait until is out on Netflix or DVD, unless is a PG13. If I know that I can get up during the scary parts I feel safer, and I am mor able to watch.
posted by francesca too at 12:48 PM on May 30, 2012

I think I know a little bit what you mean by this, and it's why I tend not to go to the movies much (well, there's also the fact that most movies are lousy). I tend to re-watch movies I've seen before because seeing new ones feels so intense and emotional. And I don't watch horror movies at all because I get all wrapped up and terrified by them.

What helps is to watch movies at home on the DVD player; I watch them while I'm exercising usually, which helps to break the spell (it also means I see half the movie one day and the second half the next day). If I see them in the theater, I often look away from the screen to keep from immersing myself too much. And I avoid movies that I know will upset me too much, like thrillers and violent things.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:52 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's an idea: Buy a super-exciting movie on DVD/BluRay and watch the "behind the scenes / making of" extras. You'll see that the sets really are made of just wood and styrofoam, and that the actors are just doing their jobs, surrounded by a bunch of crewmembers wearing shorts.

You'll see how movies get made and see how fake they really are.

Maybe that will temper some of the movie magic that you might feel when watching future movies?
posted by shino-boy at 12:54 PM on May 30, 2012

Get analytical... consciously think about how the movie is producing the effect on you. Start noticing high pitched string ostinatos and cat scares in horror films. Imagine what the director was telling the actors. Think of Robert Englund coming home and moaning to his wife "I had to stab her 10 times before she got the scream right. Never work with teenagers hon". Read tvtropes.

And once you stop letting hack directors and actors push your buttons so cheaply, you get so much more pleasure when a talented one takes you out of your seat and into her imagination.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:58 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow, I literally just discovered this about myself too? Except with movies and music. (I always thought I wasn't moved by music, until I realized that I was so moved by it that I avoided music that successfully made me feel powerful emotions. I found it exhausting and scary. For some reason I don't feel the same way about literature.)

So in getting over this, what I've done is to tell myself a few things before I watch a movie/listen to an album. First, this is only going to take a certain amount of time-- usually a couple hours, tops. Second, I've done this many times before, and I'm always glad I did. As in, it may change me, but the change will be that I now know more about something. Third, I remind myself that there's nothing wrong with getting carried away by something. Fourth, I remind myself that there will be some emotional work involved, but it will be engaging work.

Basically the main thing is reminding myself of the positive emotions I associate with experiencing past entertainment. I realized at a certain point that I was more willing to watch art movies than "entertaining" movies (I don't really believe in the distinction, but bear with me) because I was already used to going into a critical mode in the former. Once I started analyzing popular culture, I was able to parse it just as well as "high" culture and felt much more comfortable with the emotions it caused in me.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:14 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just let go. I cry, I scream, I laugh uproariously, I gasp every time the movie wants me to. My friends always want to sit next to me in theaters because I guess my emotional soundtrack is kind of like another kind of 3D?

Of course, I also get a sense of catharsis after watching a really emotional movie, so I don't feel a need to tamp things down. I do cover my eyes/ears during gruesome scenes because that doesn't feel fun to me- I usually cover my eyes and pay attention to the feeling of sitting in the theater, the people around me, etc. Maybe this would work for you? Turning your head and looking at the other people in the theater also works pretty well for this. Anything to put you back in the real world and out of the movie world.
posted by MadamM at 1:43 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I get this way, too. I just go with it, honestly. I was literally bouncing up and down in my seat and squeaking at The Avengers during the fight scenes (especially Hulk and Thor? OH HELL YES). I was in the back row, so no one was sitting behind me to be irritated. I cried basically through all of Toy Story 3, Up, and Rachel Getting Married. I've cried through all the trailers for Brave. (The first five minutes of Up? Jesus Christ. I can't even. Every time I watch -and it was my nephew's favorite movie for a year, so I've seen it quite a few times- I'm in full-on ugly cry.) I cried for the entire last 45 minutes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2. (I sobbed reading the book, too.) I cried at the end of Captain America and at the beginning of the Star Trek reboot. I'm just like that and anyone who goes to the movies with me (and I go a lot because I love it) knows and doesn't care.

I think it's at least partly because I'm very controlled and somewhat unemotional normally, so that's sort of a safe way for me to let my emotions out! Everyone cries at movies, right?! CRY ON. I think it's probably not as big a deal to anyone else as it is to you. If you love going to the movies, pack some extra tissues and sit in the back, and bounce away. You're fine.

Also, I've found it's much, much easier to get away with being noisily reactive in the movie theater if you go opening weekend. Everyone at the premiere weekend is loud. Every time.
posted by Aquifer at 2:24 PM on May 30, 2012

Best answer: When I went to see Tootsie, the cross dressing was merely interesting to me in its virtuosity, but when Dustin Hoffman began to ad lib and completely change the carefully contrived soap opera plot on the fly, and catch everyone utterly flat-footed, I was so embarrassed I crouched down in the space below my seat and wrapped both arms around my head, and the two men in front of us asked my girlfriend, apparently in all sincerity, whether she worked at one of the many local halfway houses.

I've always been this way.

Movies are just too much for me, and I finally quit going to them altogether.
posted by jamjam at 3:56 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My friend is really into The Avengers, like, in general. During the scene where they're circled up and all finally formed as The Avengers about to fight, he stood up, fist pumped and yelled, "AWESOME." The theater cheered.

I wasn't at a theater, but the last time I watched Hook I really recognized the theme of how difficult it is to reconcile getting back what you lost in becoming an adult with the great things about being an adult, felt a real sense of lost childhood and sobbed for the last act of the movie.

This is why we watch movies.
posted by cmoj at 5:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yup, I get this too. Also with roller coasters. It's like there's a muscle in your brain that knows reality from imagination gets confused in there or something. My mom tried to teach me how to intellectualize it away, but that didn't help. I know I'm being manipulated through scary music, but I still feel incredibly scared. It's not a muscle you can consciously control. But you can teach that muscle how to deal comfortably through exposure. It learns over time when there's a reason to react that way and when there isn't.

Also, I find it's funner to go to those theaters where you know everyone else is going to be acting up too so you can let loose if you want, like everyone else is saying up thread. Go to a bunch of theaters near you and figure out which one that is.
posted by bleep at 8:21 PM on May 30, 2012

I drink. Take a 1/2 pint to the movies and dump it in one of those $5 sodas. Problem solved.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:50 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was younger, I got the same kind of reactions from playing action video games, like the Tomb Raider games. My adrenaline was always going. When I needed to calm down a little I just reminded myself of where I was, or paused for a quick break, and that helped. I know you can't pause the movie in a theater but do what darth_tedious said.

Aquifer: " I think it's probably not as big a deal to anyone else as it is to you."

If you're quiet. :) *recalls three girls in the back during Titanic who sobbed loudly through the entire last half-hour of the movie*
posted by IndigoRain at 8:01 AM on May 31, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the responses!!!
posted by tcv at 9:25 AM on May 31, 2012

A few years ago at the queer film festival, we went to see We Were Here, a documentary about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The screening was at the Castro Theater, and it was packed.

As you can imagine, it's a pretty sad film. But while there was some audible sniffling at various points, that was nothing compared to what happened when one guy somewhere in the middle rows burst into heaving sobs - I'm tearing up right now remembering it - and that set pretty much everyone off. It was so cathartic, and communal - I felt kind of clean and light when the film was over. Everyone was red-eyed and drippy-nosed. It was a very human experience.

(I had a similar experience when I saw Smoke Signals when it opened - apparently, if you have father issues this movie makes you cry your eyes out, and everyone has father issues.)
posted by rtha at 10:39 AM on May 31, 2012

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