I’ve been called a robot before.

More than once, actually.

By girls. Girls I’ve dated.

I’m not too surprised by this honestly. I know that I’ve got a firm grasp on my emotions, outwardly at least, and that’s what people usually respond to. When there’s something crazy going on around you, do you panic or calmly say ‘There’s a fire in the ceiling’?

I know that I do the latter. In high school, during class, I walked to the far side of the room to pick up some notes I had left there earlier. As I was walking back I saw a fire burning through a hole in the ceiling created by a missing tile.

I looked up, looked at the other students and teacher, and calmly said ‘There’s a fire in the ceiling.’

Everyone looked at me like I was making a joke that they didn’t get.

I said ‘No seriously guys, there’s a fire in the ceiling.’ I pointed. They looked…eventually. My voice was so unsurprised, so perfectly calm, that no one’s internal alarms went off. Nobody snapped into action because the cue to do so, an audible sign of alarm, wasn’t there. It was purely informational and that kept their reflexes from kicking in.

So obviously there is a time and a place for having that level of control over your emotional responses. I personally value the fact that I can keep a cool head even in the most panic-inducing circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that staying that cool all the time is a good idea.

Here’s a good rule of thumb, one that I’m trying hard to abide by: if the situation requires empathy in order to get the best possible solution, let go of the reins a bit and let yourself get a little worked up. In the case of the fire, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do except convey a solid warning, and to do so I needed to express the concern I felt more effectively.

Similarly, if a significant other is upset and really just wants you to understand why they’re so upset, it’s probably a good idea to loosen the grip and make sure they understand that, no, you don’t think they are crazy, and yes, whatever is upsetting them is a legitimate concern.

Work hard to get that control if you don’t have it, however, because in other circumstances (if you’re being mugged, for instance), it’ll be a great asset and may actually keep you alive.

Update: December 11, 2016

This is still something I struggle with sometimes, but I’ve found a good rule of thumb in a mental metaphor I adhere to.

Rather than being pulled underwater by the waves of emotion that can surge when something happens, internally or as the result of something external, instead try to surf upon them. This allows you to be aware of them and roll with them — to go with the flow — but it also means you’ll never get so overwhelmed that you drown in them.

It’s an imperfect visualization, I know, but it’s what’s allowed me to find a far better balance between the sometimes over-calm, informational, practical person that I default toward, and the empathic, healthily emotional person I’ve worked hard to become.