The Emotional Sandbox

[This post is part of the ‘Are Women Crazy’ series. Check out the other posts here!]

Some of us manage to dodge the ‘crazy’ label because our insecurity is disguised.  It’s still very real and very dangerous but it comes out through apathy or positive emotions, so we avoid the over-emotional meltdown and convince ourselves that we’re doing swell.

Some of us wear our insecurity a little more visibly.  It comes out in the form of negative emotions, whether it’s anger or tears or anxiety.

Insecurity can cause us to experience disproportionate emotional responses to reality.  We overreact and create a whole lot of drama out of nothing.

Let’s say we were graphing our reality based on the intensity of the circumstance:

The reality graphed above is not excessive.  Our circumstances may not be highly intense on paper.  However, something about the situation bumps up against the places that we have placed our security and worth.  Instead of responding to what’s really happening, we respond to the threat to our security; we respond out of the panic of losing our identity.

We end up having an emotional reaction that is bigger than our reality.  We find ourselves in the ’emotional sandbox’, responding as if our situation is way more intense than it actually is:


The emotional sandbox is a disproportionate response to our situation.  It’s an over-reaction that winds up making us feel like our circumstances are a lot more intense than they actually are.  When we play in the emotional sandbox, we’re not responding to reality.  We’re responding to a threat against our sources of security and worth.

Couple of examples:

  • the reality may be that we’ve got a busy week at work, but if we find our security in success in the work place we become overly anxious and overwhelmed because instead of seeing reality, all we can see is the potential of losing our identity.  All of a sudden, what was just a couple of extra things on our to-do list, becomes an all-consuming monster.  Our insecurity leads us to up the severity of the situation and what was a simple matter of work becomes a life-and-death situation.  We’re playing in the emotional sandbox.
  • the reality may be that a friend of mine fails to invite me to dinner.  A normal response might be to ask her what happened, but because the lack of an invite pushes at my insecurity, I create a much more intense circumstance.  My fear of rejection creates an emotional response that would only be proportional if my friend had called me up and told me she hated me.  I’m playing in the emotional sandbox.

When even the smallest circumstance brushes up against our source of security, the emotional baggage that’s produced leads us to have an irrational response.  ‘Craziness’ is what happens when our emotions exceed reality.  Our emotions are responding to a more intense circumstance than we’re actually facing.

Here’s a couple of questions for you to consider before we move forward:

  • Where are your emotional responses a disproportionate response to reality?
  • Think about a circumstance in your life that feels intense.  Now consider your reality on paper.  Is your fear or anxiety or insecurity causing this circumstance to seem more intense than it is?

Don’t fear, we’re not done with the ’emotional sandbox’.  In the next couple of blogs we’ll talk through:

  • The Danger of the Sandbox
  • The Sandbox and God
  • The Sandbox vs. the Proportional Response
  • Fighting the Sandbox

In the meantime, let me know if this emotional sandbox concept is helpful!  I’d love to hear what you guys are processing!

8 thoughts on “The Emotional Sandbox

  1. OOOh, the emotional sandbox. I vote helpful! This whole series has been very great (in a convicting kind of way!), and I can honestly say that I have a tendency to wallow in the sandbox. Crazy thing is I didn’t realize that at first, and crazier still is that I pass it of as sarcasm and humor so that no one else knows that my security is being threatened.

    And who HASN’T freaked out over a missed dinner invite?

    Awesome blog, Fabs. I’ve never met you in my life, but you lovingly point to our sin and urge us toward repentance. For this alone, if I ever meet you, I will hug you. Probably before I say hello.

    1. Thanks Jenn! Yup. I can certainly relate to the sarcasm/humor. Mine also comes out a lot as self-righteous indignation…sigh.

  2. I love this series!

    Your sandbox illustration is so true. I did the exact same thing just yesterday at church- found a tiny incident (worth about 0.5 on the graph) that propped up a huge emotional sandbox pushing the incident right up to a whopping 25 on the graph! OTT internal reaction for literally nothing real.

    Thank you so much for your insight here. It is my biggest heart issue I am working on at the moment and you have been such a help!

    Like Jenn, if I ever met you, I’d hug you! I love that you “get” this without passing it off as “that’s just how us women are”

  3. I love this sandbox idea. I recently had an email from a student of mine, saying that I was unfair. I went INSANE, couldn’t sleep, composed hundreds of replies (which my wise friends prevented me sending), played out conversations where I came out righteous and he fell to his knees. In the end, the kid heard I was that upset and came and apologised and I suddenly felt totally fine.

    The problem is not fixed. Getting what I wanted may not have been getting what I needed! Still trying to figure out what it is that I over-interpret when someone says I’m unfair. In the mean time, luckliy, I didn’t rip a students head off for a passing silly comment.

  4. So helpful. All your posts are. Thank you so much for writing! God’s using your words SO much. Realizing how important it is to hardcore fight the “crazy” in me.

  5. The emotional sandbox.. I play in it often. I recently realized my love for said sandbox when I came face to face with my insecurity by means of my relationship with my boyfriend. Thankful for this series and the way it allows me to walk through my emotions and allows God to use them in a healthy way.

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