We all get emotional about different things, to different degrees. We are comfortable with our level of emotion. What we feel and what we do with those feelings is natural and understandable. Someone feels a little more and they are a worrier or a whiner or a hater. Feel a little less and they are a robot, a cold fish, something alien. Not to be trusted. Cold blooded. Act out more and you're out of control, irrational. Act out less and you are repressed.
We are all our own gold standards for what is acceptable emotion.
So in a normal office, there will be a group of good people who get along... and one slimy, rumor-mongering deceptive manipulator. The manipulator will run roughshod over the nice people. His victims see him as evil. He sees nothing wrong with what he does. Then one day someone will step up and actually be assertive: "I know what you're doing. Knock it off." The manipulator deflates and walks away mumbling, "What an asshole." You see, in the manipulator's mind he never directly confronted anybody, so what he did wasn't aggressive or bad...
One level higher than you are willing to use strikes you as wrong. In the Conflict Communications course, we've identified six levels of this (hmmm, and six levels in the force continuum I usually use-- subtle influence, maybe?). For those who have spent time at the highest levels, where conflict is resolved with force, the conflicts that arise at the lower levels seem petty, almost unreal.
So it is easy for us to say, "Honey, just stand up to him. You'll be fine." And we don't appreciate that for people used to being good and getting along, stepping up just to the assertive level can feel like crossing boundaries, like doing something bad.
And when we say, with all sincerity, "I'm negotiating, son, right up until it is time to knock you on your ass," we don't understand how the casual acceptance of higher levels of force (that to us seem prudent and justified) sometimes horrify people who think that yelling or even standing up for yourself might be going too far.
"I understand that you are trying to hurt my feelings, young man. But no one has tried to kill me today, so I'm in a pretty good mood."
You know that stereotypical dream where you go to work or school and realize you are naked? Those quit happening the first time I thought, "Well, if it bothers anybody, that's their problem," and went about my day. There's nothing to be embarrassed about if you are still breathing and others had tried to stop that.
So for writers: angst is not terror.
This is for me, I know I'm not your target audience... but damn, people. Please. If your protagonist is in fear for her life, if she is looking into the eyes of a man who wants to beat, destroy, kill and humiliate her it is a different animal than dealing with a broken heart. Do not try to extrapolate from the embarrassing pimple you had in eighth grade to the terror of imminent annihilation. Do not try to recall your childhood heartbreak of flushing you goldfish down the toilet to write touchingly of a couple who just lost their baby. Please.
I know some will anyway. It might be okay for the readers who also have never been to the deep places. But the rest of us can tell.