I'm looking for a word or phrase to describe someone who doesn't handle emotions well. Not someone who has no emotions or is bad at relating to others, but someone who does not cope well with powerful emotions (mostly negative, but could be positive as well, like if they're afraid of relationships and find themselves falling in love). Something that might describe someone who immediately falls to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with or all-out avoid situations they don't like.

Ideally, this might also refer to someone who ignores/buries their emotions until they "explode" in anger or grief, but any word for someone who will run away from their emotions is great. Trying to describe a character that's story makes this aspect of them a huge part of their personality.

Bert was _________ and Apartment 123 became a war zone when Ernie first started giving his attention to Rubber Duckie.

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7 Answers 7


As one of the comments mentioned, volatile suggests this idea of "ready to explode" at any point.

If someone is volatile, their mood often changes quickly.

"He accompanied the volatile actress to Hollywood the following year."

"He has a volatile temper."

This can convey both positive and negative emotions, and the person flipping between them quite quickly.

Another way you could describe them is "bottling up emotions". This implies that they bury their emotions as you said, rather than dealing with them, but also conveys that at some point the bottle breaks and they react very strongly.


I'd like to suggest the word touchy.

Touchy: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/touchy

Meaning: Easily upset or offended; oversensitive.

Usage: "she's a little touchy about her age".


There are two terms I have, "maladjusted" and "labile". Both are psychological terms. "maladjusted" is mainstream, "labile" not so much.

1.1 Of or characterized by emotions which are easily aroused, freely expressed, and tend to alter quickly and spontaneously.
‘mood seemed generally appropriate, but the patient was often labile’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

Emotional lability

The person experiencing emotional lability usually feels like they do not have control over the emotions.


2. Inadequately adjusted to the demands or stresses of daily living.
American Heritage Dictionary

adj. Failing to cope with the demands of a normal social environment.
Oxford Living Dictionaries


It sounds like "repressed" is the right word for this, because it has the connotation of suppressing emotions until they boil over and explode.

  • Usually one would descirbe the emotion as repressed, rather than the person themselves.
    – Freddie R
    Oct 22, 2018 at 12:33
  • 1
    @FreddieR I’ve heard it used to describe the person just as often.
    – NRitH
    Oct 22, 2018 at 12:39

Someone who is bad at handling their emotions, is often considered as discomposed:



having your composure disturbed

The adj. discomposed is the derivative form of discomposure, a word which can be contrasted with the word equanimity, denoting a state of being calm and undisturbed. While the adjectival form of equanimity is equanimous.

There's a post contrary to this one, under the title of:

In this post, most of users suggested “equanimous,” which I suspect that this is antonymous to “discomposed.”

  • 3
    Discomposed is a state not a nature.
    – Kris
    Oct 22, 2018 at 6:38

Given your descriptions of the person's responses, a possible descriptor could be capricious (adj): reactionary; prone to sudden mood or behavior changes.

Definition at Cambridge Dictionary:

  1. Likely to change or react to a sudden desire or new idea
  2. Changing mood or behavior suddenly and unexpectedly

Similar to touchy, you could use


  1. Easily irritated or made angry; quick to take offence; short-tempered; peevish, irritable; testy.

"He's been rather tetchy lately since his father passed."
"I was more than a little techy under your bantering."

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