This is a possible entry for a new edition of my book Thinking from A to Z.
Sentimentality: inappropriate emotion, an excess of sentiment. The person who is absolutely overwhelmed with emotion at the cuteness of a kitten, or who idealises a lover to the point of nausea is guilty of sentimentality, emotion that is inappropriate or completely disproportionate to the situation. A sentimental person is one who is prone to such inappropriate and often gushing responses to the world, and typically uses this as a strategy of avoidance, a way of refusing to confront unpleasant truths (such as that the kitten has worms, or the lover bad breath).
Sentimentality is a fault, not a virtue since it involves avoiding unpleasant truths. It is a common psychological block to clarity of thought that often involves wishful thinking in that the sentimental person is unwilling to confront facts, but rather is much happier in a soft cuddly world of their own imagination. Sentimentality can even involve blindness to the way things really are. It can be a kind of magical thinking that involves reacting to the way the individual would like the world to be rather than to the way that it is. Oscar Wilde famously declared a sentimental person one ‘who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.’[great list of Oscar Wilde quotations]
For example, the mother of a child who has been caught bullying another child may simply refuse to believe that her son could be a bully. In her eyes he remains this sweet innocent child who could never harm anyone else, and she experiences nothing but warm and comforting feelings in his presence. How could he possibly be the culprit? There must be some mistake. This is a sentimental reaction, a way of avoiding the unpalatable truth that her son is a bully.
Spotting other people's sentimentality is relatively easy; recognising your own is harder.