Dealing with Emotional Sensitivity
Are you someone who has heard “Don’t be such a baby about everything” regularly as an adult? Do you find yourself crying frequently? Are your feelings easily hurt?
Are you told that you should try not to be so sensitive? Does it seem like everything someone says to you bothers you or makes you think less of yourself?
If so, you may be a Highly Sensitive person.
Elaine Aron is a Clinical Psychologist who invented and classified the term Highly Sensitive Person to describe people who react more sensitively to the world around them. They have emotional responses that are more extreme, and it isn’t just to things like criticism, rejection, and conflict.
People who would be considered Highly Sensitive also respond to mundane things in life like cold, bright light, and loud noises in more extreme ways than others.
How to Be Less Sensitive
Suppose your emotional sensitivity bothers you, or you find it interfering with your having and maintaining relationships. In that case, there are many tips presented in this article that may help you create a new outlook that can help you stop thinking about the worst-case scenario and start thinking about a hopeful future.
But let’s explore what makes a Highly Sensitive person and some traits first.
What Makes a Person Highly Sensitive?
A sensitive person may easily become overly emotional. Many highly sensitive people suffer from anxiety over being criticized, being ignored, being yelled at or spoken to harshly, and many other things that happen to us all at some point.
For example, if there’s a friend who usually talks to you at work during your lunch break, but today they sit away from you and don’t speak, you may get upset over it. Your friend is sitting in the break room on their phone. You enter the room and say hello with a smile on your face, ready to catch up on the newest gossip or share what you did last night after work. But your work friend doesn’t even look up when you greet them and mutters what sounds to you like an annoyed “hey” in response to your greeting.
Most people who don’t have issues with being sensitive would probably assume that the friend is stressed or preoccupied. They must be trying to get something done with their phone in the small amount of time available during their lunch break. And are trying not to allow themselves to be distracted, no big deal.
You’ll catch up later. Maybe you’ll text them tonight and make sure everything is okay with them. You may offer to help if it’s not.
Sensitive people, however, may not make those connections. The following thoughts are more likely to go through a sensitive person’s head when that friend doesn’t do much to acknowledge their greeting in the breakroom:
- Why didn’t he say hello?
- Did I do something wrong?
- He must be mad at me.
- Maybe he heard a rumor about me, and now he’s not going to speak to me.
- I guess he’s not really my friend
- I guess I was wrong in thinking that I was likable enough to have a friend at work
Small negative interactions like the one in the example can prompt significant emotional reactions in sensitive people. There’s no logical explanation as to why the person didn’t talk to you.
So you immediately go to the worst-case scenario, and everything hurts your feelings and affects the way you feel, in a big way.
Highly sensitive person traits
Common traits of a highly sensitive person include:
- Not being able to handle criticism.
- Not being able to process information in a way that doesn’t induce anxiety.
- Having a hard time controlling or understanding other people and emotions.
When you are highly sensitive, you have trouble making and keeping friends. You may struggle to stay in relationships, and you wish that you can live life like an average person does.
Negative feelings tend to take over and get stuck in your head, and you feel easily overwhelmed.
Handling constructive criticism does not come easily, and your emotional response to most things seems over the top to most other people. You are very emotionally reactive, and you feel upset over everything.
Learn to Recognize and Control Your Emotions
Imagine that your boss has asked you to stay after work because she needs to discuss something.
Immediately, a sense of dread settles over you. You expect there’s an issue that your boss will need to address, and you start to imagine all of the terrible things that will be said at the end of the workday.
Rather than waiting to deal with what the meeting is going to be about, you obsess over it and get yourself worked up as the day progresses. Other people notice, and they start to ask you what’s wrong.
Now you’re worried that you seem irrational and unhinged, so you get even more upset. Soon, you find that you can’t control your thoughts or emotions, and your work performance is starting to suffer for it.
Wouldn’t you love it if your reaction to something as simple as “We need to talk later” wasn’t so extreme? Don’t you wish you could stay calm and wait for the moment that the talk happened before deciding that everything was going to be terrible?
To wait until that talk and not stress about it nonstop would be a great thing.
So how do we change it?
1. Not Everything is Going to End in Catastrophe
Highly sensitive people tend to think in worst-case scenario mindsets. Their feelings are extreme, and they stress themselves out over the most minor perceived stressors.
You need to understand that most people don’t want to hurt you. Criticism does not exist solely to ruin your life.
You don’t need to feel bad about every little thing that occurs that doesn’t go your way.
Life isn’t out to get you. Sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
Other times when someone criticizes you, use it as a moment to improve, regardless of whether it was meant with good intentions. It certainly shouldn’t mean you start to obsess over it and allow your feelings to grow into a monster that wrecks your self-esteem.
Recognizing that your feelings and emotions are exaggerated is the first step in learning to be less sensitive. When you realize that everything gets to you in an extreme way, and it isn’t healthy, you can then begin to address the issues.
2. Try to See Things from the Other Person’s Perspective
When someone says something to you, and you don’t know how to take it, process it, or handle it, stop for a moment and try to put it into perspective.
Did the other person mean to hurt your feelings when they told you to lighten up? Did your best friend mean to hurt you when they said that the movie you picked wasn’t very good? Or was it your sensitivity playing against you? Did you focus on the negative possibilities behind the words?
Why would anyone go out of their way to hurt you? Why would anyone in your life want to see you sad or hurt you?
Feedback is how we get to know people better and nurture relationships. We create and practice friendships through healthy communication, and if you haven’t figured out what a person means when they say something to you, you need to ask. Assumptions make everything worse.
3. Know your emotional triggers
Knowing what your triggers are is important if you find that you can’t easily control your emotions. Highly sensitive people should pay attention to what fills them with negative thoughts or anxiety.
Maybe you notice that it’s not so much people’s words that make you feel sensitive, but how the words are delivered such as the tone or volume. If one person says something quietly and doesn’t make you feel overly sensitive, then another person says the same thing more loudly, making your sensitivity fly off the charts.
Once you understand your triggers, you can start to understand and control the emotions you feel when someone sets you off.
Tell yourself that your feelings are always valid, but you can control the way you react. You are only a human being, and you make mistakes, but you don’t have to be so sensitive around those mistakes that you sabotage yourself.
4. Seek Your Own Approval
Don’t look to impress anyone else. Sensitive people worry too much about what other people think, when they should focus on themselves and their own opinions.
Even if someone is actually trying to hurt you, don’t give them the satisfaction. You need to understand that they don’t get to control your feelings unless you allow them to.
You should set the standards for your own life. Your emotional responses are up to you, and you can be anyone you want to be without anyone else’s approval. Stifling your emotions and who you are will only make you even more confused about your feelings.
5. See a Therapist
Deciding to seek help from a professional therapist is an option if you feel to check on your emotional wellbeing and to help you become less sensitive.
Feedback from a professional may feel awkward, and there may be some sensitivity you’ll have to deal with. Still, therapy can help you to recognize and constructively handle your emotions.
A therapist can listen to your issues, help you put new strategies into place to control your feelings and emotions, and guide you in navigating your feelings.
You aren’t wrong for being sensitive, but your emotional sensitivity may be holding you back from enjoying yourself each day and getting ahead.
It’s okay to be sensitive, but it’s also essential to be able to handle your emotions. It will help you improve in areas that can help you boost your self-esteem and performance at work and at home.