Being sensitive doesn’t mean that you need to be overly emotional or cry at every sad story you hear, but it does mean that you should be more understanding and empathetic towards others. To do that, here are some tips on how to be more sensitive.
If you find it hard to attune to other people’s emotions, or don’t see why you should, then someone has probably called you out for being insensitive. You might already know that you’ve been insensitive and consider it a personal choice, or it may be the first time you’ve heard it, and you feel a little surprised or confused.
Either way, understand that there’s nothing wrong if you’re lacking in emotional sensitivity, but that becoming more emotionally sensitive can be a wonderful thing. It can transform your life and improve all of your relationships, from your family and romantic relationships to the brief conversations you have with passing strangers. It may also help you become a much happier person.
In this article, we’ll help you increase your sensitivity. We’ll offer some tips on how to become a more sensitive and compassionate person and how you can do so without jeopardizing your mental and emotional health. Later we’ll further explore the benefits of being a more sensitive person, but first, let’s take a look at why some of us struggle with sensitivity.
Why are some of us so insensitive?
The world can be a tough place to live. Dealing with the broad spectrum of human emotions, those of others, the sadness and tragedy worldwide, and the seemingly endless cruelty and discrimination that we face can be exhausting and pose a real challenge to the sensitive people among us. As such, many adopt a tough personality and a thick skin to get through it all.
Some people are more sensitive than the average person. They are more receptive to social and emotional cues, have an extra-sensitive central nervous system, and may seem to others to struggle with social anxiety. However, in reality, these people just need extra time away from the intense and, at times, chaotic stimuli the world throws at them. We use the term ‘highly sensitive person’ or HSP to describe such people. Those of us who are less sensitive may be reluctant to increase our sensitivity because we don’t want to be or feel as vulnerable to the world as a HSP.
It makes sense – if we thicken our skin and put up a tall barrier between our inner world and the external, then surely we’ll protect ourselves from the horror and cruelty in the world. However, while toughening up might protect you from the world, it also means that you’re less receptive to the beautiful, positive, and life-affirming feelings and experiences the world also has to offer.
Why should I be more sensitive?
What is the point of becoming more sensitive to other people’s feelings? How does it benefit other people, and how does it benefit you? Should other people be less sensitive?
Becoming a more sensitive person is not just for other people; it’s also for yourself. If you’re emotionally insensitive now, then working on your sensitivity level will surely create a significant change in your relationships, including the one with yourself.
When we’re not sensitive, we usually fail to pick up on subtle cues that someone is feeling emotional, whether that emotion is anger, nervousness, fear, or shame. Alternatively, we might pick up on those things but not see any point in caring. That’s an issue of compassion, which we’ll explore in further detail later.
If your insensitivity is about not being able to recognize subtle cues of emotion in others, then you can increase your sensitivity by learning about these cues. Later in the article, we’ll take a look at the power of listening and how you can become better at it by learning to read body language.
Once you become a more sensitive person, you’ll be more present in your relationships. You’ll be able to attune to the emotions of the person to whom you’re speaking and get a better sense of the dynamic between the two of you. Another topic we’ll get to a bit later is how you can maintain your ground and emotional well-being while also being sensitive to the emotions and experiences of others by learning how to set healthy personal boundaries.
How to increase your sensitivity
Work on your self-awareness
The more aware you’re of your own feelings and emotions, the easier it becomes to recognize and respect those of others. The more you know yourself, the easier you’ll find it to understand other people. We’re not all that different. Sure, we all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and generations, but deep down, we share far more similarities than differences. As such, greater self-understanding leads to a greater understanding of others.
How can I become more self-aware?
To become a more self-aware person:
- Take some time every day, or at least as often as possible, to sit with yourself alone.
- Put away your phone, turn off the television, and avoid any other distractions if you can.
- Sit or lie down and focus on your breath.
Practice mindful breathing
Pay attention to your breathing for a few minutes. In that time, your mind will create and let go of a lot of thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
If you’re used to suppressing or avoiding negative or uncomfortable emotions, such as anger, jealousy, or disappointment, try not to avoid them this time. Let them sit there with you, but keep your focus and attention on your breath.
Be honest with yourself
Be brave enough, to be honest with yourself about how you feel. No one is around to judge you or tell you that you’re feelings are wrong, so take this time – even if it’s only five minutes – to be radically honest and authentic with yourself. After five minutes, get back up and continue with your day. Try this practice once a day for a week and see how you feel.
Keep a journal
You can also develop greater self-awareness by keeping a journal. Write in this journal after those five minutes to yourself. Write down words or ideas that came up as they relate to your feelings. Again this journal is entirely private, so don’t worry about being judged or critiqued.
Simply write down whatever is true to you at that moment.
The process of sitting with yourself and writing about your experiences can be uncomfortable at first, especially if you lack emotional sensitivity. Still, once you get used to it, it’s profoundly liberating.
Many people who are labeled as ‘insensitive’ or tough on others are often also that way toward themselves. There is nothing inherently wrong with showing yourself some tough love – this approach to life usually stems from wanting the best for and of yourself – but many people take it too far and become their own worst critic.
We berate ourselves for errors and mistakes, not realizing that mistakes are part of being human, and give ourselves an unnecessarily hard time. It can be hard to offer others empathy, support, and compassion if that’s how you treat yourself.
Thus, working on self-compassion and developing a more supportive and caring self-relationship is a great way to be more sensitive and compassionate to other people.
“When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.” – Pema Chödrön
It is from a place of genuine compassion that you become a more sensitive person. The more compassionate you can allow yourself to be, the more space you create for another person’s emotions.
That doesn’t mean that you have to take on those emotions – in fact, it’s important to learn how not to do that – but it does mean that you create a safe space for others to be themselves, which will drastically improve your relationships.
Learn how to listen
If you want to become a more sensitive and compassionate person, then you must learn how to listen. Good listening is not just about clarity of sound – it’s about really hearing what the other person is saying.
Many of us don’t really listen in conversation. We hear something that resonates with us, and while the other person is still talking, we formulate our response. By the time we have a response ready, it’s as though we’re just waiting for the other person to finish talking so we can continue the conversation. This isn’t really a conversation. It’s more like playing a game in which you win by getting your voice and opinion out there.
How to become a better listener
Understand that a real conversation is not a game, or if it is, it’s a game that both parties should win. It should be an honest and authentic interaction in which both parties come away feeling heard and validated.
If you don’t listen but instead just wait to respond, then you’re not offering your conversational partner a safe space to feel heard. They’ll pick up that you’re not really listening, possibly become disappointed or disheartened, and retreat back into themselves, ultimately giving up on even trying to be heard. Whatever it was that they wanted to say or communicate will be lost in the game.
Be comfortable with silence
You can improve your listening skills by paying close attention to the person speaking. Instead of waiting to chime in with your perfect response, let go of expectation and anticipation and let the other person speak.
Don’t jump in straight after either – let there be silence for a brief moment. If a person is speaking to you from a place of sensitivity, then they might not be as articulate as they would like to be. Allow for some time after they’ve spoken to let them hear their own words, reflect, and add any extra details before you give them your response.
Pay attention to non-verbal communication
Communication is about a lot more than the words that are spoken. We communicate so much to others non-verbally – through body language and tone of voice. We stand or sit with a particular posture to convey that we are listening, that we are confident, or that we’re curious. We also convey the opposite through your body language, albeit subconsciously.
When we’re not really listening, we’re likely to avoid or fail to maintain eye contact, turn our body slightly away from the person speaking, or slouch in our posture.
To become a better listener, and thereby a more sensitive and compassionate person, pay attention to the body language of the person speaking. Notice their posture, their tone of voice, and their facial expressions. Learning how to recognize the non-verbal cues helps you better understand where that person is coming from, which in turn informs you of how to respond to help them feel safe and heard.
Set healthy boundaries
Sensitivity is a wonderful trait to possess. It makes us more compassionate to others and helps us experience the finer details of life. Still, sensitivity is both a blessing and a curse. There are times when life feels overwhelming, and to the sensitive person, that sense of overwhelm can be frightening and will require some recovery time.
As you work on becoming a more emotionally sensitive person, don’t neglect your own needs in the process. Learn how to set healthy boundaries to make sure that you’re only really dealing with your own emotions and being there as support and empathy for others, rather than taking on another person’s emotions, losing sight of your sense of self, and neglecting your wants and needs.
‘Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices, writes English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. In your quest to become a more sensitive person, you don’t have to take on the negative energy and emotions of others. Anyone who calls you out for being insensitive just because you’re setting healthy personal boundaries has their own work to do in understanding the respect for other people’s right to set those boundaries.
You are not insensitive because you need to take time away from someone or would rather not hear them talk about a certain topic. It may address their issues, or the topic of conversation they want to discuss is difficult for you. Refusing to engage in the conversation is self-protective and by no means makes you a bad person.
Be curious and non-judgmental
Renowned American poet and essayist Walt Whitman once wrote ‘be curious, not judgmental.’ But what exactly does that mean in the context of becoming a more sensitive person?
When we judge people, we take refuge in black and white, or right and wrong thinking. We might be insensitive because we’re labeling the person with a moral or ethical flaw in character. Understand that you don’t have to judge people. You are not obligated to cast judgment on anyone, no matter what they’ve done. It is within your right and your power to actively hold back on judgment altogether.
So, instead of being judgmental, try to be curious about others. Be curious about why people behave or speak in the way they do, but don’t cling to the need for an answer. Put yourself in their shoes to get a sense of what it might be like to be that person. Consider if you would act the same or differently if you were in their position, and be honest with yourself with that answer.
Ask people what they need
You don’t have to read people’s minds to be sensitive to their wants and needs. It’s true that some people want you to ‘just know’ what they want to hear or how they want to be treated, but that’s an unrealistic expectation to place on anyone. You can become more sensitive to an important person in your life by asking them outright what they need to feel loved and cared for.
Let the person know that you want to show them that you care and are really concerned about their feelings and experiences, but it’s a little hard for you to always show the sensitivity you would like to show. If the person cares about you in return, they’ll likely cooperate and let you in on what it is they really need.
Asking about others’ needs is a simple but highly effective way to improve your relationships and behave in a sound, sensitive, and ultimately compassionate way.
Sensitivity can be a superpower. It can heighten your self-awareness and make you more attuned and receptive to other people’s feelings and emotions, leading to improved, happier, and healthier relationships. You can also get to taste the broad range of experiences that life has to offer in a colorful rollercoaster of a life.
Still, you can have too much of a good thing. If you’re overly sensitive, you might struggle to fully live your life. You might become easily overwhelmed and even frightened by the world and choose not to engage with it but, instead, hideaway.
Your relationships can even suffer from over-sensitivity because you might struggle to cope with your partner’s difficult feelings when they really need you to be grounded and there for them.
Becoming more sensitive is a good thing but remember to create and maintain healthy boundaries so that you can be emotionally available for yourself and others without jeopardizing your overall well-being.