Whether you’re dealing with an emotional bully (see previous post about adult bullies) or other difficult situation, one of the first steps is to comfort yourself and manage your emotions.
The part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making and planning cannot function as well when you are filled with emotion. Acting on emotions without the thoughtfulness of the logical part of the brain usually means trouble.
Even when you’re in the right about a situation, if you act impulsively and emotionally it’s unlikely others will listen. They’ll tell you to calm down and don’t get so upset. This situation happens frequently for the emotionally sensitive and they soon believe no one listens to them. They also may find themselves reacting first and regretting later.
One type of emotional bully is the person who attempts to use anger as a way of protecting themselves, controlling others or as a form of connection. Anger is often a hurtful emotion for those on the receiving end. For emotionally sensitive people having someone angry at them can be devastating and result in their withdrawing, fighting, acting in unhealthy ways and experiencing hours of emotional pain.
One of the ways to cope with anger is to change your perception (see previous post on No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do). If you blame yourself whenever someone is angry with you, or have an automatic response that isn’t effective, a first step of pausing and considering the reasons for their anger could be helpful.
Spouses who verbally attack, the controlling boss, the critical parent–all may be described as angry people. Bullies are often angry people, regardless of their age. Maybe it’s hard to understand why someone would bully another. After all, being chronically angry has many negative consequences for both the person who lives in anger and those around that person.
Self-Compassion is a form of acceptance, one of the four options you have no matter what the problem you face (see previous post, No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do). Kristin Neff in her book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, lists three core components of self-compassion: self-kindness, recognition of our common humanity, and mindfulness. These components are all helpful for the emotionally sensitive person.
Self-kindness is being gentle and understanding with yourself. This concept means more than not beating up on yourself and stopping harsh judgments. Self-kindness means to understand and comfort yourself, like you would a good friend. Self-kindness means comforting yourself even when you make mistakes and especially when you make embarrassing ones.
Sometimes people who are emotionally sensitive are angry with themselves: angry because they feel different than other people, because they are easily hurt, and sometimes because they feel broken.
Perhaps they’ve heard that they are too sensitive or overreacting so often that they are angry with their sensitivity. Some emotionally sensitive individuals feel ashamed, like they are less than other people. Some are frustrated that their emotional reactions have gotten in the way of achieving their goals or have hurt relationships they valued. Sometimes there is a feeling of hopelessness and they have retreated from the world, seeing it as too painful.
The anger and shame that people sometimes feel about being emotionally sensitive adds to their suffering and their emotional pain. In addition, fearing being alone, left out or abandoned blocks the joy and pleasant experiences that might otherwise be available.
When faced with a difficult problem, you might find yourself paralyzed over deciding what to do. Emotionally sensitive people often have difficulty making decisions, tend to ruminate about issues and can become increasing upset as a result of thinking about the issue over and over.
Searching and searching for the right solution, perhaps one that won’t upset others or cause pain or loss, adds to anxiety and upset. How can someone find just the right solution and know what the right solution is?
Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, outlined strategies for any problem that you face. Remembering these options can help decrease the struggle of not knowing what to do. The four options are Solve the Problem, Change Your Perception of the Problem, Radically Accept the Situation, or Stay Miserable.
Emotionally sensitive people have some common characteristics even though they also vary greatly. The following are just a few characteristics to consider if you think you might be an emotionally sensitive person.
You have a rich emotional life, feeling your feelings deeply and often. Your day is filled with a wide range of emotions and you experience most situations with emotional response.
You might laugh and cry within the same hour. Sights and situations that others don’t see as emotional can be emotional for you. Maybe as a child you worried about walking on grass, fearful that it hurt the grass. Maybe you worried about the teacher’s feelings when your classmates misbehaved. Or when others were laughing at the chimpanzees playing at the zoo you felt sad they were in a cage.
You may sometimes keep your emotional reactions or the reasons for them secret because other people would not understand.
Emotionally sensitive people react emotionally to most situations and often are quite aware of what triggered their emotions. Sometimes, though, they don’t know why they are feeling what they are feeling.
Consumed by their feelings, they don’t think to determine the cause. However, identifying what triggered their feelings is helpful in knowing how to manage and accept the feelings.
If an emotion is justified, like feeling fear because someone looks like they are ready to hit you, then the emotion is giving you important information to act on. Taking action on a justified emotion is helpful, like volunteering to help at a shelter for the homeless when you are feeling sad about their plight. If the emotion isn’t justified, then managing the emotion so you feel less emotional turmoil or upset is important.
Emotional triggers are experiences that bring about emotions. Environmental triggers can be something you see, something you hear, something you smell or something you touch. Even a certain movement, like dancing or sitting in a porch swing, can bring about emotion. The emotions triggered can be from the past or about the present.
Some common emotional triggers are television/movies, computers, books, and friends.
Television and Movies. Television shows and movies are two of the biggest emotional triggers. Graphic violence or sexual content is often triggering. In addition, to create suspense, scriptwriters often hurl difficult experiences at the characters, putting them in horrible situations. What is entertaining and suspenseful for some can be emotionally painful for the emotionally sensitive. For animal lovers, movies that include harm to an animal can be particularly upsetting. Some people may find seemingly neutral content triggering though is not upsetting to others. What triggers emotions can be different for different individuals.
The IRS calls and you’re being audited and your dog just chewed up all your receipts. Your husband forgets your anniversary. Your son fails a class. Your best friend talks behind your back. When even everyday kind of bad things happen, emotionally sensitive people feel more fear than others do and often their threat alert system is activated in some way every day. When on threat alert, the brain’s defense system is activated to flight or fight. Sometimes people feel paralyzed. Living in paralysis or in fight/flight is exhausting.
Germer, in his book The Mindful Path to Self -Compassion puts these responses in three categories: self-criticism, self avoidance/isolation, and self-absorption (Germer, 2009).
The world can be a bruising place for emotionally sensitive people. A regular day can feel like being covered in biting, Texas-sized fire ants. A natural response is to do whatever works to avoid the pain of believing others have judged, rejected or left you out. Feeling powerless to stop injustice adds to the hurt. One option is to wear a mask and hide who you really are–an Avoidance Mask. You know, avoid all the pain and protect your authentic self as well.
An Avoidance Mask is different from a Functional Mask. A Functional Mask is one everyone needs. That’s the one you wear at work when you need to look like you’re in charge even though your daughter just eloped with a guy in a rock band.
A Functional Mask is put on for those necessary times, like when famous people don’t want to show how sad they are so the tabloids won’t figure out they’re devastated that they were fired as the star of a movie or television show. With a Functional Mask you feel your feelings and are only temporarily sheilding them from others. Having a functional mask is helpful but often difficult for emotinally sensitive people. So sometimes they choose more permanent masks in an effort to protect themselves emotionally.