Archives for February, 2012
When people feel alienated and socially excluded, they are at risk for depression and anxiety. When they think that they aren't part of their community, they may use unhealthy ways to connect or not feel the loneliness. The more isolated they become the more difficult it is to be around people or reach out. Some may believe that they have nothing to offer. They avoid people despite their loneliness. The more isolated they are and the longer the isolation continues, the more negative their thinking and the more entrenched the avoidance behavior becomes. What type of healthy coping skill can help? It's not possible to suddenly feel like you have friends or to find a loving partner. You can't suddenly create a close family. This is the situation that many emotionally sensitive people who suffer from depression may experience.
Have you ever seen someone walk into a room, maybe at a conference, bump into one of those metal chairs, and say "Oh, excuse me?" Or heard someone apologize because it's raining? Or because someone else is sick? Maybe you've done it yourself. The emotionally sensitive are often champion apologizers. They do not want to upset anyone, so they are hyper-alert to any insult that they might unintentionally cause. They do not want conflict or upset and hope to keep relationships calm. Sometimes the emotionally sensitive will apologize in order to hold onto relationships whether or not they believe they owe an amends to the other person.
Having multiple tools for managing emotions is important for the emotionally sensitive. Different strategies will work for different people at different times in different situations. One way of understanding emotions is through considering them in equation form. In his book Emotional Equations Chip Conley describes how understanding the connections between your primary emotions, rather than identifying individual emotions, can help you understand yourself, your purpose and your relationships with others. Conley explains that emotional equations are like grown-up finger painting. If you mix two primary colors, like red and yellow, you get a secondary color, like orange. He notes that primary emotions work together to create secondary and even tertiary emotions. An emotional equation is like having a reminder of how emotions are related to one another and to thoughts and perceptions. An example of an emotional equation is: Disappointment = Expectations - Reality.
Being emotionally sensitive has advantages and challenges. The challenges include overcoming stereotypes of others that affect your performance and self-confidence, and living with the ache that comes from feeling that you are walking around raw, with no armor against emotional pain. The good news is science is learning more and more about brain differences and how to make behavioral changes to cope effectively with intense emotions. When you're able to cope with the pain in adaptive ways, you are better able to enjoy the gifts of being emotionally sensitive. In addition, our culture may be on the cusp of giving greater value to skills that are predominantly right-brained based. Daniel Pink states in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, that our culture has been focused on logical, computer-like capabilities (primarily left brain activities) for some time. This focus on facts, programming and numbers has also meant a devaluing of skills that are often the strengths of the emotionally sensitive--empathy, making meaning, consoling, caretaking, awareness of undercurrents in interpersonal interactions and creativity. But according to Pink, change is coming and these right-brain qualities will be in demand in the future.
Many people don't like crying. They fight tears, hate their tears and hide their tears. Adults and sometimes children are told not to be crybabies. People who cry are often judged as weak and out of control. Emotionally sensitive people may be told that they cry "all the time" and may judge themselves negatively as a result. So let's check the evidence. Is it true that tears are a sign of weakness? Tears can be a signal of cooperation and vulnerability. Tears handicap aggressive actions, as noted by Orren Hasson, in an article on emotional tears as biological signals. It's hard to fight when you can't see well. Tears signal to others that you don't want to fight; perhaps this is the root of the belief that crying makes you weak?
When thinking about people who are emotionally sensitive, you might be most likely to think of the individual who cries easily and who shows her emotions openly. But there are many different types of emotionally sensitive people. Type C Person In the book The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotions, Michael Jawer discusses the Type C person. A Type C individual is a stoic, a denier of strong feelings and has a calm, unemotional demeanor. This person has a tendency to people please, is not assertive, and tends to feel helpless and hopeless. He is at risk for autoimmune disorders from asthma to lupus. Type C people tend to say they aren't upset but experience strong sensations in their bodies that indicate otherwise. They don't say no or defend their personal integrity. Their emotions have no outlet. For the Type C person who is emotionally sensitive, finding a way to cope with emotions is critical.
A research study completed years ago has always fascinated me. In the 1960's Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson administered a test to all students in an elementary school and gave the results to the teachers. They told the teachers that based on the test results some students were particularly likely to excel academically in the upcoming year whereas others were not. The "gifted" students were actually chosen by drawing names out of a hat, not by their performance on the test. In fact, the test was bogus and didn't really measure anything. At the end of the year the students identified as gifted scored significantly higher on an actual IQ test than students who weren't labeled as gifted, though in truth there was no difference in the groups at the beginning of the year. That is an amazing result. The authors believed that the only way this could have happened is through a self-fulfilling prophecy in the minds of the teachers. The students themselves did not know they had been designated as high-achievers (or not) and neither did their parents. Only the teachers knew. The researchers believed that the teachers' expectations caused them to act in ways that improved the performance of the students who were labeled as being intellectually brighter.
Whether you believe in celebrating Valentine's Day or not, the day serves as a reminder to many of the relationships they have lost or their lack of success in creating supportive relationships. The pain of being alone, for many, is constantly present but may be more intense on a day that celebrates love. Relationships can be a roller-coaster ride for the emotionally sensitive. Emotionally sensitive people often love fiercely and intensely. They also become hurt, angry and sad more quickly and more intensely than others do. Their emotions sometimes lead to relationships with lots of ups and downs. They may love their partner or friend but frequently be so angry and hurt they cannot be around the person, perhaps over an issue that others do not understand. They may believe that they hate a person at a certain time and they do. They may believe they never want to speak with or see the person again. But those thoughts, based on feelings of hurt and anger, often fade after the emotions pass. Then they are often racked with shame that they pushed someone away.
Emotional validation means acknowledging and expressing acceptance of someone's thoughts, feelings and behaviors as understandable. Sometimes understanding someone else's thoughts and feelings requires a lot of work because the way they think makes no sense to you. Emotional validation is different from emotional invalidation which means someone's feelings, thoughts and behaviors are judged, rejected, or ignored. Validation is particularly important for emotionally sensitive people. So if you love or care about or interact with someone who is emotionally sensitive, using validation can help build your relationship or help communication go more smoothly.
Emotional invalidation is when a person's thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation is emotionally upsetting for anyone, but particularly hurtful for someone who is emotionally sensitive. Invalidation disrupts relationships and creates emotional distance. When people invalidate themselves, they create alienation from the self and make building their identity very challenging. Self-invalidation and invalidation by others make recovery from depression and anxiety particularly difficult. Some believe that invalidation is a major contributor to emotional disorders.