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When you are emotionally sensitive, your feelings are quicker to come about, more intense and last longer than those of other people. When you’re seen as being different, particularly in a way that others don’t understand, then relationships are difficult to maintain. Others often don’t understand your emotional reactions.

Emotionally sensitive people have many ways of  putting on armor to protect themselves from the  painful judgments and rejections of others. You’ve learned that when you show your emotional sensitivity you’ll be labeled as flawed or broken or at least not understood.  The heightened fear of being rejected that many of you fear is often based in reality.

There are four basic false armors that emotionally sensitive people use to cope with their fears of losing relationships. The armors are false because they do not reflect your true thoughts and feelings.

1.  I Don’t Care, You Can’t Hurt Me

You can develop a non-caring stance in different ways and to varying degrees of success. At one end of the continuum, you have given up being accepted by other people and focus only on your own needs. The pain of not being accepted is still felt but isn’t evident to those around you. At the other end of the continuum there’s a thin veneer of not caring, perhaps even voicing the lack of investment with tears flowing. This veneer is almost a wish to not care.

2.  I Hate You

Anger can be an effective shield from feeling vulnerable. When you feel sad and hurt from interactions with others, you cover it with anger. Sometimes you stay angry most of the time, perhaps in an effort to prevent yourself from being hurt. You demand that your needs be met and that things be done your way. When things go wrong, you see it as someone else’s fault. Your stance is that other people are the problem, but secretly you fear that there is something wrong with you. You feel desperate that no one sees who you really are and desperate that you have control so that others can’t hurt you.  Expressing anger at others can also result from being angry with yourself.

3.  Stay Away

Another way of avoiding the pain of being criticized, misunderstood and rejected or the pain of perceiving those experiences are happening is to stop being around people. Many emotionally sensitive people are isolated and lonely but too scare of relationships to reach out for friends or companions. When around people, their fears can create a hypersensitivity to rejection and criticism so that building relationships is an overwhelming challenge.

4. Whatever Makes You Happy is Fine With Me

The chameleon response, or being whatever you believe  the people around you want you to be, is a common one for the emotionally sensitive.  You can blend in well yet the results are not satisfying. When you aren’t being yourself the acceptance that you get is not real. The idea that you must hide the real you damages your self-respect. Relationships are not genuine when you are not being yourself. When you do this over time, you may lose you own identity or not develop a sense of who you are.

Sometimes you may become convinced that the armor you use to protect yourself is the real you. That makes letting go of the armor in order to have good relationships even more difficult. In addition, learning to tolerate the emotional pain involved in relationships is challenging. The first step is to be mindful of the way you protect yourself in relationships. If you have developed a style that isn’t effective, then developing a plan for coping in a different way will be important. Part of that plan will be learning to be mindful of your emotions and not act on them.

Research Study

 Thank you to everyone who participated in the study about emotionally sensitive people. We have finished collecting information and will soon begin evaluating the data you gave. Your help has been amazing.  

 

Photo Credit: cAnna Fischer via Compfight

 


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    Last reviewed: 3 Nov 2013

APA Reference
Hall, K. (2013). What’s Your Protective Armor in Relationships?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/emotionally-sensitive/2013/11/whats-your-protective-armor-in-relationships/

 

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Karyn Hall, PhD is the author of the above books.
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