How do you see yourself and your world? The way you view both affects the way you live your life. You may be quite secure about who you are and your safety in the world. Or not. Let’s call the basic way you look at yourself and the world on an everyday basis your self-scape. It’s like your emotional landscape. Do you wake up in the morning and see a full, lush emotional world? Do you focus on the people who support you? Or do you tend to see a barren world? Or perhaps even a landscape full of aggression and hostility, with people ready to destroy you when actually you are safe, it just doesn’t feel that way?
If you are in a situation that is physically dangerous, your situation is different. Your self-scape of fear is based on reality. A distorted self-scape is when someone feels undue fear of daily life events that most people experience.
Having friendships and/or family members you feel close to is often a primary part of living the life you want to live and is one of your biggest challenges. Interactions with others are often the most emotional experiences you have, both in rewarding and painful ways. If relationships are part of your life worth living, determining how to make this work for you will be important.
Keep Your Priorities in Mind
Relationships are naturally full of ups and downs. There are so many times you will have urges to break off a relationship and to never speak to a person again. In many cases though, that’s using avoidance and/or abandonment as a way of responding to a problem. You avoid the immediate pain of hurt and vulnerability but in the long run your relationship is damaged.
Emotionally sensitive people experience more intense emotions that are more easily aroused and that last longer than those who are not emotionally sensitive. You react faster with greater emotional intensity that lasts longer. Your emotional reactions can be triggered by television shows, magazine articles, places that trigger memories, anniversaries and other events. Interpersonal issues are one of the most challenging areas for you.
With a strong fear and sensitivity to rejection, even routine events such as a friend canceling lunch plans can bring on a tornado of emotions that are difficult to manage. With this difficulty in relationships, so much of life becomes stressful, such as attending classes, dating, participating in friendships, interacting in group activities, having roommates, and working with others. Some of you withdraw and become isolated as a way of avoiding the pain of relationships. Others experience anguish and suffering on a regular basis with little relief. Working on interpersonal skills and ways to manage emotions in relationships can help you reduce the suffering you experience on a daily basis. Improving your interpersonal resiliency and skills is complicated. Four options for getting started (based on the work of Marsha Linehan, 1993) include the following:
Validation is the acknowledgement of your own or someone else’s inner experience (feelings, thoughts, urges) and behaviors as understandable. Validation helps you improve communication with those you love. When you validate others, you create a safe context for them to express their fears, worries, and issues that make them uncomfortable. When you have open, accurate communication, then you can problem solve.
John comes home from work and his wife Amy meets him at the door holding the credit card bill. She has an angry look on her face. In a loud voice she says, “You know we are trying to cut the credit card bill. We agreed to discuss any charges. It’s not even two weeks later and you’ve already broken that promise. How dare you! How can I ever trust you?”
How will John respond? Of course he will say something like, “You are always on my case. I can’t do anything right. You’re the reason we’re in this credit card mess anyway, so don’t go blaming me.” Communication then becomes an argument. John responded to his wife’s anger with his own anger. While that is understandable and natural, it doesn’t help either of them have a helpful discussion.
John’s first emotional reaction to his wife’s upset was likely one of shame or guilt, because he had broken their agreement not to use the credit card. Instead of expressing his guilt, he defends himself with anger. That makes him less vulnerable, and it also makes effective communication more difficult. If he had accurately expressed his feelings, John might have said, “Oh, honey, you are right. I can understand how you would be so hurt. I did use the credit card and then I felt guilty about it. I meant to tell you and I kept putting it off.” That would be a more accurate expression of his thoughts and emotions. In turn, Amy would likely …
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.
Emotionally sensitive people are among the most compassionate and passionate people in the world. Often creative, you have talents as artists, writers, and musicians. You add to the caring and beauty of the world. Many times you also struggle with self-hatred, depression, anxiety, and horrible feelings of alienation. Those struggles are likely not due to your being emotionally sensitive. Much of your suffering may come from self-doubt and from an agonizing experience of being broken. That likely comes from what you are told and experience as a child.
Radical Acceptance means completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart, your mind, and body. You stop fighting reality. When you stop fighting reality you suffer less. That means you don’t feel hot anger in your stomach whenever you see the person who got the promotion you deserved and you don’t seethe with resentment when you see your best friend who is now dating your boyfriend. You accept that what is, is. You learn and you go forward. Radical acceptance is easier to understand than it is to practice. There are many obstacles to giving up the suffering of resentments and anger, particularly for emotionally sensitive people.
1. But I don’t want to let them off the hook. Holding on to your anger can seem like you are punishing the offending person, whoever did a wrong to you. As long as you are angry then they aren’t getting away with whatever they did to harm you. Your anger serves as a marker, a memorial almost, of their actions. If you let go and radically accept then it is like it never happened and you don’t want it to be that easy. When your feelings are deep and intense, you want the other person to understand they hurt they have caused. Plus your resentment is pretty intense too and difficult to manage.
That sounds good. The problem is that it doesn’t really work that way. When someone has treated you unfairly, he either knows it or doesn’t know it. If he recognizes his actions were unkind, then your anger serves only to distract from his facing his own failings and guilt. If he doesn’t recognize his unkindness (or worse), then your anger changes nothing. Your anger will not teach another person …
The need to be accepted by others, to have a sense of belonging, is a profound human motivation, one that is felt in some way from birth throughout life. Our natural state is to live in communities. Belonging to a community contributes to a sense of identity and purpose.
Perhaps you agree to give a presentation, play the piano for your friend’s wedding, or go on a trip to a foreign country. Not long after you commit you are filled with anxiety and wish you had never agreed. Maybe even leaving your house causes you anguish, worrying about what others think of you. In these situations you are worrying about an event that has not happened, but might happen.
When you suffer from a life event that could have been avoided, you may be angry with yourself. For example, whenever you lose a loved pet or experience the break up of a relationship, you might say, “Never again. It’s not worth it.” You worry about feeling that pain in the future.
Mark McGuinness, in his book resilience, points out that in your lifetime you will apply for opportunities and be rejected many times. You will work for goals you do not achieve. Even when you do succeed, you will be criticized, sometimes viciously. That criticism may be directed at you professionally or on a more personal level. Criticism is a part of life.
Most people have at one time or another kept themselves from going after what they wanted because they were afraid of rejection, failure, or criticism. For the emotionally sensitive, this is a common experience. Sensitivity to rejection and criticism can be paralyzing in both work and social situations. What you want to do may be simple or it may be a complex endeavor. Whether it is to enter a cooking contest or to go visit a friend across town, accepting criticism may be the price of going after your dreams.