Jessica has a great memory for details and enjoyed sharing adventures with her husband. She was shocked when he asked for a divorce–she had no idea how unhappy he was. Only after he filed the papers did she understand that there was no big event that changed their relationship, but a series of small episodes. For example, when out with friends, her husband enjoyed sharing stories about the trips he and Jessica had taken. Jessica often corrected the small mistakes he made and she was usually right. When he complained, she explained she was just helping him get it right. She didn’t see that as a problem.
One day in second grade I raised my hand to read aloud certain paragraphs of a story. I loved to read. I skimmed ahead and found a dramatic section that would allow for varying voice tones. The teacher selected a different section for me to read. I protested that I wanted to read the section I had chosen. She skipped me and I didn’t get to read at all. I was being willful.
We may think of willful behavior as typical of children. Picture the child in the store who is having a temper tantrum, refusing to leave without a wanted toy. That is willfulness. Another example would be when a young child is chosen by a team he didn’t want to play on. Going home or sitting by the sidelines refusing to play was most likely not effective behavior. It probably didn’t solve the problem and in addition he didn’t get to play a game he enjoyed. Even the child who doesn’t want the bubbles he blew to float away is showing willfulness. While we tend to think of children exhibiting such behaviors, adults can be just as willful.
Sometimes people who are emotionally sensitive are controlled by their emotions. When they are feeling happy and joyful, they think positive thoughts and all may seem right with the world. When they are upset, they may not remember how good they felt before and be unable to believe that they may feel good again. During those times their thoughts are often pessimistic and they may see all as hopeless.
Emotionally sensitive people may also experience mood dependent behavior. When they are happy or content, they are active with their friends and interested in the events of the day. When they are depressed, sad, or scared they may withdraw and isolate. Their behavior depends on their mood, more so than for people who are not emotionally sensitive. In addition, the way they see themselves may be controlled by their mood. They may hate themselves when they are angry, sad or disappointed. When they are content or happy, they may accept themselves or at least not feel such intense self-dislike.
1. Learn how to validate. When emotionally sensitive people are upset, their emotions are more intense and last longer than those of other people you know. No one thinks clearly when emotionally dysregulated.
During those moments, the brain is focused on survival and threat, not on seeing options or thinking through the best way to express ideas. Validating their point of view and their emotions can help them get back to their wise mind. Remember, validating that their thoughts and emotions are understandable does not necessarily mean you agree.
2. Whenever possible, wait until both you and your loved one are calm before discussing any important topics. Communication is rarely effective when either party is emotionally upset. Attempting to discuss important concerns when upset often creates a mess.
Judging and fear of being judged often keeps people in a trap – an emotional jail. Instead of living your life the way you would love to, you live safely, doing what is acceptable, so you aren’t labelled as crazy, stupid, worthless, a failure, lazy or some other hateful word. You may try to fit into molds that aren’t right for you or that aren’t even possible for human beings.
Humans simply aren’t perfect.
Most people have multiple ways of judging themselves, and often that involves comparing themselves to others. Maybe you have a role-model in mind, a person you think has it all together. Maybe you choose the best of several other people to compare yourself to–the role model for your professional life is different than the person you look up to in your personal life, and the person you admire for her mothering skills may not be the same person you want to look like in a swimsuit.
Most people don’t consider themselves good enough. We’re not good enough at work, as a parent, or as a spouse. Our bodies don’t look good enough at a pool party and we aren’t pretty enough or successful enough at the high school reunion. We don’t have enough friends and we don’t have the right car.
Emotionally sensitive people are more likely to judge themselves harshly. We live life as if it were a competition.
Living a values-based life is not an easy goal. You get up in the morning, you’ve got tasks to do. Sometimes you just do tasks without considering how you are allocating your time. Sometimes you just keep going all day until you are done, then fall into bed exhausted. Often it seems there isn’t enough time to think about living your life with meaning or putting your energy into what you believe in.
You may believe in family, contributing to those less fortunate, friendships or making positive difference in your community. Many times though, people don’t put their values into action. They don’t live their beliefs.
Paying Attention to Who You Are
Your values are an important part of your identity. What are your top five values? How much of your life do you spend consistent with those values?
Understanding emotions, being able to observe them in ourselves, and knowing the information they give us is an important part of living effectively. For example, fear tells us to take action or freeze to protect ourselves. When fear is based on true facts versus imagined or misinterpreted information, that message to self-protect can be lifesaving. That message is perfectly clear — you are in danger.
Sometimes, though, the message our emotions are giving us is more difficult to understand. That’s true of shame.
Webster defines shame as the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, and ridiculous done by oneself or another. It is a kind of injury to one’s pride or self-respect.
Most people have experienced “knowing” that they are in danger, that someone is lying, that someone they’ve met will be the love of their life, or that they should turn left at the next stop light to get to where they are going.
They also “know” a situation will work out okay or that they shouldn’t accept a proposal. All without being able to explain the logic of their decision or the reasons they “know.”
You “know” things. You don’t even know how you know them. Yet you have a sense of certainty. Intuitive thinking, which used to be discounted as hocus pocus, is now recognized by scientists as the mind working in ways we aren’t aware of and often don’t understand.
Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, includes intuitive thinking as part of “wise mind.” Emotionally sensitive people are believed to be more aware of their intuition than those who are not emotionally sensitive.
In the book, “Why We Make Mistakes,” Joseph Hallinan relates an amazing story about a 1972 airplane crash. When Captain Robert Lofe, the pilot of Eastern Airlines Flight 401, was making his final approach to Miami International Airport, he noticed something was wrong. He had put the landing gear down, but the indicator light didn’t come on.
He circled around and decided to level off to determine what the problem was.
He didn’t have a clue, so he called in the first officer. The first officer didn’t know either so they called in the flight engineer. Pretty soon no one was flying the plane, which was going lower and lower. The captain’s last words reportedly were “Hey! What’s happening here?”
The plane crashed into the Everglades and burst into flames, killing ninety-nine people, including Captain Loft. The reason for the crash was because the crew became so engrossed in a task that they lost awareness of their situation–all because of a $12 light bulb.