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 something goes wrong, one of the first responses many people have is to blame someone. Being at fault may bring up many fears. If you can blame someone else, you can avoid the painful feelings of guilt and shame. You can avoid the fear of not being good enough and perhaps the resulting fear of abandonment. Maybe you panic when you may have done something wrong or taken action that didn’t work out because in the past others have rejected you or perhaps punished you for making a mistake. Blaming is the way you attempt to protect yourself. Whatever the reason, blame usually leads to conflict and damaged relationships in addition to blocking problem solving. Time spent blaming only delays finding a solution to whatever happened.
Do you have a secret you are keeping? Perhaps a secret about something that is extremely emotionally upsetting to you? Events you experience that are shameful, traumatic, or embarrassing are often kept secret. Yet any major upheaval that you keep hidden from others can compromise your physical and mental health.
There are many reasons that emotional secrets can be so damaging. When you don’t talk about an upsetting event, you may ruminate and have difficulty letting go and moving on. Ruminating usually brings intense misery. Keeping a secret about a major event changes your relationships. You can no longer talk as openly with friends and family as you did before the secret. The secret builds a wall between you. You are always on guard, careful to not say anything that would give your secret away. You may hold yourself back too, not wanting to get too close with anyone for fear you might want to share what happened to you. You may not feel worthy of close relationships, feeling that you are tainted or flawed as a person. Perhaps you see yourself separate and different from others and have lost the sense of belonging you once had.
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.
Urgency means requiring swift action and seems to include a nuance of importance. If something is urgent, it is important and needs to be done quickly. Somehow my urgency sensor is stuck in the “on” position. I perceive urgency and react as if my activity is critically urgent when all I’m doing is going to the grocery store or taking a shower. I feel pressure that time is passing and I’m not going to get it all done, or won’t get it done on time. What “all” is and why it has to be done is not clear, if I even consider it. When I drive to the office, there’s an urgency to get there on time. When I’m going through my day, there’s an urgency keep to the schedule. When I’m at the gym, I am focused on getting the workout done so I can get on to the next activity.
Belonging means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a church, some with friends, some with family, some on Twitter or other social media. Some see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Some struggle to find a sense of belonging.
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.
The emotionally sensitive usually have a particularly strong reaction to painful emotions. When you struggle with intense sadness or anger for long periods of time, have difficulty controlling your words and action, and these emotions are easily triggered, that is not a walk in the park. On top of the pain involved in having such intense emotions, there is also self-consciousness or perhaps shame about being so reactive. Sometimes you become afraid of your emotions. You also may be on guard or watching for whatever might upset you. You might learn to pay a lot of attention to what upsets you.
For many emotionally sensitive people, decision making can be agonizing. Deciding what to wear to an important wedding, where to go on vacation, whether to break up with a boyfriend and sometimes even which restaurant to choose for dinner with friends can take painful hours. Worry about making choices can mean constant self-doubt. Which decision is the right one? What could go wrong? What if it’s the wrong choice? The process can be so exhausting you wish you could just flip a coin and be done with it or avoid the process altogether.