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.
Mindfulness has been shown to improve our mood, reduce stress, improve our performance and reduce pain. Part of mindfulness is to accept the present moment as it is, to be fully present. Practicing mindfulness as we go about our daily routine can be a challenge. One of those challenges is in accepting reality as it is. This is often particularly difficult for emotionally sensitive people who experience the emotions of life so intensely.
Many emotionally sensitive people seem to dislike and even hate themselves. The reasons vary but seem to fall into certain categories: self-blame, negative self-attribution, believing myths, not living values, treating yourself as if you don’t matter and experiencing emotional pain.
Many people look for someone to blame when things go wrong and bad things happen. If you burn yourself by spilling a cup of hot coffee, then someone made the coffee too hot or jostled your arm. If you don’t finish school, it’s because your teachers didn’t encourage you.
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.
We all have different ways of viewing the world. Some may have a strong sense of smell and their experiences are filtered through aromas and scents. Others may be particularly visual and react primarily to what they see. A bed of flowers elicits calmness while disarray in the home triggers anxiety. The senses of touch, taste, and hearing can also be ways of connecting to the world and affect your experience of events, people, and situations.
In addition to the senses, your worldview is influenced by the balance between your thoughts and emotions. Many people will look at a puppy and feel love for the puppy. For some, that love will dominate and they will be filled with longing to take the puppy home. They may do so even though they have no room for another pet. Others may smile and appreciate the puppy, but think of the time and money it takes to care for an animal.
In his book, Urban Mindfulness: Cultivating Peace, Presence and Purpose in The Middle of It All, Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D. writes about applying mindfulness to your daily life experiences. His book is divided into sections about where you might practice mindfulness, such as “At Home,” “At Play,” and “At Work.”
Emotionally sensitive people often find noise, crowds, strangers, lack of space or privacy, and clutter dysregulating. Yet all these experiences are often part of life, particularly in an urban area. Turning to mindfulness may not seem natural as a way to cope in these situations. Kaplan’s book offers ways to apply mindfulness to everyday life.
There seems to be a strong stigma about loneliness. Many people will admit to being depressed before they’ll talk about being lonely. Fearing being judged as unlikeable, a loser, or weird, they don’t discuss their sense of aloneness, alienation, or exclusion. That horrible experience of being the last one chosen for teams in school seems to continue into adulthood, though the reasons are different. If you don’t have friends, then there must be something wrong with you. Headlines that describe the Unabomber, John Hinckley, the mass murderer at Virginia Tech and other criminals as loners add to the fear of being judged if you are alone.
I’m no talking about solitude. Loneliness is a different experience than solitude. Solitude is being alone by choice and wanting that aloneness or being comfortable with it. Loneliness means there is a discomfort– you want to be more connected to others.
If you are working on developing new coping skills, you may find that understanding the skills and how they work is much easier than actually using the skills. You may be able to tell someone else about the skill, write out the steps involved, and answer questions about it but find you do not use it in your life. You may find that you keep going back to familiar ways of dealing with emotions and stress, even when those old ways are not good for you in the long run.