When you are emotionally sensitive your emotions can rule your life. The more painful emotions exhaust and drain you, sometimes to the point that your days are about avoiding hurt rather than living your life. You may dread the mornings and crave isolation though at the same time you are lonely and hate that you think you don’t belong. You may be sad or constantly tired. You may decide there is something wrong with you that you can’t deal with issues and be content like others seem to be able to do, so why try? At some point you may find that you have focused on emotions such as hurt, resentment, grief, and fear that you no longer think about the life you want to lead. You get lost in the pain and lose sight of your goals and dreams.
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 …
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.
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 …
Many youth and young adults are immersed in virtual worlds and online games. They spend every possible moment using their skills and ingenuity to get to the next level of complex multiplayer games. Your attempts to get them to spend time offline are met with strong resistance and may be doomed.
Jane McGonigal, in her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World points out that games offer a sense of being fully alive, focused and engaged in every moment. Games offer a sense of power, heroic purpose and community as well as the thrill of success and team victory. Games were designed to maximize interest and motivation with no personal attacks. Games are inspiring and create a sense of community. Games satisfy the hunger for more satisfying work and a sense of a more engaging life.
When you are emotionally sensitive, getting through each day can feel like walking through a carnival full of interesting booths and people but alert to small dangers everywhere. The path is uneven, people are running in the crowds without looking where they are going, some of the games are rigged and mosquitos are buzzing around ready to bite. While most people barely register these issues, they can ruin the day for you. Someone making an off-hand comment, being criticized, learning that a friend didn’t invite you to join her and other friends for a movie, a boyfriend breaking a date–all are painful for you. While it’s not I-can’t-stand-it kind of pain, it’s enough to create difficult feelings of sadness and rejection, even when you know these routine events happen to everyone and weren’t meant to harm you. At the end of most days you’re covered with emotional bruises. And those bruises add up.
Emotional bruises are those hurts that make it more difficult to get through the day and bring your mood down. You’re tired and wounded–know the feeling?
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.