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.
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.
Imagine that two cavemen sit in the grass on a warm summer day. One is a problem-solver, like us. His skin is broken out and he worries and frowns a lot. Hyper alert, he is often agitated and jumpy. He thinks about the noises outside the cave last night andwhat the rumbling in his stomach means. He walks around, looking for fruit and keeps his eye out for tigers. The other guy sits quietly, counting his breath and feeling the breeze on his face. He’s easy-going and popular among other cavemen. He doesn’t react to what others say and is accepting of different ideas and personalities.
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.
Soon large crowds will gather in hotel rooms and toast the New Year. Others will party in Times Square and still others will ring in 2013 with a small group of friends. New Year’s Eve is generally viewed as a time for celebrating with friends and can be a particularly lonely time for those who struggle with relationships.
Your survey responses show that for some people loneliness (which is different from being alone) can be static and chronic, a heaviness that doesn’t lift. For others, loneliness varies in intensity and is triggered by certain situations, such as holidays, can make the aloneness worse. When others are making plans with friends or family and you are not, you may feel left out. Television shows emphasizing activities for families and friends can remind you of what you wish for and don’t have.
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.