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?
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.
Successful people are typically viewed as possessing certain characteristics: high motivation, strong skills/abilities, and opportunity. In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant says there is another component to success and that’s how you approach relationships.
Emotionally sensitive people are known as compassionate and caring about other people. Their emotionally sensitivity means they are usually particularly aware of the emotions of others. However, sometimes being emotionally sensitive means you are completely off base and sometimes invalidating of others’ feelings.
You Respond Based on Your Own Emotional Intensity
You see, one of the ways people are empathic is by imagining how they might feel in the same situation. Imagine a friend describes an argument with a boyfriend who broke up with her. You would feel incredibly sad if that happened to you. You respond with deep concern and say something like “Oh no. How awful. Are you okay?” Your friend responds in an off hand manner saying, “Of course I’m okay. It’s not that big a deal.”
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.
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.