Sam and Ellen were best friends. Together they shared movies, devoured pizza, and watched football. They talked about whatever thoughts came into their heads and they were comfortable with silence too. If Sam needed help, he could count on Ellen. If Ellen had a rough day, Sam was there to help her get past it. When Sam couldn’t find a job, Ellen looked at ads and gave him leads she got through her friends. They supported each other through the hard times.
When I was working in a Children’s Protective Services Shelter I met children who were scared from being whipped with extension cords, had suffered broken bones from being hit and who lived on the streets, surviving as best they could. I also met a young man, a former medical student, who volunteered at the shelter. He had hit his head when he dove into a swimming pool and was paralyzed from the neck down. Like this young man, some of the children exhibited an admirable ability to find joy and meaning despite the traumas and stress they had suffered. Those children shared similar qualities as this young man: they were resilient. Not only did they survive, but they were able to become passionate thrivers. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and stress, a key quality for your emotional and physical health.
Some emotionally sensitive people are worriers. Not just your everyday worriers, but world-class worriers. They worry when they wake up about what the day will bring. They worry about their appearance, they worry if they’ve done the right thing, and they worry about what might happen in the future. They worry about their family; they worry about their friends. They worry about people they love. They worry because they love. Some see worry as being part of love and caring. They may not realize that their worrying can interfere with their sense of belonging and the closeness of their relationships.
Validation is like relationship glue. Validating someone brings you closer. Validating yourself is like glue for fragmented parts of your identity. Validating yourself will help you accept and better understand yourself, which leads to a stronger identity and better skills at managing intense emotions.
Being out of control of your emotions is a painful experience and damaging to relationships. Knowing how to self-validate is important to learning to manage your emotions effectively. Self-validation means you can accept your internal experience as understandable and acceptable. But learning to self-validate is not so easy. How do you apply the six levels of validation to self-validation? Notice that mindfulness and self-validation go hand in hand.
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.”
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.
Making decisions can be difficult. Heath and Heath (2013) propose a system to help called WRAP. WRAP stands for Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, and Prepare to Be Wrong.
Widen Your Frame
One of the main pitfalls in decision making is having a narrow frame. That means you don’t consider possible alternatives that might be better options.