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.”
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.
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.
“I feel like such a loser, I don’t have any friends to call to hang out with.”
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard some variation of that statement. Maybe it’s not having a birthday party because you don’t know anyone to invite or maybe you want to go to an event and have no one to go with you. When you don’t have friends, it’s easy to judge yourself as less than.
What do you do?
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.
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.
Researchers in positive psychology tell us that we are more content when we savor the positive that happens in our lives. But focusing on the positive isn’t natural for many people. We tend to see and think about what we dislike, fear and what has hurt us more than we recognize and replay what we cherish. So maybe the end of the year is a great time to remember what you are grateful for about 2012. I suggest we declare December 31 as Gratitude Day.
If you are grateful for events that happened, find a way to remember them. Maybe share stories about these events with friends or family members. Look at photos of trips you took or celebrations you had during the year. Maybe you took a big step in your life dring 2012. Let yourself feel proud of that step. Maybe you were a good friend to someone or got through a tough time. Acknowledge yourself for what you achieved. If you are grateful to friends for support or for being your friend, let them know. If some have gone the extra mile for you, maybe send them a gratitude note.
I’m grateful for so much that happened in 2012. I’m grateful to everyone who has read the posts in The Emotionally Sensitive Person and to everyone who contributed through completing the surveys. Thank you.