In 1965 Martin Seligman “discovered” learned helplessness. He found that when animals are subjected to difficult situations they cannot control, they stop trying to escape. They become passive. Human beings are the same. If you have experienced devastating defeats, a persistent situation that you couldn’t change, or experienced terror and been out of control of escape from that terror, then you may have lost hope for your ability to change your life or to change painful situations.
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.
Based on the research on happiness, having close relationships is associated with life satisfaction. At the same time, connecting with others in a meaningful way requires allowing yourself be vulnerable. To connect meaningfully is to shed pretense, to take off whatever mask you wear and allow the authentic you to be present. Brene Brown has excellent TED talks and books that discuss her research on vulnerability.
Emotionally sensitive people tend to both overshare and undershare information about themselves; sometimes they tell very personal information to people they don’t know well and whithold information from close friends. There can be undesirable results for both actions.
When emotions are high and there are different viewpoints among participants, having an effective conversation can be challenging. In addition, emotions usually run highest when the outcome of the conversation means the most. People get tense and hyper-alert, bracing themselves for the worst. For example, consider your reaction when someone says “We need to talk. ” Most people prepare for a difficult interaction by putting up barriers to defend themselves, not by relaxing and focusing on being more open with information. They’re on guard before the deep conversation even starts. Their posture makes it difficult to freely share ideas.
Many emotionally sensitive people avoid conversations that are likely to result in conflict. They fire people, break up with girlfriends, and cancel plans with friends by texting, sending emails, or leaving voice mails. Sometimes decisions are unilaterally made on incomplete information because difficult conversations were avoided.
For the emotionally sensitive, tense conversations can be so painful that they avoid any deep conversations and avoid expressing their own opinions.
In Critical Conversation Skills, the authors give guidelines for having difficult conversations in an effective way.
While it’s not true for everyone, many emotionally sensitive people tend to use food as self-comfort. Eating is one of those strategies that works in the short-term but can have long-term consequences that add to your stress level.
When you go into your closet and nothing fits, that’s a miserable feeling. When your chest is tight and you feel so stuffed with food you can’t move, that’s miserable too.
One of the reasons that emotionally sensitive people use food as comfort is likely due to cortisol. Cortisol’s job is to get you all prepared to fight that tiger lurking outside your cave. It gets your energy up by increasing your heart rate and the blood pumping to your muscles. Cortisol tells the body to release sugar to bloodstream, which is why when you’re upset about your boss criticizing you at work, your body is all on alert to fight, as if there were a tiger about to attack.
You just want to calm down and get rid of this tension and agitation, so you stop at the grocery for cookies, potato chips and dark chocolate ice cream. One of the reasons for this is that high levels of cortisol can create cravings for high fat and sweet foods. High cortisol reactors have been shown to eat more food.
In conversation with new friends, at some point a version of “What’s your story?” will be asked. That question has a deeper meaning than the one given in casual encounters at parties. The deeper meaning of “your story” affects how you interact with the world and with other people.
Everyone has basic core beliefs about themselves, a “story” that reflects their how they see themselves. That story may be the way you or your family interpreted events as a child and may have little basis in reality, but you make decisions and live your life as if it were true.
Most people don’t even think to question whether the way they see themselves is accurate.
Self-control or willpower is the ability to effectively manage your attention, emotions and desires. Understanding how willpower works can help you better manage your emotions and make the changes you want to make in your life.
When you are working to build more effective coping skills, you may find that no matter how strong your commitment to practicing new ways of soothing yourself, solving problems effectively, or managing your intense emotions in healthier ways, you fall back into old patterns.
Falling back can be discouraging and you may blame yourself for not having enough willpower or stick-to-it-ness. As we noted in the last post, self-control has nothing to do with your character. It’s a limited resource for everyone. We have to practice and keep going, recognizing that having lapses is just part of developing new behaviors and skills.
If we know some of the ways to enhance our self-control while we are practicing new behaviors, that can help too.
Emotionally sensitive people often have a difficult time with saying no. Some have difficulty saying it at all and others say it too often. Some say it timidly and others say it too harshly. Sometimes out of fear or discomfort people give lots of reasons for refusing a request or invitation or apologize for not being able to say yes though they really may not want to agree.
Often the difficulty about saying no isn’t about knowing when to say it but about the interpretations that are put on the word or that they fear will be made. Sometimes people are afraid of the result of a refusal, even when their fears are not likely to occur.
For those who don’t say no often enough, the reason may be about the meaning that they associate with the word. Saying no can be interpreted as a rejection or a lack of caring and emotionally sensitive people don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Sometimes ‘no’ may be interpreted as abandonment of someone you care about, though that does not need to be the case.
The word could also lead to someone abandoning you and the loss of a relationship that is important. When saying that two-letter word to someone you care about, you are likely to feel vulnerable and that can be uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s just too scary to do.
When thinking about people who are emotionally sensitive, you might be most likely to think of the individual who cries easily and who shows her emotions openly. But there are many different types of emotionally sensitive people.
Type C Person
In the book The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotions, Michael Jawer discusses the Type C person. A Type C individual is a stoic, a denier of strong feelings and has a calm, unemotional demeanor.
This person has a tendency to people please, is not assertive, and tends to feel helpless and hopeless. He is at risk for autoimmune disorders from asthma to lupus. Type C people tend to say they aren’t upset but experience strong sensations in their bodies that indicate otherwise. They don’t say no or defend their personal integrity. Their emotions have no outlet. For the Type C person who is emotionally sensitive, finding a way to cope with emotions is critical.
Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation is emotionally upsetting for anyone, but particularly hurtful for someone who is emotionally sensitive.
Invalidation disrupts relationships and creates emotional distance. When people invalidate themselves, they create alienation from the self and make building their identity very challenging.
Self-invalidation and invalidation by others make recovery from depression and anxiety particularly difficult. Some believe that invalidation is a major contributor to emotional disorders.