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.
Many thanks to the over 750 people who responded to the survey on loneliness. One of the questions was about what emotionally sensitive people see as the reason for their loneliness. Fear was mentioned by many of you: Fear of rejection, judgments, vulnerability, and of not being perfect. Some were afraid of their reactions to other people.
I don’t know who wrote the following words of wisdom about stages of recovery. It’s been around as long as I can remember and this is just one version.
Stages of Recovery
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I fall in…it’s a habit…but my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down a different street.
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.
We often don’t know the reasons why we do what we do, feel what we feel, or make the choices we make, but apparently we are very good at creating reasons that seem quite logical and that reflect favorably on us. For example, we may believe that cheating and lying are wrong. Yet, according to Dan Ariely (2012) most of us lie. He’s not talking about the big lies that cause major damage to others. He says we lie only to the extent we can still see ourselves as good people. We tell ourselves stories to justify our actions, like everyone cheats on their taxes or it’s only an extra dollar in change the clerk gave me and the company owes me more than that for all the times I’ve overpaid.
If we’re annoyed with the person we are interacting with, we are more likely to cheat or steal, believing we are justified. We may tell ourselves that we are simply restoring karma and crusading for justice.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go and not be questioned.”
Home, in my mind, is about a feeling. That feeling can come from people, a place or yourself. It is serenity, laughter and authentic acceptance. Authentic acceptance from others means they know my faults and love me anyway. They don’t point out my ongoing shortcomings to improve me or change me, they see those quirks as simply part of me. It’s not the politically proper acceptance of keepng their thoughts to themselves. It goes beyond that. Their acceptance comes from deep within, the acceptance of those who truly love without qualifiers or caveats.
Many of those who make up my “home” would make different choices than I have, including the paths I would take all over again. Yet they accept my choices, love me anyway, and sometimes urge me to reconsider my current choices. They give information, saying what they believe is true without judging or threatening. When I trudge on with decisions they don’t understand, they become my cheerleaders. They may not approve and they still love and accept. People who are your home don’t leave. When you have these people in your life, you know you’re not alone, whether they are physically present or not.
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.
You’ve just learned that your boyfriend cheated on you. Or your boss criticized you in front of a large group of people. Maybe a friend has talked about you in not-so-flattering ways with other people. Full of anger, you write a scathing email and push send. Or you tell the other person off. A few minutes later, you realize you are in agony, wishing you could unsend the email or unsay your angry words.
In such situations, you may wish emotions didn’t exist. But emotions give us important information. Being completely logical leaves out the information we get from emotions. For example, depending on the context, anger can communicate that we need to protect ourselves, shame may help us adhere to values, and fear helps us escape from situations that could be harmful. Sometimes, though, we experience emotions for reasons that have nothing to do with surviving the situation we’re in, such as being afraid when there is no physical threat. For example, maybe we are afraid of uncomfortable situations, afraid of our emotions and afraid of speaking up for ourselves.
Based on research, people in general are happier and have a greater sense of well-being the less time they spend alone. A recent study adds to that understanding. People who engage in more meaningful conversations, rather than small talk, have a greater sense of well-being. But small talk may be the path to having those deeper conversations. You may need to have small talk to move on to closer relationships.
For emotionally sensitive people, this is a difficult issue. Small talk can seem meaningless. Engaging in small talk, unpleasant for most, can feel as miserable as a migraine for the emotionally sensitive. Yet it’s not likely that you can meet a new friend for coffee and then immediately discuss your shame about the affair you had last year or even how inadequate you feel around the have-it-all-together neighbors. It happens, but it’s not likely.
The first key of mindful communication, according to Chapman (2012), is having a mindful presence. This means having an open mind, awake body and a tender heart. When you have a mindful presence, you give up expectations, stories about yourself and others, and acting on emotions.
You are fully in the present moment; your communication isn’t focused on the “me” and what the “me” needs, but the we.
Mindful listening is the second key to mindful communication. Mindful listening is about encouraging the other person. This means looking through the masks and pretense and seeing the value in the person and the strengths he or she possesses. It’s looking past the human frailties and flaws that we all have to see the authentic person and the truth in what that person is attempting to say.