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.
How many people have been in relationships that they knew weren’t right for them, but stayed anyway? My guess is more people have done that than haven’t. Such relationships may be boring, more work than they are rewarding, emotionally painful, lacking intimacy or sharing and feel forced. Instead of adding to the joy and happiness in your life, a bad relationship may find you feeling sad, anxious and thinking hopeless thoughts.
These relationships may even be neglectful or abusive. A big part of mindless relationships is you have to give up part, or most, of who you are to stay in the relationship. That’s a very high price to pay.
Most people know that not being true to themselves and what they want and need is a really bad idea. To stay in such a relationship they often have to numb themselves, be un-mindful of their needs and wants and un-mindful of the pain they feel. It’s like going into a cocoon; hiding and believing that by doing so they are safe in some way from what they fear.
Maybe those in bad relationships fear no one will ever love them so they settle for what isn’t safe and intimate to avoid living without a partner. Maybe they are afraid of being alone so they settle for being with “friends” who aren’t supportive or caring.
Most of the people who identified themselves as emotionally sensitive and completed the second survey were women (87.6 percent) between the ages of 40 to 60 (51 percent) with 29 percent between 25 to 40.
Most were college graduates (37 percent). Over 60 percent of those who responded to the survey said they hide their emotional sensitivity so others do not know the intensity of their emotions.
Many consider themselves flawed as humans because of their emotions (68.2 percent) and are uncomfortable when complimented about their character (61.6 percent) and their skills (61 percent), which likely makes it more difficult for them to foster a positive sense of themselves.
It appears that accepting being emotionally sensitive is quite difficult for a lot of our readers.
Emotionally sensitive people sometimes have difficulty trusting themselves. There’s often good reason for this; when someone has intense emotions, she can’t be sure how she will react in different situations with various people.
Most emotionally sensitive people have experiences in which they’ve reacted emotionally in ways they wish they hadn’t. Maybe they feel embarrassed or ashamed of the way they’ve behaved in the past and fear repeating that experience. Often they can’t be sure of how they’ll react if they become jealous or angry or envious of someone else or if they feel intimidated or judged.
Even when there isn’t an emotional threat of any kind, just not knowing how you might react around other people can be scary. Sometimes being skillful and then sometimes being unskillful can be confusing.