Emotionally sensitive people are among the most compassionate and passionate people in the world. Often creative, you have talents as artists, writers, and musicians. You add to the caring and beauty of the world. Many times you also struggle with self-hatred, depression, anxiety, and horrible feelings of alienation. Those struggles are likely not due to your being emotionally sensitive. Much of your suffering may come from self-doubt and from an agonizing experience of being broken. That likely comes from what you are told and experience as a child.
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.
Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. includes dialectical thinking as part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. One component of dialectical thinking is to find the middle path. When you think or feel in extremes, that usually leads to misery.
In The Mindful Child, Susan Greenland tells a fable about an old man who lived with his son on a farm near a tiny village. One day the farmer’s horse ran away. The neighbors told him how sorry they were to hear about his misfortune. The farmer said, “We’ll see.”
The next day the farmer’s horse came home, accompanied by two strong, wild horses. The neighbors said, “How wonderful!” The farmer again said, “We’ll see.”
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.
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.
Emotionally sensitive people react to events quickly and with intense emotions, and then have difficulty getting their emotional reactions to subside. Finding ways to manage emotions effectively can decrease the pain they experience.
Below are some suggestions for coping with intense emotions.
1. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and stress for everyone. Consider a way to practice mindfulness everyday that is easy to remember. Maybe mindfully brush your teeth or mindfully drink your coffee. Consider using a bracelet or a sticky note to remind yourself.
2: Play. If possible, find a way to laugh today. Be silly. Giggle. Dance, watch a comedy, run in the park, buy a balloon, dabble with paints, gather friends for games or play games designed for one player. Just for a few minutes. Enjoy a simple pleasure and focus completely on the activity – not on your concerns.
Problems can be upsetting, and emotionally sensitive people tend to get easily discouraged, so they avoid problems or spend so little thinking about solutions that they have little hope the solutions are out there.
Others have the idea that problems are easier to solve than they are and so they blame themselves when they aren’t able to come up with solutions quickly and easily. They may see the difficulty they are experiencing as a reflection of their being broken or inadequate in some way, such as being too inconsistent or not smart enough or too lazy.
Usually, the character flaw the emotionally sensitive are certain they have comes from people telling them that negative events happened in their life because they are a certain way. When you’re told that at a young age it often becomes true at such a deep level you don’t question it. Others don’t face problems because they don’t want the tension or fear that comes with problems.
Many of us might wish there weren’t so many problems in life. “If only” keeps us stuck, just like, “Why me?” We’d rather have a life that flows effortlessly. Given that life is full of problems, maybe the best option is to get really good at solving them.
Sometimes problems come because we make bad decisions. Some come because of our relationships with others and some come through the thoughtlessness of others. Some of our problems come from our own feelings and ways of looking at life.
Effective problem-solving improve your sense of well-being, your mood, your hope and self-confidence. Learning how to solve problems can improve your overall health. Moreover, problem-solving skills can be taught. People aren’t born knowing how to solve problems.
“He’s a stupid idiot,” “I’m a total loser,” or “I’ve just had a horrible day” are common statements we make when we are frustrated, tired, overwhelmed or embarrassed. Such statements often serve to express intense feelings after difficult events. So what’s the harm?
In general, the main issue is that judgmental statements tend to increase our emotional upset. But there are other concerns as well.
Judgements Hide Consequences
We label events and actions as good or bad as a shorthand way of talking. We say getting a traffic ticket is bad or not paying the rent is bad. We say getting a raise is good. But we forget that we’re using shorthand. What we’re really saying is that events and actions have consequences that are desirable or not desirable.
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.