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Here are two things that aren't supposed to go together.
I'm a guy in the United States.
And I'm sensitive.
I know now that I've always been emotionally sensitive, but boy oh boy, was it a journey to finally accept how I naturally am.
Before you rush to figure out how to be less sensitive, you have to consider a critically important question:
Is "How to be less sensitive?" even the right question to ask?
If You're a Sensitive Person, Ask Yourself These Questions First
As a sensitive person, questions are my lifeblood.
They help me make sense of my feelings and, as result, the raging world around me.
Some important questions to consider before you dive into problem-solving mode:
- What do I mean by sensitive?
- Are there certain actions I'm taking that bother me the most?
- Are there certain situations or groups in which my sensitivity is shunned?
- Why do I personally think this is a problem?
- Is it actually a problem?
Now, why did I have you go through this question-asking exercise?
Because being sensitive is relative.
The way you act in one situation may be highly prized in another.
I used to think that sensitivity was always bad.
But that's because I grew up with the gender known as a male in a society that expects boys and men to act in certain ways.
And that is how limiting beliefs are formed, my friends.
As a result, my brain was fed ideas and expectations that were not my own.
They were, instead, what other people wanted from me.
And, in fact, it was my very sensitivity that helped me understand this strange phenomenon in the first place.
Jiddu Krishnamurti, in one of my favorite books, Think on These Things, wrote at length about sensitivity.
Consider his beautiful thought:
The very nature of intelligence is sensitivity, and this sensitivity is love. Without this intelligence there can be no compassion. Compassion is not the doing of charitable acts or social reform; it is free from sentiment, romanticism and emotional enthusiasm. It is as strong as death. It is like a great rock, immovable in the midst of confusion, misery and anxiety. Without this compassion no new culture or society can come into being.
For me, reading Krishnamurti's writing about being a sensitive person gave me a chance to learn about emotional sensitivity in a new, more realistic way.
And, in reality, it's not just emotional sensitivity.
It's a full-body experience. It's physical, but it could also be emotional and social.
You could argue, as Krishnamurti does, that sensitivity goes even beyond that.
Sensitivity is the source of compassion.
And when did compassion become a bad thing?
Sadly, in many places and postures in our world, sensitivity is also a source of great pain.
So, it only makes sense that you might want to rid yourself of that pain.
It's now time to consider when and how to do that.
Emotional Sensitivity - When and How to Become Less Sensitive (4 Scenarios)
If you keep finding yourself in a position in which your sensitivity is bothering you and you're not getting what you need from life, then it's time to do something about it.
Putting aside the idea that your sensitivity can be a great thing, it's not always appropriate, as these following scenarios suggest.
One-On-One With Another Person
I start here because this is the scenario in which sensitivity-induced pain becomes most obvious.
There's nowhere to hide when you are face to face with another person.
Emotions can become inflamed in an instant.
One errant comment or sharp look you weren't expecting, and before you know it, your sensitivity ignites and flares up all around you.
What to Do About This
- Think about the relationship history you have with this person. Are they someone you know you can trust? If so, maybe ease off a bit and cool your jets. If not, prepare yourself to question if the relationship is as valuable as you think it is.
- Ask yourself what your role is in the conversation / interaction. Could you be doing something that is contributing to your feeling uncomfortable?
- Realize that the points the other person is making might be just as valid as your own.
- Take a deep breath and just don't say anything for a moment. You don't always need to respond. Sometimes, silence is more powerful, anyway!
In Group Settings
Groups are also dangerous for the highly sensitive person.
Pressure that might have been bearable with just one person becomes amplified.
Plus, groups come with their own norms, sneaky expectations that dictate what kind of behavior is acceptable.
What to Do About This
- Know that group settings are challenging for anyone, not just a sensitive person. There's a lot of incoming information to manage. Go easy on yourself.
- Think about the main points you would like to make beforehand. It's easier to stay calm and composed when you've rehearsed what you want to get out of the group interaction. I'm not saying you need to create a movie script and play a part. I'm saying that it's almost always a good idea to live your life with intention.
- Be vulnerable. Say...what?? Yes, vulnerability is actually a sign of courage and can be a great source of strength in group interactions. What happens when you see someone go first and reveal their innermost courage? You admire them, don't you? You can be on the other side of that. Give others the opportunity to admire you.
With Your Family, In Particular
And if there's one group that dominates all others, it's your family, whatever that means to you. Often there's no one we want to impress more than our family members.
They know us so well--and that means they can seriously hurt as well.
What to Do About This
- You don't have to keep writing the same old story. With families, it's so easy to fall into old patterns. But remember that you don't need to fall victim to your limiting beliefs and old baggage.
- Ask, does it even matter? If you can't choose your family, then does it matter if you impress them or not? Your sensitivity might be something that, in every other relationship in your life, is a source of pride. People may think you're the absolute best when you're being sensitive. Consider this, and consider if you need to battle any family members over your sensitivity.
- Pair up with another sensitive person. There's probably someone else in your family who is just as sensitive--or almost as sensitive. You're family after all, and genes are a large determinant of personality.
With Yourself, the Sensitive Person
Have you considered that you might be your own worst enemy?
Who am I kidding, from one sensitive person to another, I get it.
What to Do About This
- Accept yourself. I know, easier said than done.
- Consider all the good things that being sensitive has given to you. Consider how much you have appreciated that others might have missed.
- Just write about it. Writing has a way of activating a different, less-threatened part of your brain. Once you start to write about your sensitivity, you will most likely realize that you were overreacting. You'll also be able to see your feelings in the light of the day, which can lead to great realizations you weren't expecting.
Final, Sensitive Thoughts
Because being sensitive is a gift in so many situations.
It's the sensitive ones who notice, feel, and see things that others don't.
The next time you're worrying about being too sensitive, stop and reflect on what's happening.
Is it necessary?
Are you creating a heartache when you should be cherishing a natural ability that you have?
Can you reframe your worry into something greater?
Not all situations call for ultimate sensitivity, that's true.
But there are many that do.
The key is to know which situations need your sensitivity--and which ones don't.
Your energy is limited.
You shouldn't be embarrassed by your sensitivity.
You should know when to be sensitive when it matters most.