Too Sensitive?

Can someone be too sensitive?

I’m often told that I’m too sensitive, that I take things too personally. Sometimes I wonder if this is an accurate statement or are the people making it total assholes and lack interpersonal skills? I’m also told that I’m extremely empathetic and excel at customer service. People come to me often with their problems and feel confident that I’ll be able to relate to their issues. Isn’t that a part of being sensitive? Isn’t that a good thing? When did being too sensitive turn into a negative trait or even a sign of weakness?

To address this issue we need to go way back, like when you were a kid and the people around you helped make you who you are today. During this part of your life you were observing many interactions with people, some of them good and some of them bad. If you were skilled at this you could save yourself lots of time and trouble and learn from the mistakes of others. Or you could do it the hard way and just make them all on your own…. lots of bruised arms, scraped knees and emotional scars .

If you’re like me, your parents were separated at a young age (maybe even divorced) and you watched this go down through a child’s perspective. The most common source of emotional pain for a child is when they do something wrong and a parent or guardian shows their disapproval, sometimes combined with the physical pain of being spanked or smacked around. So it’s only natural that when you see your parents splitting up that you may associate that emotional pain with the act of doing something wrong yourself. In short you blame yourself for their relationship issues and set yourself up for lots of professional help, co-payments and complex diagnosis codes from your PPO. It would be great if your parents could setup a “Pre-Paid Emotional Damage Fund” similar to the way college funds are planned way in advance. Unfortunately this isn’t the case.

Okay so let’s get back to the present. Although you may be over your parents divorce and maybe even had one or two of your own, the deepest part of your psyche still wonders if you did anything wrong. And that carries over to your current interpersonal relationships. You may actually observe, analyze and question the slightest nuances of the most benign of actions, just to make sure you’re in good standing with the other person. Heaven forbid they pull the same crap on you like your folks did (that’s what your brain is thinking). Yet this same quality actually helps in all sorts of careers where reading people is an asset.

Learning to recognize your sensitivity is an important step in having successful relationships as an adult, but I think it’s also the responsibility of others to realize that everyone is different emotionally. Body shaming based on someone’s physical characteristics has become such a social taboo yet it’s perfectly okay to “shame” someone’s emotional characteristic as flawed. That sort of double-standard needs to change.

So while my hyper sensitivity may have its roots in my dark past, it can actually benefit me as an adult. Learning to throttle my sensitivity, understanding why I feel the way I do and being more patient with others completely lacking the skill, has really been beneficial. Of course there will be days when you fall off the wagon and think everyone hates you. That’s when mac and cheese and some cheap wine comes in handy.


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