How to Be Less Sensitive

How to Be Less Sensitive

I know, dumb title. If we’re sensitive, we’re sensitive. And it’s not a bad thing, to be sensitive, it’s what makes us compassionate toward others.

But, as a sensitive person, I know that it can get in the way sometimes – when I’m over-sensitive it can sour my day, cause problems in my relationships, or make me overreact to trivial stuff.

The good news is that there are ways to rein in our sensitivity so that it doesn’t get in our way:

Don’t take emotional reactions at face value.

Are you mad, sad, or feeling guilty? Sure, there are times when our reactions are warranted, but often as not, we aren’t reacting to our current situation, we’re reacting to our past. If our parents used guilt to get us to do what they wanted, chances are we default to feeling guilty when we’re not doing what others want us to do. If our folks were overly controlling, we can react to innocent suggestions from others as if they were attempting to tell us what to do.

When an emotion hits, take a minute to explore your feelings. Are your emotions familiar, do they remind you of past situations? Or do they seem connected to something else that is bothering you? By digging into what’s at the root of our reactions we often discover a completely different issue, and then we’re able to address what’s really bothering us.

Manage your reactions.

When you feel your emotions becoming engaged, when you feel that wave of anger, sadness or guilt, take it as a signal that you need to stop and regroup. That “I’ve got to do something NOW!” is a clear indicator that you’re in reactive mode and you’re probably not seeing the situation clearly. Take a breath and let your feelings settle before acting and chances are you’ll avoid having to do damage control later.

Understand that it’s not all about you.

I had a friend in high school who, every semester, proclaimed that one or more of her teachers hated her. Sure, a teacher might dislike a student once in a while, but hate? I suspect that what she interpreted as hate was merely disinterest, they didn’t pay enough attention to her and she saw it as active dislike.

When we’re sensitive we often interpret what’s going on around us as being “about” us – someone is grumpy and we wonder what we did to make them mad. But in reality most people aren’t thinking about us, they’re engaged in their own struggle, focusing on themselves – the same as we are. By shifting focus away from your reaction and getting curious about what the other person is feeling, you will most often find that their actions don’t have a thing to do with you.

Protect your feelings.

Sensitive people tend to take on the world’s problems – when we watch the news we feel everyone’s pain. Or our spouse is in a bad mood and we’re upset for the rest of the day. One of the simplest things we can do is to be careful about what we invite in to our lives. I watch enough of the news to be aware of what’s happening, but when they start to delve into gory or traumatic details, I move on. I avoid TV dramas with too much brutality, and shows that play excessively on our emotions.

But what about our co-workers or family members? We can’t switch them off like a TV! The trick here is to, yep, not make it about you. Your husband is cranky because he’s having trouble at work? As much as you love him, it’s his problem, not yours, and you don’t have to fix it, or him. By not taking on other’s problems we’re better able to help them and still enjoy our own lives.

* * *

Being sensitive is a wonderful thing, except when it’s not. There’s a fine line between empathy and taking on other’s issues and for a sensitive person it can be hard to keep a balance between the two. A great rule of thumb is to ask ourselves “Is this about me, or is it about someone else?” If it’s about us, then by all means, we should get in there and do what needs to be done. But if it’s about someone else then our role should be a supporting one, we can help, we can provide a sympathetic ear, we can contribute money or help raise awareness, but we don’t need to take on the pain and emotional baggage that belongs to others.

Photo by ModernDope

Melinda Elliott

Melinda Elliott is a writer and Life Coach. Visit her blog The Easy Place here.

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26 Comments

  1. It’s probably not so much a man thing to talk about feelings and sensitivity, but I know plenty of guys who are too sensitive at times as well.

    I find that confidence is a huge player in how strong those emotions express themselves. If I find myself feeling sensitive to something, I either work on it, so I’m confident what other’s say really isn’t true. Or I put it off as something that is inconsequential and not worth the bother.

    Reply
    • Love your tactics, Bryce! Your comments get to the heart of how to handle over-sensitivity – don’t react to every feeling you have as if it represents the true situation, rely on your confidence and intelligence to deal with sensitivities that come up.

      Thanks for sharing,

      Melinda

      Reply
  2. Melinda – I appreciate your piece.

    My only gripe … is your tactics for protecting your feelings fail to strike at the core issue. Hyper-sensitivity is a manifestation of an approval seeking neurosis. If you eliminate the need for approval you eliminate the need for coping strategies.

    When you seek and require the approval of others, you are in effect saying, “Your opinion of me is more important than my opinion of myself”. When you make someone else’s opinion more important than your own, what happens when you don’t get their approval?

    All are welcome to check out an article that specifically speaks to this disorder, called: “Do You Have Approval Neurosis?”

    Thank you, Melinda

    Reply
    • As a “sensitive” person i don’t feel my stress is entirely based on seeking other peoples approval – rather it is having less defined boundaries where by other peoples lives can become more important than mine. this can be very stressful not because i am necessarily seeking their approval but I am denying myself that which makes me happy ie feeling the need to fix other peoples problems to give them peace and quiet so i can have peace and quiet

      Reply
    • Hi Contrarian! (Love the name :). While I do agree that oversensitivity can sometimes be a result of seeking the approval of others, I don’t believe that it is the sole reason. There are many people who are “wired” to focus on relationship and community and, as Kate said, they tend to take on other’s pain in order to try to alleviate it, not for approval.

      I did enjoy your blog post about approval neurosis, however. The lists under “Identify your approval-seeking behaviors” and “Strategies for eliminating approval-seeking behavior” are terrific.

      Thanks for your comments,

      Melinda

      Reply
    • This is just a plug for your own website, Contrarian. I read it and it clearly doesn’t apply to a lot of types of sensitive person. It is more of a personal rant of your about society in general.

      Reply
  3. Really great advice. I’ve struggled with a lot of these issues myself and have successfully tried many of these techniques. It also doesn’t hurt to have a support network that you can talk to when you’re feeling particularly down.

    Reply
    • I agree, Deborah, support is key in dealing with these kinds of feelings. I know for me that it’s really hard to tell when my perception is off and I’m being oversensitive without having somoene else to bounce things off of.

      Thanks so much for yoru comments :)

      Melinda

      Reply
  4. liked your post. the world/media is dominated by extroverts and so much advice is pitched at how to be a better extrovert. it is good to look at introverts and acknowledge their value while still providing advice on how they can be better/happier

    Reply
      • Yes that link was excellent, thank you Melinda
        I worked in the public service and unknowingly developed extrovert behaviours in order to manage a very large project. At management courses my psychological profiles always put me as an introvert but the introverts would not have me in their group – they insisted i was an extrovert.
        Since leaving that position i have come to embrace my introvertedness and am much more at home with myself. Learning to feel comfortable being the quiet one is a challenge but I believe is my true nature
        I also found this link very helpful:
        http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/field-guide-the-loner-the-real-insiders.

        Thanks again for your bog

        Reply
  5. Hi Melinda,
    Great advice! It really applies to everyone whether they be sensitive, reactive, or have shaky boundries. It’s about balance. I’m glad you wrote that it is ok to be a sensitive person, because I totally agree. What would the world be like if there were no sensitive people? Not a pretty thought is it? I also like what your advice asking ourselves is this about me? I love that because it allows a healthy detatchment to someone elses “stuff”. Great work Melinda! You’re a smart lady!

    ~Dandy

    Reply
    • Hi Dandy,

      Thanks so much for your comments (and I LOVE your name!) I’m all about self acceptance – we have to accept and own those areas of our personality that give us trouble before we can really deal with them. And so often dealing with them is simply observing our thoughts and then asking ourselves “What’s true here?” We can then respond to what’s real as opposed to what our emotions are telling us.

      You sound like a smart lady, too :)

      Melinda

      Reply
  6. I agree, Deborah, support is key in dealing with these kinds of feelings. I know for me it’s really hard to tell when my perception is off and I’m being oversensitive without having somoene else to bounce things off of.

    Thanks so much for yoru comments :)

    Melinda

    Reply
  7. You’re really a great writer Melinda, and I love your perspective here, especially the part about ‘It’s not about you’. Once someone realizes this and can see the big picture, our ‘sensitivity rate’ goes way down.

    Thanks for the great read. :-)

    Reply
    • Marcus, so nice to hear from you! I’ve been reading your blog and I love it – you are a wonderful writer, I read your work as much for the writing as the sales tips. The post called “Footsteps from Above: A Story about Life’s Music” made me jealous, I wished I’d written it.

      Thank you so much for your comments. It took me a long time to learn the “it’s not about you” lesson and I’ll have to say that shifting that perspective has made a huge difference in my life and relationships.

      Take care and enjoy the season,

      Melinda

      Reply
  8. I will say I’m a sensitive person , but I don’t get affected by emotional dramas shown on TV! I get affected only when something concerns me . A grudge,a fight or any wrong word spoken by me makes me feel guilty but I don’t let that affect my relationship with others. So I’m little balanced and little sensitivity !
    Here’s a test link would like to share with you –
    Are You Able to Control Your Emotions?
    The test finds out how well you control your emotions
    http://www.3smartcubes.com/pages/tests/selfreg/selfreg_instructions.asp

    Reply
    • Thanks for the info, Kim :)

      Melinda

      Reply
    • Just read the article, Kim, thanks so much for bringing it to my attention! It’s great!

      Melinda

      Reply
  9. Hi Melinda,

    I enjoyed reading this post, and I found it through an Internet search because I am currently having problems being oversensitive myself. I’m not only sensitive to words, but to actions. Today I was at a baseball game at a large, very famous stadium, and I was pushed slightly, either by accident or on purpose by a man I was trying to walk by on my way out of my seat to the bathroom. It was a very scary experience, as I nearly tumbled down and killed myself in the stands and a person sitting broke my fall. It was scary because I was upside down for nearly two minutes and no one extended a hand to help me. it just made me feel utterly worthless and upset. In similar situations myself, I usually go out of my way to help people. The way I feel emotionally rowards this experience today is overwhelming to me and it only magnifies my more recent feelings the past few weeks. Should I not help anyone when they are down? Should I become like everyone else?

    I am also very extroverted, unlike a lot of the people here and I feel that my open emotions invite abuse by others. I realize it’s asking a lot, but can you please let me know if I was wrong in how I felt today.

    Thanks for listening.

    Gj

    Reply
  10. Gj,
    I’m so sorry no one has answered you.
    I’m the same way as you, I go out of my way to help people & unfortunately have been used & abused a lot.
    Hope you are all right,
    Ann

    Reply
  11. What I haven’t read on this blog is, what happens when a person grows up after being consistently abused by an older sister in every way while also being raised in a very competitive family where the manic-depressive parents rewarded the child or children who took her or his side in a spousal argument. It was a very dysfunctional environment which did not promote feelings of being loved unconditionally or being ‘as good’ as anyone else. What Melinda hasn’t addressed is, alot of our over-sensitive issues come from childhood. I would like to read something here that addresses that. People who were raised in a mentally healthy environment tend to think that we are all born with the same opportunities in life but I don’t believe that, since some of us are mentally and emotionally “beat down” from birth until we are old enough and financially able to move away from the abusive environment. Even then, since we all gravitate towards what feels ‘familiar’ to us, whether it’s in a bad or good way, we tend to continue to make choices that aren’t the best for us.

    Reply
  12. I don’t exactly seek approval, but I do expect people to behave in a civil way. When people “raise their voice” or snap at me I get frustrated. I’m not the guy to take your anger out on.

    Reply
    • Bro, I understand what you are saying. My husband treats me that way…. if I am trying to understand something he is explaining to me by asking questions he gets mad!!

      Reply
  13. Hi….
    I also have this issue….
    If somebody very close to me, like my parents, sister or close friends are sick or if they are going through some problem…I take it as my own issue…I Get affected badly…. if they are sick and they are not able to eat… I wl also not eat…. I will not go for any functions or happy occasions until they get well…. I sacrifice everything for those whom I care… I give up everything… sometimes because of this I have had lot of health issues and problems…. but I feel really happy and I can’t change this attitude….
    I have recently graduated as doctor…and whenever I see patients suffering….I become sensitive and when I return back home I think of them and cry and pray for them and become emotionally attached to many of them….
    The worst part is… all these days I thought I am not sensitive…I am doing the right thing…. and I expected others to be the sane with me…. but always ended up in disappointments…
    Can you give me suggestions to overcome….

    Reply
    • Shreekanth,
      Gosh, I really feel badly for you. In your line of work you will see a lot of suffering, you have to figure out how to shield yourself from absorbing their grief. Maybe if you realize that you becoming too emotional will cloud your ability to help them because you become depressed. Praying is good! Also pray that God will protect your sensitive feelings so you can stay “in the moment” and be able to better help them.
      God Bless you, Ann

      Reply

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