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“Don’t be so….sensitive.”  Some people hear that a lot.  It can be uncomfortable at times if you’re a woman.  If you’re an emotionally sensitive man, life can be pretty tough, because our society expects men to be in control of their emotions.

Sensitive people often have a keen sense of empathy for others.  In fact, they may be uncomfortably empathic, having a difficult time distinguishing between what a distraught friend is feeling and their own sense of being upset.  That can lead to difficulty in setting healthy boundaries with others (while making it even more important to have those boundaries in the first place).  In relationships, they may tolerate the intolerable as a result.

Overly sensitive people may wonder if carrots feel pain when they are chopping veggies for a salad.  Seeing a dog that is missing a leg makes them tear up.  Sad music….well, you get the idea.  They may pick up clues about what is going on with a friend when the other person thinks they are hiding their emotions – or when the friend isn’t even aware what he or she is feeling.

Did I mention that these folks can be extremely troubled by criticism, rejection or fear of failure?  That can make interpersonal relationships complicated.  Job reviews can cause them to feel uncomfortably vulnerable.  They may avoid confrontation in relationships.

Sensitivity is not a bad thing.  In a world that can be cold and unfeeling, empathy is welcome.  The emotional intelligence that comes with being sensitive can be an advantage if it isn’t too extreme.  But to live this way can feel like going through life without a protective skin, and that’s a hard way to live.

If you are highly emotionally sensitive, there are things you can do to take good care of yourself:

  • Fight perfectionist tendencies.  Recognize when your expectations are unrealistic.  Ask others for feedback (occasionally) to get a reality check on your own expectations.
  • Learn to manage your emotions.  (Note:  this is not the same thing as saying, “Don’t be so sensitive!”)  Realize that ups and downs are part of life.  Cultivate calmness, maybe through meditation.  Notice when you need time alone to decompress, and when you need to be with others.
  • Beware of negative self-talk.  Self-criticism is a bad habit for overly-sensitive people – one you can’t really afford.  Learn to recognize and manage negative thoughts before they get away from you.
  • Cultivate emotionally healthy friends.  You don’t need to be around people who always bring you down, or who are emotional vampires who always leave you feeling drained.
  • Cultivate a sense of humor.  Life is easier when you don’t take everything with too much seriousness.

When they take care of themselves, emotionally sensitive people make the world a better place.  They can be great friends.  They can be champions and advocates for outcasts and the downtrodden.  The key is self-compassion, self-management and self-care.  For sensitive people, that may seem like a life-long journey.  Stop judging your self or comparing yourself to others.  You can learn to manage your interior life and manage life’s ups and downs.