What's a Person To Do?
"You're hypersensitive!" Today two of my sessions were with individuals who see themselves as being sensitive types, as opposed to what? As opposed to people who have "a tough skin", people who can "think on their feet," people who self-describe as being "not nice", people who "tell it like it is" and others who, to the self-described sensitive types, seem to be in control, sometimes intimidating, and almost immune to getting hurt.
The sensitive ones experience relationships as land mines. They never know when something disturbing is going to come their way. When it does, as is inevitable, they pay a big price.
What kinds of things are we talking about here? Being teased by a friend, being criticized by the boss, being the subject of resentment or envy, or being ignored. All of this and more, is part and parcel of interacting with others. All of us have to deal with the slings and arrows of others if we don't want to be a hermit. The sensitive types just feel it all much more acutely.
Not only that, they are often the least assertive types. So, as one of my patients put it today, "informing others" of how to treat her doesn't happen much.
Why? She wants to please others---her boss, her friends, her relatives. Also, for her, when a hurtful remark or action comes her way, she goes into turmoil. Her emotional reaction is powerful and overwhelms her thinking ability, in the moment.
She can think of plenty to say that would have reset her boundaries, or clarified her point of view, or would have just simply put a stop to whatever was bothering her,... later.
Some people get defensive too quickly or are too aggressive for the situation. This is not usually the problem of sensitive people.
And therein lies the rub. The asset of the sensitive type is that often they are also more sensitive to others. They are more careful of what they say to others, how they treat them, have more regret if they inadvertently make a mistake and step on someone else's toes. These are the people who notice how others feel, who pick up subtle cues, who are aware if one person's comment lands badly on another. They enter a social situation with their antennae up!
People are often chastised and ridiculed for being "too sensitive" and, yet, I think that they are the treasures of the world. These are the sympathizers, the helpers, the ones who try to understand, the ones who pay attention-to you and to others, the ones who care about the underdog, who listen; some of them are the volunteers, some are activists, many are careful and conscientious.
What is the problem here? Well, they suffer maybe more than necessary. What I came to with the second patient was, after she said, she was looking for approval and that she dreaded loss of approval, was that she needed to approve of herself. If she gets that squared away, she may find it easier to be assertive on her own behalf. That is what we are working on for now.
The 1st patient has been in therapy for a long time and has come up with some very helpful to her, coping mechanisms. Today she said that what she did with a woman who is a persistent, intermittent thorn in her side, was pray that she (the person who is problematic) finds peace with herself. Her conclusion in thinking about this woman was that she would not interact with her or others, in a hurtful way, if she were at peace with herself. Then, she took the initiative to call her up and say, "We should meet, the two of us, so that we can plan how to work together." She was able to do this in a genuinely friendly manner, probably because of the prayer. It helped her to shift her attitude from hurt and irritated to creative and constructive.
If you are not the sensitive type, give those folks a break. If you are the sensitive type, give yourself a break. Treasure and take care of your own self the way you would a loved one.