Why Am I So Sensitive?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I think I’m more sensitive than most people. I get offended or my feelings get hurt really easily. Even things that don’t directly affect me … well, affect me.

I’m as sensitive as I know how to be, if that makes sense. Is there a way to learn how to be less sensitive? If something makes me feel angry, sad, anxious, guilty, shameful, fearful, or jealous, is there anything I can do about it? I worry that something is wrong with me because I can’t stop myself from feeling these things.

My boyfriend has told me over and over I need to stop being so sensitive and I need therapy. He’s not the only one who has said I’m too sensitive. It upsets me (probably because I’m so sensitive). I can’t win. Why am I so sensitive? —Easily Hurt

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Dear Hurt,

Many people have strong feelings—that’s neither a failure nor a triumph, it’s just how they are. From what you’ve written, it’s how you are.

You listed a slew of feelings that affect you: anger, sorrow, anxiety, guilt, shame, fear, and jealousy, and I’d bet there are more! You’re human. You have a big heart.

You worry you can’t stop yourself from feeling things. That’s okay. Your feelings are your feelings; there’s nothing wrong with them and you shouldn’t stop them. What you can do is work on how you express those feelings. It is possible to have a strong reaction, and then pause, and then decide how you’ll express yourself. The trick is building in that pause. That takes a lot of practice, but it’s worthwhile.

Here are some thoughts about building in some time for yourself:

  • As soon as you recognize that you’re feeling something, name the feeling and accept it. Take some deep breaths. Can you find some humor in the situation? I detect a good sense of humor in your letter.
  • Decide what to do with the feeling you’re experiencing. Express it straight out, full force? Or modulate your expression, kind of like louder or quieter, bigger or smaller? This is tough. You may have to practice a lot—it’s unlikely you will be able to do it right away—so give yourself permission to fail and try again. Remember the learning curve. It takes time. No one progresses in a straight line; there are ups and downs. That’s just how it works. For everybody.

It may sound like your boyfriend is saying you’re crazy, which is unfortunate because (1) there’s nothing wrong with you and (2) it casts therapy, a terrific tool for understanding what makes us tick, in a stigmatizing light.

I’d like to suggest a couple of additional processes that might help. First, learn meditation, yoga, or some form of self-study that emphasizes the body and the breath. Learning how to focus on your breath will give you time and the opportunity to decide when, how, and even if you will react to your feelings. Remember, you’ll recognize, name, and accept those feelings first, but after that you might or might not act on them.

Another good way to learn about your feelings, what they mean, and how to live with them is to find a good therapist and schedule a session. Feelings are what make us human. We get even more human when we learn to recognize feelings and know what to do about them; a therapist will help you understand your actions and reactions and why they happen.

You write that your boyfriend tells you to “stop being so sensitive.” It sounds as if you feel he is criticizing you for who you are, but who you are—a sensitive person—is likely part of why he is attracted to you in the first place. You also report that he says you “need” therapy. I think therapy would be helpful for you, based on what you’ve expressed, and perhaps it would be for him, too.

Many times when people get frustrated at their loved ones, they say something like, “You need therapy.” It may sound like your boyfriend is saying you’re crazy, which is unfortunate because (1) there’s nothing wrong with you and (2) it casts therapy, a terrific tool for understanding what makes us tick, in a stigmatizing light. Therapy starts to sound like a punishment, but it isn’t—it’s just a way for people to grow into themselves. The ability to learn and develop yourself is a great blessing.

Wishing you the best!

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 4 comments
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  • Elaine K

    Elaine K

    January 11th, 2018 at 9:18 AM

    I’m surprised you did not also recommend the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron to this person. It was life changing for me.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    January 11th, 2018 at 9:26 AM

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Kiley

    Kiley

    January 24th, 2018 at 10:52 AM

    I am an empath too

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    January 24th, 2018 at 4:10 PM

    I’m smiling.

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