Eternal Sunshine of the Sensitive Mind: The Highly Sensitive Person Survival Guide

highly sensitive personOver the years I have learned that there are always going to be people that are not going to be your fans, and there is not a lot you can do but smile….

and move along.

But it got me thinking about the
destructive power that only a few critical words can have on the self-esteem of a highly sensitive person.

Unfortunately, there are people who criticize you because either they have a need to blame others for their own feelings of inadequacy, or because they have a need to manipulate and control.  Sadly, their methods work most of the time. I know, I’ve been there too and it hurts like a knife.

However, the reality is that it doesn’t take much to hurt even the person with the thickest skin; but when you are a highly sensitive person, it is hard not to take things personally.

Hurtful words put us in a trance of hurt, anger and confusion. The worst part is when you hear the same negativity over and over again, to the point you start believing it as true. Just like with hypnosis, these words can severely damage your self-esteem.

Feeling hurt is a choice

The truth is that there will always be people who will judge you in an unfavorable way, maybe because they want to help you be better or in other cases, as I mentioned earlier, because they take pleasure in hurting your feelings.

But feeling hurt is a choice. People CAN’T hurt you unless….

you make the decision to allow that.

This happens so quickly that you don’t realize you make these unconscious choices. You can’t control other people, but you can control how your feelings respond to their verbal attacks. Just like hypnosis, hurtful words are only devastating as long as you choose to believe that they have this kind of power (the power of suggestion).

The gift of sensitivity

Sometimes I think that these challenging moments can be a blessing in disguise. They force us to think differently, move out of our comfort zone, and achieve great things such as being there for others in times of need.

Most of our writers, artists, poets and creators who have contributed greatly to our world fall in the “highly sensitive person” category.

Sure, they were immensely talented too, but I can assure you some of their talent came from that special gift called sensitivity. In fact, I think it was the driving force behind their best creations.

I’m talking about people like Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Mary Shelley, Fedor Dostoyevski, etc.

So right there you have something in common with some of the most admired people in the world. Thus, you really don’t want to get rid of your sensitivity. All you need is to channel it a bit better.

Survival tips

Listen, you don’t need to go through life feeling like you are at the mercy of other people’s negativity. You are much better than that and much of your energy is better spent elsewhere.

Dr. William Glasser once said, “If you want to change how you feel, begin by changing what you are doing or what you are thinking”.  I’m including a list of tips that have helped me in the past and that I think might be able to help you as well:

  • Awareness.  Remember that even the thickest-skinned individuals go through a large amount of criticism. Just because some people are mean spirited
    towards you, it is not necessarily because you are weak or inferior.
  • Look at the source.  Those who are negative towards you are most likely not the  happiest people around. I bet that many of them are resentful, angry and bitter about their life. If it was, say, the president of the United States himself that had an issue with your performance at work then I could understand your frustration, but chances are that many of those who are critical of you are nowhere close to that level.
  • Give people a chance to clarify.  A few times is enough. If you give people too many chances you may find that they may start to lose respect for you.
  • Being too nice.  I know the feeling. You are too nice and people can sense this,
    and the minute you say “no” they get offended. Being too nice is similar to spoiling
    a child, and we know what happens next; they become little tyrants. Get used to saying “no, thank you” a few more times per day.
  • Sharpen your comebacks. Deflect their attacks by simply replying “ok, you’re the
    boss!” with a bit of a confident smile, and walk away. Remember, your energy is better spent elsewhere than on people that are not worth it.
  • Consult with your closest friends.  Ask them to help you keep notes on the occasions where you handle the situation well.
  • Keep a journal. Journal the times in a week when you feel someone has offended you. Also keep track of the times when people have been nice to you. Then analyze the results at the end of every week.
  • Get other people’s experiences. Ask friends how often, in a week, they interact with rude people. You might be surprised by their answers. Chances are high that their experiences are similar to yours.
  • You might have a thicker skin than you realize. Ironically, you might find that the most confident person you know has panic attacks when he or she sees something that may not bother you (for example, the sight of blood). People are different. And the truth of the matter is that we all have our sensitivities and emotional blind spots, so give yourself credit.
  • Watch out for people’s tone and pay attention to their body language. Do they look relaxed or are they staring at you with intense beady little eyes? Are their arms crossed? That is a good rule of thumb if you are unsure if
    they are giving you constructive criticism or destructive criticism. Again,
    ask them to clarify.
  • Give yourself permission to make some mistakes. If you stumble and feel like life is knocking you down, simply get up and brush the dust off your shoulders. One special thing about you is your heart. Nothing will keep you down and the world should know this.
  • Limit Diet Sodas. A recent study has shown that chronic diet soda drinkers are 50% more likely to develop depression.
  • Avoid Rumination. “Overthinking may be the engine of hypersensitivity to rejection”, according to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, professor of psychology at Yale and author of Eating, Drinking, Overthinking.  Avoiding rumination is not as easy as it sounds. The average highly sensitive person  is known to ruminate obsessively for days, or weeks, about an incident. Like a muscle; the more time you feed into this obsessive thinking the more it takes over your life, leaving you tired, depressed and exhausted. But if you give yourself a limit on how much you choose to ruminate about a problem, you will be better off, say thirty minutes a day. If you find yourself struggling with this after the time limit, find something fun to keep you distracted. If you have ADD, this is the time to use it to your advantage.
  • Random acts of kindness. When you feel down or upset about yourself, ask yourself… have I made someone happy today? Can I make a difference in someone’s life?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt.

If you like this article, please share it with your friends.

References

Glasser, W. Choice Theory. New York, NY: Harper Perennial;1999.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. Eating, Drinking, Overthinking: The Toxic Triangle of Food, Alcohol, and Depression – and How Women Can Break Free. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co; 2005.

Rettner, R. Drinking Diet Soda Linked to Depression. 2012. Available at: http://vitals.nbcnews.com

Resources

Aaron, E. The Highly Sensitive person. nd. Available at: http://www.hsperson.com/

The Highly Sensitive Person Quiz. Available at: http://www.hsperson.com/pages/test.htm

Author: Alejandro Adrian LeMon, Ph.D., LMHC

A little about me... I'm a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida and the founder of Psychology One. I am also a former college instructor of sociology and I have worked at several not-for-profit agencies & EAP organizations. I currently live with my fiancee and our three cats.

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5 Comments

  1. When people irrate me, I say I’m a nice woman, but. . . . Say what I’ve got to say and then walk away.

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  2. Exactly, it’s good to let the other person know how you feel, keep it simple and move on. Some people are not worth your time and energy.

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  3. I absolutely love this! And when I was younger, I was super sensitive…..and now that I’m grown and with a daughter of my own, I see she’s the same way, and I certainly don’t want her to go through the same kind of suffering I did. Thanks for sharing these tips to help me help her deal with it…I knew some of these, but not all. Great post here.

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