“You’re Too Sensitive”
I was bullied badly at school, but when I approached my teachers about the situation I was told that it was just me being too sensitive. It’s true that I was incredibly shy at that age, but my teachers used that as a reason to treat me like I was made out of delicate china. On one occasion some boys came over for an arm wrestle and the teacher broke it up, asking me if I was ok afterwards as if I couldn’t handle it myself. Another time some kids came up to ask me about horror movies at which point the teacher answered for me that someone like me would never be into something so dark – couldn’t be further from the truth ;). There were admittedly times when I used their perception of me to my advantage, whenever others tried to tell on me – much to their frustration – the teacher would respond with something like, ‘I doubt that, she’s not capable of something like that.’
The problem is that if you’re treated a certain way by everyone for too long it can shape the way you start to see yourself. It wasn’t until my experiences at school that I began to question whether I was broken and needed fixing. This idea was further aggravated by how they put me on courses for self-esteem, added me to the special needs list despite getting good grades and would criticise my personality on school reports because otherwise I was mostly well behaved with an eagerness to learn; Instead of feeling supported when the other kids treated me badly they instead put the focus on what was wrong with me. I felt like it was my fault that I was being bullied and that fixing my self-esteem would make it all better, but nothing worked because my low self-esteem was a result of the bullying. The words ‘you’re too sensitive‘ have stuck with me and I’ve continued to think of myself as delicate and vulnerable despite having done much since to prove otherwise.
I have heard the words ‘you’re too sensitive‘ numerous times since and I know I’m not the only one to feel frustrated by them. They have affected the way I handle situations because even if my gut is telling me that I’m being treated unfairly, I feel doubts as to whether it’s all in my head or not. It can also be used as a way to add further insult to injury. For example, when somebody says something hurtful to us and then accuses us of being too sensitive when we stand up for ourselves (I explored this idea in a previous post ‘Is Offensive Humour Appropriate?‘) You can end up talking yourself out of approaching others on their behaviour towards you, even if it’s making you really unhappy, ‘I don’t like how they talk to me, but If I say anything they’ll just accuse me of being too sensitive.‘
It might not always be done with intention, but pointing out faults in a person’s personality during an exchange of opinions is a technique you can use to win arguments. The value of an opinion is only as good as the person expressing it, so if you can bring them down a notch or two you’re also discrediting their viewpoint. If a person tells you that something you’ve said is inappropriate, telling them that they’re being too sensitive is a way of devaluing their feelings towards a situation. Putting others down is also a sign of insecurity. If a person genuinely is being too sensitive – like taking offence at everything even when it’s not about them – then it’s possible that something has happened to them to make them this way. In this case they might be needing some additional support and criticising them could potentially make it worse.
We’ve all had slightly different upbringings and experiences, influencing our sensitivities and what we value. I’ve found that everybody has something that they’re sensitive about, but are also strong in many other ways. I’ve seen people act like it’s unfair when a person hasn’t responded well to an offensive joke they made, but it’s possible that they simply caught the wrong person at the wrong time. I can understand why a joke would be upsetting to someone if it’s connected to a bad experience in their past in some way. It’s a common thought that apologizing or acknowledging a person’s feelings is like admitting that you’re wrong or a sign of weakness; This isn’t how I consider it as I reckon that it takes a lot of strength to be able to balance the feelings of others along with yourself (see ‘The power of apologies and forgiveness‘ by Brendon Burchard.) It doesn’t have to be an acceptance of guilt, but an opportunity to explain that you didn’t mean any harm, while also showing that you understand why from their perspective it could be upsetting. It’s good to give somebody a chance to explain why something might be a problem for them rather than cutting them off by accusing them of being too sensitive. If we want to maintain a friendship we also have to respect each others boundaries, even if we don’t personally agree with it ourselves.
For example, I like watching horror films and believe that it’s important to be able to freely explore the darker aspects of our lives. Monsters have existed throughout our history and allow us to prepare to face our fears in a safe way. There are moments when people have walked in while I’ve been watching a horror film and reacted very strongly towards it. Not everybody understands why you’d want to view something that they consider to be horrible (See my previous post ‘Why Do I Enjoy Horror?‘) I don’t appreciate being made to feel bad over it and could accuse them of being too sensitive, but they haven’t grown up with horror tales like I have and have not been desensitised to it. Instead I try to explain to them why I enjoy horror in the hopes that they can learn to accept that others like it even if they don’t. In turn I respect that not everybody wants to be subjected to the things that I find interesting. I’m acknowleding their opinion, but at the same time I’m not admitting that I’m wrong to enjoy horror. Most of us adjust the way we communicate based on the company we’re with anyway (you are very lucky if you can be 100% yourself around everybody.)
The world needs a mix of people, sensitive and thick skinned. There are jobs that require us to be tough, but also moments that need a more delicate touch. I know a few people that are frequently accused of being too sensitive, but I wouldn’t change them because they also happen to be the kindest and most empathetic people I know. It’s possible that if they were less sensitive they would no longer be the same, and like most traits there are good and bad points about it (see my post ‘Putting A Negative/Positive Spin On Traits.’) It also takes a lot of guts to stand up for what you believe in. To have even been accused of being too sensitive in the first place suggests that you spoke up about something. I’m not usually the only one that isn’t happy with a situation, but I often find that I’m the only one willing to stand my ground on it. For a lot of kids it can take a lot of courage to admit that they are being bullied for instance. It’s true that I do struggle with anxiety (not helped by my experience at school), but I’m fond of saying that you can’t be brave if you don’t first have a fear to overcome.
- Baggage Reclaim – Are You Being ‘Too Sensitive’?
- Good Therapy – You’re NOT Too Sensitive
- Live Bold & Bloom – Do People Accuse You Of Being Highly Sensitive?
- Expressive Counseling & Coaching – Being Too Sensitive
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