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Ask Dr. Debra  [click here for archived articles]

Dear Dr. Debra,
How can I stop being so sensitive? Someone is always hurting my feelings. My boyfriend says I cry too much, and I'm a drama queen. I'm afraid he's going to leave me. Is there any way for me to toughen up?

Signed, Mandy, the sensitive one


First of all, you can't become less sensitive. Sensitivity is an intrinsic part of your nature. But you can become less reactive, and that means learning not to take things so personally.

I believe that sensitive people have a special spiritual mission to use their gift of sensitivity to make the world a better place. Sensitive people are gifted with empathy and creative imagination. At their best, a sensitive person is a sympathetic friend, a skilled diplomat, fun, and charming to be around. At their worst, they can be moody, dramatic, over-reactive, and blaming.

In childhood, a sensitive child needs to be supported, not shamed, when they are easily overwhelmed by their feelings. Unfortunately, these vulnerable individuals are often not brought up with the understanding and delicate discipline they need. Instead they are punished and ridiculed for their sensitivity, making them feel ashamed. If you add any abandonment or abuse to their lives, then their sensitivity becomes warped - touchy, moody, dramatic, acting out. At its most extreme, these individuals develop borderline personality disorder.

The next time you feel emotional - hurt, ashamed, afraid, or angry with your boyfriend, take the time to follow the following five steps before you act out with him.

1. Understand that most people around you do not intend to hurt your feelings. Your boyfriend might be insensitive or "just a guy," but I doubt his intention is to cause you pain. Most people are good, caring people who don't deliberately hurt others. If you do have someone in your life who has a pattern of deliberately causing you pain, you need to re-evaluate your relationship with him. Either end your relationship with him, or set strong boundaries for how you deserve to be treated.

2. Realize that people are being themselves, which might not always sit well with you. Sensitive people often have a preconceived notion of how love should look and feel. They place symbolic meaning on certain gestures and behaviors. Because of their inner insecurity, they constantly look for physical demonstrations of other people's love. If their partner or family member doesn't do what they want, in the way they want, they feel hurt. It's possible that your boyfriend has no idea when he does something to hurt you. Or the way you want him to show his love is not the way he feels comfortable in demonstrating his love. That doesn't mean he doesn't care.

3. Understand that you project negative intentions onto others' thoughts and behaviors. I have a statistic, which I use with my clients. It's a 100 percent statistic, which is rare at any time, certainly in the area of human behavior. Whenever any of my clients tells me they are afraid of what I'm thinking, 100 percent of the time they believe it's negative, and 100 percent of the time they're wrong. I'm never thinking the negative thing about them that they think I am. This statistic has lasted for over fifteen years. Catch yourself when you project your negative thoughts about yourself onto other people.

4. Remember that 80 to 90 percent of the intensity of your feelings is caused by old wounds. If you are feeling abandoned by him because he's gone for a skiing weekend with the guys, it's likely that you have abandonment issues from your childhood. Just because you feel abandoned doesn't mean he is abandoning you. Dumping 100 percent of your feelings on him will only alienate him, making it hard for him to give you the reassurance you need. Enough of this acting out behavior will cause your fear to come true. You will push him away. He will get tired of the dramatic scenes and your constant need for reassurance and will leave.

5. Find someone you trust to help you process your feelings. If you are hurt by your boyfriend, talk to a supportive family member, friend, or therapist. Let them listen to your story and help you figure out what you are feeling. Then the two of you discuss what exactly you need to say to your boyfriend. He doesn't need to have the whole dramatic account of your feelings given to him. Just tell him the end result of your processing. "I want you to have fun skiing with the guys this weekend. I do feel a little left out, though. Do you think we can organize another skiing weekend for the two of us?"

Taking the time to follow these steps when you are upset will result in you feeling more in control of your emotions, which will also increase your self-esteem. Your relationship will improve because you will be less needy and more emotionally stable.

Feel free to write me with your questions.

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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