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Dear Dr. Debra, 

After reading your article concerning being too sensitive (see archives) I completely understood the reasons WHY people (myself included) can be too sensitive. However, I didn't see where you addressed HOW to change this behavior. In the 5 steps, you stated reasons why this may happen, but not HOW to redirect or change these feelings. Any assistance in the HOW's would be greatly appreciated!!!! 

Ms. Sensitive 

Dear Ms. Sensitive, 

As I said in my earlier article, if you're sensitive, that never changes. However, you can develop a positive mindset, refrain from taking things so personally, and learn to react in a healthier manner. From making these changes, you'll come to feel better about your sensitivity. 

Here are 8 tips to help you better manage your sensitivity. 

1. Accept that you're sensitive. You need to believe that sensitivity is a special gift, not the curse you sometimes feel it is. Sensitive people are sympathetic friends, skilled diplomats, loving family members, intuitive, and creative. Learn to make your sensitivity work for you. Criticizing yourself for a sensitive reaction will only make you feel (and perhaps act) worse. 

2. Speak to yourself in a positive, encouraging manner. As a sensitive person, you may have low self-esteem and a negative mindset. You probably are also self-critical.  

Part of becoming less sensitive involves tuning into your automatic, negative way of thinking and beginning to change what you tell yourself. 

In order to rein in your own negativity, you need to switch to understanding or supportive thoughts. To do this, you need to develop a positive mental voice to combat and overcome the critical or fearful messages in your head. I describe this voice as that of a nurturing parent, a cheerleader, or a coach. 

It may help to imagine yourself as a young child. Visualize yourself as you looked at about age six. Can you see the vulnerability in your eyes? Can you feel how much you need support instead of criticism? Would you speak to a child as harshly as you do your adult self? 

Often a sensitive six-year-old will need plenty of reassurance that she is special and loved. She also needs coaxing and encouragement to baby-step her way through her fears. Don't punish her for being who she is. 

3. Become a better listener. The lower your self-esteem, the more you project your thoughts and feelings onto others. You tend to be a poor listener, paying more attention to your own responses, rather than what the other person is actually trying to communicate.  

Try to focus on understanding what the other person is saying, rather than what you're feeling or what you want to say in response. This will help you hear what's really said. 

4.  Talk yourself out of taking other people's words or actions personally. With your sensitivity and low self-esteem, you also are prone to jump to negative conclusions, have an emotional reaction (hurt, fear, anger, shame), then act out (or avoid) your feelings.  

When you're sensitive, it's difficult to understand that others might not intend to hurt you. To you, what the other person says or does feels deliberate. You need to take an emotional and mental step back. Find another way to look at the situation. Tell yourself, perhaps he's having a bad day. Or maybe she doesn't mean what I think she meant. 

5. Become familiar with your false ideas. A false idea is a negative subject to which your mind frequently reverts. Some common false ideas are: fear your partner may cheat, fear of abandonment, fear friends don't like you, fear speaking up will get you in trouble, or fear others won't like your creative project. 

If you know your mental weaknesses, then you will be more able to catch when your mind jumps to a negative thought related to that false idea. You'll be able to recognize it's probably your thinking that's the problem, not what's actually taking place. 

Tell yourself, This is one of my false ideas. Then switch your thoughts to another possibility. For example: Your co-worker, John, doesn't say Good morning to you. You jump to the thought. John must be mad at me. Then you feel anxious. This is the point where you need to catch your negative thinking. Tell yourself, This is one of my false ideas. John probably doesn't even realize he didn't say good morning to me. He's probably preoccupied with something in his own life or a problem at work.


6. Ask for clarification. Before you jump to conclusions about what someone has said or done, take a breath and find out where he really is coming from. Some examples: What I understood you to say was ____. Was that what you meant? Or When you did ____, I started to feel ____. And then I thought I should check it out with you first. 

Much of the time you'll find that the person didn't mean what you thought she said. Or if she may have meant it in the heat of the moment, but now regrets what she said. Or there may be other circumstance that he can elaborate on that takes the sting out of what he said. 

7. Learn to speak up. Often, as a sensitive person, you suffer in silence. Maybe you'll never say anything about what bothers you. Or you'll store up your feelings until something sets you off. Then, you erupt, spilling out all the emotions you've built up over the past weeks, months, and even years.  

Then, of course, you look like you're overreacting. When you do this, other people have a hard time taking you seriously. It's easy for someone to blow off your feelings with the comment, You're just too sensitive. Or, You're over-reacting. Thus, he won't see (or take responsibility for) whatever he might have done to contribute to your reaction. 

If someone hurts you, don't tell yourself, It's not a big deal. Unless you can actually let go of what happened, you will need to acknowledge it to the other person. Just preference your discussion by saying, It's not that big of a deal, I just wanted you to know that it hurts my feelings a little when you_____.  

For example, if you were going to talk to your co-worker, John, say, I know this isn't a big deal, and I also know you have a lot on your mind. And, on the days you don't say 'good morning' to me, I wonder if something's wrong or if I've done something to upset you. I'd like us to exchange greetings in the morning. I think a friendly greeting is a great way to start the day. 

8. Build your confidence. The increase in your self-confidence comes in three ways: other people's feedback, positive self-talk, and doing estimable acts. 

If you lack self-esteem you will have a difficult time absorbing and retaining others' positive feedback. Instead, you'll deflect any compliments you receive. Or if you do let the words in, you won't savor themłallowing the statement(s) to become a part of you.  

The more you speak to yourself in a positive, encouraging manner, the better you will feel about yourself. With your own encouragement, you'll be more able to take risks, which will also help increase your self-esteem. 

An estimable act is doing something that makes you feel good about yourself. Usually this is something you know you need to do, but have avoided. Or it can be something you've dreamed about, but have had some fears about actually doing. Or you might find ways to help others and make the world a better place. With each estimable act, you increase your self-confidence, especially if you acknowledge yourself for doing something that was difficult for you. 

It will take time and a commitment for you to implement the changes I've suggested. It's important to be patient and persistent. Eventually, you'll make peace with your sensitive nature. 

Dr. Debra


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

Feel free to write Dr. Debra with your questions


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Dr. Debra Holland is also a regular contributor to the Wet Noodle Posse Blog.


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