Photo by Cristian Newman
I remember visiting my sister’s house in my mid-twenties. My family had flown out there from different parts of the country for a holiday reunion. Early one morning, my mom, dad and sisters were gathered in the kitchen having coffee and catching up. As I walked down the stairs, before anyone saw me, I overheard my sister say, “Don’t talk about that when Tree wakes up, she’s overly sensitive.”
Sensitivity had followed me around as a child and I wished I could learn how to stop being so sensitive. The world seemed to affect me more deeply than others. I cried when someone killed a spider. Certain topics, especially related to the mistreatment or suffering of innocent children and animals, were beyond painful.
I felt betrayed by my sister, as if she’d just stabbed me in the back. It wasn’t that she called me too sensitive, it’s that I felt like she was calling me weak, and alerting everyone to tiptoe carefully when I was around so as not to tear my fragile thin skin.
There’s one thing sensitive people hate and that’s the way other people treat them, as if they’ll break at the slightest upset, modifying their behavior and carefully edging around a topic, or worse, avoiding it altogether for fear the sensitive person might crumble to a million little pieces like Humpty Dumpty, never to be put back together again, if they said one wrong word.
Because highly sensitive people have an innate ability to deeply empathize with others and see their side of the story, I understood that my sister had good intentions. She was trying to protect me, she didn’t want my feelings to get hurt.
Therein lies the problem: Trying to prevent a sensitive person from getting hurt is the very thing that hurts them.
When you treat someone like a fragile egg, they come to think of themselves as weak and flawed, and they not only become MORE sensitive, they develop unhealthy habits in an attempt to block their emotions, thinking it’s their emotions that are causing them to be sensitive. But in reality, emotions aren’t the cause of their sensitivity, it’s the doorway to their strength.
I’ll expand on that in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the cause of sensitivity.
Why am I so sensitive?
If you cry easily when you see someone else cry, take things personally when everyone else shrugs it off, or stew for days (or weeks or, let’s be honest, decades) over someone’s off-the-cuff comments or criticism, chances are you’ve probably asked yourself many times, “why am I so sensitive?”
Here are a few reasons why:
1. You’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). It’s in your DNA. Approximately 20% of the world’s population has high Sensory Processing Sensitivity, a genetic trait that makes you hyper-responsive to physical, environmental, social and emotional stimuli, both internal and external. Your brain literally processes sensory information in a deeper cognitive way than those who have low Sensory Processing Sensitivity.
2. You’re an Empath. It’s in your spiritual DNA. Empaths feel and absorb other people’s emotions, often as if they were their own. This makes us super susceptible to others’ energy, and empaths who have not yet learned how to manage their own energy are often exhausted and drained around others, making them even more sensitive.
3. You’re a deep thinker and feeler, by nature or nurture. Just because you’re sensitive, doesn’t mean you’re an HSP or an empath. Whether your parents raised you to think beyond the surface of things, or you were born wondering about the meaning of life, you could simply think and feel more deeply than the average person. Have you ever talked to someone and tried to “go deep” rather than having a superficial conversation and they just couldn’t go there? The fact that you even understand what I mean by “go deep” means you’re likely an emotionally intelligent deep thinker and feeler.
4. Your hormones are out of balance. If you’re a woman, ever feel cranky, annoyed or at the verge of homicide when your partner even looks at you around that time of the month? That’s your hormones wreaking havoc on your system. We all understand the monthly madness, but sometimes, due to environmental, nutritional or physiological factors, our hormones are unbalanced on a daily basis regardless of our sex, causing our emotions to go rogue and flail (seemingly) out of our control.
While it’s possible that all four of these are true for you, one or any combination of them could be causing you to be more sensitive than the rest of the world.
Many of us struggle to not be so sensitive, especially in relationships, as our sensitivity is often reflected through and judged by those closest to us. It’s often their reactions to our sensitivity that seep into us, making us feel self-conscious and wrong.
If you were home alone watching TV and a touching commercial came on that made you cry, you probably wouldn’t think much of your reaction. Your focus would be on the endearing message in the commercial. But if your partner or family were gathered in the living room and the same commercial made you cry, you might discreetly wipe away your tears, hoping no one noticed. Your focus would be on hiding your sensitivity.
The fact that someone’s there to witness your tender heart makes you pay more attention to it. If they witness it in a loving, accepting way, you might start to realize that it’s not a bad thing. But being sensitive is not commonly accepted as a good thing in our society, and when someone witnesses it with judgment, we tend to absorb their judgment, take it on as our own, and we start to feel wrong.
I can’t count the number of times my family has turned to me during a random TV show, movie or commercial and said flabbergasted, “Are you crying??” It used to bother me, but now I turn around and ask, “how can you not be crying??” It awes me how things don’t affect others.
I can’t imagine not being touched deeply by simple things. I’ve come to love my sensitivity, I love crying, I love that I feel. It’s what makes this life so beautiful and full of grace, depth and love.
Like the image above, my deep emotions are what gives me power, balance and strength.
But I wasn’t always that way. I didn’t always love my sensitivity or my deep emotions. I used to wonder how to stop being so sensitive, how to stop crying all the time, and why am I so sensitive emotionally? I saw my sensitivity as a weakness, not a superpower.
Now I know better.
But for those of you who aren’t quite there yet, here are some tips on how to stop being so sensitive emotionally.
How to stop being so sensitive
Before we go further, it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with being sensitive. The fact that I’m about to give you some tips on how to stop being so sensitive doesn’t mean that you need to change or that something’s wrong with you or that you’re broken or flawed. These tips are purely to help you manage the parts of your sensitivity that affect your life negatively. Being sensitive is a powerful gift, but when our sensitivity takes over and gets the best of us, we can learn ways to tame the shadow aspects of our sensitivity and cast light on the darkness.
For example, taking things deeply personally is a shadow aspect of sensitivity. When someone says an off-the-cuff comment and we take it in and let it affect us for days, weeks or months, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. But it’s important to know that being sensitive and taking things personally is NOT a package deal. While sensitive people tend to take things personally, they don’t have to. It’s not encoded in your DNA that you’ll forevermore take things personally simply because you’re highly sensitive.
Taking things personally is merely a sign that you haven’t yet learned how to stand in your power. Nothing more, nothing less.
When you know your own power and stand firm in your own energy, no matter what’s happening outside you, whether someone’s intentionally criticizing you or simply making an innocent remark, you won’t take it personally and it won’t affect you negatively. You go from this…
You’re unaffected by what’s happening around you. You no longer react to everything based on the energy outside you, you stand firm in your own energy regardless of the energy people are throwing at you.
Here are 10 more common shadow aspects of being sensitive:
- Poor boundary setting
- Easily overwhelmed emotionally
- Energetically drained and exhausted around people
- People pleasing
- Insecure, lack of self-confidence & boldness
- Playing small in life (fear of being authentically seen)
- Alcohol, drug, porn or food addiction (anything to numb out)
- Incessant mental chatter
- Taking on a victim or martyr mentality
- Chronic fatigue
The great news is that none of these are a life sentence for an empath or sensitive soul. They’re all manageable and you don’t have to struggle with them forever. In fact, there are practical and spiritual solutions to all of them.
Over the next few months, I’ll write an article for some of these highlighting what I’ve done personally to turn these shadow aspects of my sensitivity around, and will offer simple techniques you can do yourself to help you become more of an empowered empath. You can come back to this article and see updated links in each of the items above or if you don’t want to forget or miss them, sign up below for my email updates, and I’ll send them to your inbox as they’re posted.
For now, let’s address your question of “how do I stop being so sensitive?”
The fact that you’re asking that question means that being sensitive is a problem for you, otherwise you wouldn’t want to change. It also means that you haven’t yet learned about the light side of being sensitive because all you know is the shadow.
Once you get a glimpse of the amazing power of your sensitivity, your life will radically shift and you’ll discover your true purpose here as a sensitive soul.
But before we can fly, let’s first learn to stand firmly, feet planted on the ground, rooted in our own powerful energy, so that we’ll never again be swept away by our own thoughts and emotions or other people’s energy.
Let’s start by asking the right question.
Instead of asking, “how do I stop being so sensitive?” let’s ask, “how do I become more emotionally resilient?”
Take a moment and read that sentence again.
Do you feel the slight shift in energy between the two questions? Chances are if you’re still reading this article, you’re highly tuned in to energy and can FEEL the difference between those two questions. You may not be able to explain it logically or put your finger on it, but you sense that each question vibrates differently, don’t you?
They just feel different, no matter how subtle the shift, you can feel it. One question feels a bit closed and weak, while the other is open and strong.
As an empath and sensitive soul, this is a simple lesson in the power of asking the right questions to align with expansive light energy that uplifts and supports your desire to grow from a place of positivity and inspiration rather than negativity, darkness and fear. While others won’t notice the difference (and have surely lost interest in this article by now), your internal energy tuning fork gets it.
That’s why you’re still reading. If you don’t think you get it, if you’re sitting there wondering if you feel the difference or not, trust me, if you’re still here reading, you feel it. You may not be consciously aware of it because you’ve blocked out your intuition for so long and you’ve learned to numb your sensitivity and dull your energetic spidey senses, but I know that there’s no way you would be reading these words right now if something didn’t resonate inside for you. No one reads over 2000 words of an article who’s not resonating with something about it.
Don’t believe me? Try reading this article. I can’t even get through 50 words before my eyes glaze over and I face plant onto my keyboard from boredom. Though it was the writer’s intent to write his most boring article yet and he succeeded, so yay, writer! Knowing his intent, you might find the article oddly hilarious. I did, but I still couldn’t get through it…. YAWN!
But I digress. Back to our new question, “how do I become more emotionally resilient?”
How to become emotionally resilient
Here’s a sneak peek of a video from my course, Emotional Resilience: How to Toughen Up Without Losing Your Soft, Sensitive Side, that explains what emotional resilience means.
Now that you know what emotional resilience is, here are two fundamental steps in becoming emotionally resilient.
- Stop Identifying
- Start Observing
When you master these two steps, you master your energy. In fact, all you really have to master is step two because when you start observing yourself, identification generally stops on its own, it’s not something you have to actively stop. The mere act of observation dissipates identification automatically. It’s like turning on a light switch. You don’t have to actively fight the darkness, wrangle it to the ground and try to stop it, you simply have to turn on the light and the darkness immediately disappears.
Step one is the darkness: Identifying.
Step two is the light: Observing.
Step One: Stop Identifying
Identifying with your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, stories, problems and even yourself is the cause of 99% of your suffering.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “why am I so sensitive to criticism,” it’s because you’re taking the criticism personally, you’re identifying with it, making it about you. When you identify with it and make it part of your identity, you replace your own innate power with that which you’re identifying with.
In essence, you’re layering a false identity on top of who you really are. As we start our observation practice, we begin to see through the veil of the false identities we’ve come to believe in and our authentic, pure and powerful identities emerge into the consciousness of our being.
The problem is that you’ve been covering up your real identity with false identities your entire life. You identify with things all day, every day, about practically everything.
Something horrible happened to you when you were 6 years old and you identified with that. You made it about you. It’s become a part of who you are. You’re now that person who had a tragic event happen to them when they were 6 years old and everything about you and your life is informed by that event even though it’s 40 years later.
You feel depression and you identify with it. You make it about you and now you’re that depressed person who goes to therapy, takes prescription meds and seeks help to get un-depressed but you never really understand WHY you’re so depressed, there’s no one, clear answer, it’s just a general sense of underlying depression.
You feel stuck at your job and you identify with it. You make it about you and now you’re that person who’s struggling to break free from the shackles of a 9 to 5, find meaningful work and angry at the world for having sold out to a societal structure that values greed, power and money over love, kindness and service.
Your partner says something insensitive and you identify with it. You make it about you and now you’re that person who’s insensitive partner doesn’t understand them or doesn’t care that they hurt your feelings and won’t acknowledge it, let alone apologize, and you wish they could be more sensitive, understanding and aware of your emotional needs.
Any of those sound familiar?
Identifying with things means that you can’t separate yourself from the thing you’re identifying with. It becomes a part of your identity. In other words, if you’re feeling anger, instead of being a person who’s simply feeling the energy of anger flowing through them, unattached to the anger, you make it a part of your identity and you say things like, “I’m so angry!” You’re making it about YOU, when all along, the real YOU – the soul, who you really are – is perfectly fine.
You are a soul having the human experience of anger. You are not angry.
Emotions are simply energy in motion. Some energy moves forcefully (like anger) and some energy moves softly (like contentment). When you’re identifying with the energy moving in and through you, you’re caught in the grip of that energy. Identifying with your emotions, especially the ones that don’t feel good, can lead to resisting, fighting, denying or pushing away the energy that’s trying to flow through. That causes an emotional dam inside you that gets bigger and bigger and eventually breaks, causing you to have a meltdown or outburst, oftentimes seemingly out of the blue or over a completely minor upset.
Step Two: Start Observing
When you finally realize that you’re causing your own suffering by identifying with everything, you can practice the second step and start observing.
Start becoming a witness rather than an identifier. It’s a simple shift in focus from being lost in the circumstance, emotion, thought or story that you’re identifying with to observing yourself experiencing the circumstance, emotion, thought or story. You might still be feeling the emotion or thinking the thought, but now you’re witnessing yourself feeling and thinking. You’ve separated yourself from the thought or emotion, you’re no longer lost in it, identifying with it.
Michael Singer, NY Times bestselling author of The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment, says:
There are two distinct aspects of your inner being. The first is you, the awareness, the witness, the center of your willful intentions; and the other is that which you watch. The problem is, the part that you watch never shuts up. If you could get rid of that part, even for a moment, the peace and serenity would be the nicest vacation you’ve ever had.
Getting the “part that you watch” to quiet down a bit requires practicing becoming the witness. Eventually it will quiet down but when it does, it won’t matter much to you anyway because you’ve become so good at not identifying with it that it doesn’t matter if it chatters incessantly.
The key is to practice when you’re NOT in a difficult moment, when your emotions aren’t so agitated and heated. Practice observing when your emotions are calmer and more neutral, such as when you’re brushing your teeth, eating a meal, putting on clothes, etc., and then when a challenging circumstance occurs, you’ll be that much better and stronger at witnessing yourself. It’s a muscle and working it out consistently makes it stronger.
There are two you’s in there. There’s the you brushing your teeth, thinking about your long to-do list for the day, stressing over how it’s all going to get done… and then there’s the you WATCHING the you brushing your teeth, thinking about your long to-do list for the day, stressing over how it’s all going to get done.
The real you is THE ONE WATCHING. And this one watching is unaffected by the stresses of a long to-do list. This is who you really are. This is the soul.
Sit back into the seat of the soul and joyfully observe as the human you experiences life in all its pain, sensitivity and glory. The soul came here specifically to experience this beautiful, brutal range of life, to learn certain lessons from it, to grow and evolve and become more than what it could never be without these experiences.
When you become a witness, an observer to the shadow side of your sensitivity, you stop identifying with being that person who’s “so sensitive” and the negative aspects of your sensitivity dissipates naturally, revealing more and more of the light, positive aspects of being sensitive.
Eventually, you can harness the power of your sensitivity to do good in this world, in true service, to help heal, calm and empower others.
If you want to go deeper into this practice, click here to learn more.