How to deal with our sensitive feelings

How to deal with our own sensitivities, by looking at how we feel instead of jumping to conclusions

My feelings just seemed to get hurt over and over: people making remarks that cut me, not including me in conversations, or not telling me about things that are going on. People say that I’m too sensitive, that I shouldn’t take things so seriously. Maybe I am, but I just feel so left out when things like that happen. How can I stop being so sensitive?

First of all, you feel what you feel. Rather than trying to stop feeling what you actually feel, it may be helpful to get really up close and personal with your own particular brand of sensitivity. When you really understand how and when you are feeling sensitive, it may be more possible to be skilful when situations come up which are upsetting.

Once this is clear, you can avoid the blanket of “I’m too sensitive” in favour of a more accurate definition of your experience. Maybe “I’m not sensitive to everything, but I’m really sensitive to not being included in things” fits better. Since this was the only thing you noted in your letter, I’ll proceed as if that is what fits best.

I wonder if when you think about it, you can put your finger on the first time or incident that gave you some pretty intense feelings of being left out. Where it all started. Lots of times intense experiences, in the past, can make for more sensitivity to situations that might evoke similar feelings, in the present.

Intense experiences can be really helpful for some learning. Touch a hot stove once and you are much more wary of the possibility of a stove being hot, and that it hurts if you touch it, than someone who has never actually touched a hot stove.

The thing is, after that one does not judge all stoves as hot. Even after touching a hot stove, most people see a stove, and then look for clues to decide if it’s hot or not, instead of reacting to all stoves as if they are hot at that moment .

When dealing with intense situations from the past, we need to look at clues to evaluate if what we are faced with is a hot or cold stove situation. It is important to look for clues to determine what is what is happening. Once sensitive to something, one needs to use logic and not just go with feelings. You may be in a cold stove situation.

It is helpful to know that you are more likely to feel more negative sensitivity if you haven’t had enough sleep, are not feeling well, or if you are stressed about other things. It just works that way.

As well as checking in with those things, some questions to ask yourself before you decide that you are in a hot stove situation can be, “How much do I believe that (the person) would want me to be left out?” “What clues do I have to support the idea that people want to leave me out? What clues do I have to support the idea that the intention is not to leave me out?” Looking for evidence to support both possibilities may help you to override the impulse to have feelings dictate the situation as a “hot stove” automatically. You feel what you feel. Now decide how to respond skillfully to what you feel.

To sum up, automatically going from a situation to “I’m being left out” is not helpful. You need the first step of recognizing that you are more sensitive to these situations because of past experience, so you are more likely to perceive the stove as hot. You also need a middle step of evaluating the facts. If you question the situation and the facts support that you are being deliberately left out and ignored, you can then ask yourself why you are hanging out with those people.

If the facts do not support your feelings, do something to feel better, until the feelings settle. The more you do this, the more your body and mind will get used to the idea that when it responds to something you are sensitive about, you are in charge of deciding if the feeling is based on the current situation, or a carry over from an intense experience from the past.

If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at askpacific@shaw.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells and Andrew Lochhead. It appears every second Friday.