This article first appeared on Forbes
A casual remark from your friend or partner, and you can’t let go of it. You know it was said as a joke, but boy does it grow in size and importance as you spend hours (or days) ruminating on it.
And then there’s the couple of critical comments your boss dished out about your performance. You recall the good things they mentioned, too, but they now seem meaningless as the criticisms entwine themselves into your every thought and action and make it impossible for you to move on.
Meanwhile, your colleague receives similar feedback but seems quite unaffected. As you beat down on yourself for your sensitivity, you promise yourself that from now on, you’ll do whatever it takes to be more like them.
Before you embark on drastic measures to become less sensitive, it’s worth knowing that insensitivity is no virtue. In fact, it’s the result of inadequate bilateral integration in the brain, where we’re unaffected by other people’s lives, moods, and concerns. And even though it can sound blissful when you’re swirling in negative energy, it’s unhealthy, both physically and psychologically.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t make life easier for yourself. Quite the contrary! When you understand that a large part of your sensitivity is based on people and events from long back that continue to live on inside of you, you can actually take a break from the letting other people’s opinions or bad days become your own internal garbage. Here’s how.
Sensitive people experience emotions more strongly. The way to manage these emotions is by speaking to them in the language they understand.
This is where self-compassion comes in, where you simply sit with your emotions with full acceptance and zero judgment. No telling yourself what to do or how to think. No chastising, no reminders, no admonitions for the future.
Allow the emotions to be welcome guests that have something to tell you. Let them speak so you know what they need. And then provide it to yourself as best you can.
Expand your perspective
Once you’ve filled you own cup, you’ll naturally turn to others in empathy.
Without self-compassion, your efforts to engage others will either be about pleasing them and winning their approval. Or you’ll stew in anger and judge them for their comments, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
With self-compassion, you’re able to open up to their perspective and hear their concerns or opinions without evaluating their remarks as a measure of your worth. You’re able to hold onto multiple perspectives at the same time.
Nurture me and we
With this wider lens, you can decide on the best way forward based on your values and priorities.
What will you need to defend and why? Is it your space, your respect, your ideas? How will you do so? Will you let go of the comments, set boundaries with the other person, or engage in dialogue about what you need?
At the same time, where will you give in and adapt? Because a truly successful life is all about compromise. It’s easier to do so when you view other people’s comments as an indication of their preferences and not a judgment call.
As a recovering over-sensitive, who grew up idealizing her “happy-go-lucky” cousin, I can honestly say that healthy sensitivity is a strength that we do not nurture enough. It makes us more creative, more aware, and more empathetic. It lies at the heart of being human – a virtue we need more of, not less.