uealse Sensitivity - Dr. Dina Evan's Columns

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Too Sensitive or Not Sensitive Enough?

We are rapidly becoming a society unconsciously desensitized and moved toward apathy about almost everything. Our experiences are now mostly second-hand thanks to the electronic era of computers, televisions, DVD and movies. We see lush green forests, vividly colored flowers, wild animals and most kinds of relationships – on TV. Thousands of people even conduct their relationships, just a wire away, over the Internet on their computers. We are so consumed by our survival and life routines that our levels of sensitivity are slowly being eroded. Today, it’s easier to have an intense feeling watching a sit-com, going to see Hollow Man or Something About Mary, than it is to have an intense feeling with each other. So from my perspective in today’s society, there’s no such thing as being overly sensitive!

Having expressed that concern, I also understand there may be times when your response to some circumstance in your life may be impacted by accumulated pain or fear from the past. It might seem overly sensitive. That’s probably true if a response to a current situation feels bigger than what the situation would normally call for. For example, if your partner, who is normally prompt and on time for commitments, is late for lunch one time and you become livid, you are probably reacting out of your pain from disappointments or abandonment’s from your past. In order to avoid projecting all that accumulated pain on your partner, it’s important to be able to separate out what part really is about his or her actions and what part is about unresolved issues from other circumstances. You can figure out what is going on by communicating and doing some exploration with your partner. Begin to explore other times in your life when similar issues created pain for you.

If you discover that you really are being “over sensitive,” consider it a red flag telling you that you are filled up to the brim with some pain or unresolved feelings and simply cannot tolerate another ounce! It’s a sure sign that you have work to do to unload some of the old pain you are still carrying from the past. It’s a signal that it’s time for some good therapy or healing work. I have worked with clients who come into therapy so brutalized by parental criticism that they are unable to tolerate any response that sounds critical. I could mention they are late and would be enough for them to be devastated. It’s not that they are being over sensitive…it is simply they cannot take any amount of additional criticism until they have dealt with their pain from the past. What is required is understanding. That is often also true in relationships.

Recovering alcoholics often consider themselves to be over sensitive when what is really going on is that they have been trained to become acutely aware of certain kinds of betrayal or possible pain. For instance, as a recovering alcoholic who was emotionally abused as a child, you may be the first to recognize a circumstance in which someone is intruding upon your boundaries. You learned as a child to recognize those warning signs and you became very aware of them in order to survive. Naturally, you will respond in a more intense way than that of a non-abused person if those same circumstances are presented to you as an adult. That’s not being over sensitive. It is being acutely aware. I find people who have endured abuse are often the first in the room to spot an abuser, one who lacks respect for boundaries or one who does not know how to honor agreements and commitments. When you have that kind of awareness, you may want to make sure you are responding from an adult perspective and not that of your inner child. The child could not protect him or herself. As an adult you can remind yourself you are now able to leave the situation, avoid forming an alliance with an untrustworthy person or set stronger boundaries for yourself.

There is always a reason for every feeling we have! We do not just decide to have a feeling for no reason. . A second reason for having feelings may be that some external person or circumstance is presenting a situation that could legitimately be harmful. A real red flag that danger is truly near. Heads up! Whatever the reason, the feelings are a signal that some steps need to be taken for healing. If we can learn to honor our feelings, both the ones we have and those of our partner’s, we can create a fertile healing environment that results in greater intimacy without judgment. A loving response such as, “Wow you really had a big reaction to that circumstance or person. What do you think was going on for you,” can open the door to discussion and opportunities for greater understanding. Whereas, “You’re just being over sensitive,” closes the door to intimacy with judgment and discounting.

In any given moment we are experiencing a multitude of feelings. All of them are from the past! They have to be from the past because the future isn’t here yet. Therefore, when you become more open to exploring your feelings, you are opening the door to opportunities for growth and understanding. You open the door for healing.

Looking at these issues together can bring you closer and give you both permission to have your feelings without fear of being labeled or shamed.

© Dr. Dina Bachelor Evan 2013

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