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Coping with emotional sensitivity

Main Line Health April 6, 2015 General Wellness By Paula Durlofsky, PhD

We have all felt emotionally overwhelmed at one time or another in our lives. The intensity of our emotions usually reflect accurately the circumstance we are faced with such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, illness or divorce.

However, an emotionally sensitive person is constantly overwhelmed by their emotions, whether they be positive or negative. The intensity of their feelings often causes them to be reactive and act in ways that doesn't accurately reflect the reality of the circumstance they are coping with.

Characteristics of highly sensitive individuals include:

  • Reflecting on things more than usual
  • Worrying about how others feel or what they think
  • Being emotionally reactive, and struggling with stable interpersonal relationships
  • Feeling more upset when they make a mistake
  • Lamenting over decisions, and being extremely detail-oriented
  • Being more prone to depression, anxiety and social withdrawal

Being emotionally sensitive is not, in itself a bad trait. The ability to feel deeply is what allows artists to create masterpieces, authors to write touching and meaningful stories and musicians to play beautiful music. Being emotionally sensitive allows us to experience the joys and sorrows of life fully. It is, however, important for the highly sensitive person to work on creating emotional balance.

Below are four tips for creating emotional balance for the emotionally sensitive person:

Explore your sensitivity

Gain an understanding of what and/or who you feel sensitive towards. For example, perhaps you feel more sensitive towards a particular person or in a particular social circumstance. Ask yourself if the depth of your sensitivity varies from situation to situation. Exploring the details that "stir up" your sensitivity helps with understanding what you need to change or do to lower your emotional responses.

Identify your triggers

Writing in a journal can help with clarifying triggers and gaining an more realistic view of the situations that contribute to your emotional sensitivity. Consider new ways for responding to your triggers.

Embrace your emotional sensitivity

Although being sensitive allows us to feel deeply, it can also create a lot of strife in the emotionally sensitive person's life. Accepting that you're an emotionally sensitive person is a big step in being able to pull back when emotions get high and for coping with intense feelings.

Seek professional help

Many emotionally sensitive people suffer with depression, anxiety and social withdrawal. If your emotional sensitivity causes you a great deal of psychological or social distress, therapy can help with understanding what underlies your emotional sensitivity and create new ways of thinking and relating to others.

Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples, and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.