I’m always wary of people who say and do stuff and then when called on it, they pull the ‘sensitivity card’ especially as I guarantee you that if you were to find their own ‘hot button’ or challenge them on what they’ve said or done, you’ll see how ‘sensitive’ they are. Ironically. Of course they’ll claim that their reason for being upset / offended is more ‘just’ than yours.
So many readers tell me stories of open and shut cases of assholery or where something has been said or done and they’ve expressed discomfort / concern or just questioned it and been met with accusations of being “too sensitive” or “it was just a joke” or “Jeez! If you’re going to be like that, we might as well call it quits / not be friends anymore”.
If you don’t have the presence of mind and self-esteem to recognise what’s going on, you may default to second-guessing your feelings and switching to people-pleasing mode and then of course you become desensitised to what may be increasingly inappropriate behaviour or you don’t, but each time you feel upset or whatever, you shut it down with concerns of being “too sensitive”.
Here’s the thing: When you’re truly being “sensitive” it means means easily distressed, hurt, and offended by slight changes or basically by something slight. Really, is anything that you’ve been wondering if you’re being ‘too sensitive’ about really that slight?
If you feel hurt, distressed and offended quite quickly all of the time in a variety of situations around a variety of people then you’re either surrounded by a hell of a lot of shady people or yes, there are potentially sensitivity issues which may be stemming from feeling that you’re always under attack and thinking that everything is about you or just having a ‘negative association’ with something . It’s like when you’re very sensitive to criticism and see all feedback as criticism and take it badly, when actually there may be some honest, helpful feedback in there. I know based on certain difficult experiences from childhood or in relationships, I’ve been very ‘sensitive’ to certain things but actually, it was more often than not me recognising that I was in some way repeating an unhealthy pattern of behaviour. Really being called “too sensitive” can be another example of someone running roughshod over your feelings and prioritising themselves. This is unacceptable.
Equally, if you’re around someone who keeps doing things that cross or even flat out bust your boundaries, you feeling hurt, offended or distressed is not being “too sensitive”. There’s nothing ‘slight’ about someone overstepping the mark or even tap dancing all over it. They might think it’s slight but that doesn’t mean that it is. Going back to the criticism issue, yes you may be sensitive to criticism from someone but then if they actually criticise you all of the time, you’re bound to be. The type of person who will ride your arse like Zorro all the time may be thinking “Well stop doing things that I need to pick you up on!” That’s abuser talk.
Let’s imagine that tomorrow someone oversteps the mark with you. When you consider what they’ve said or done within a wider context of their general treatment of you and let’s say that their general treatment of you is even worse, then yes, contextually, what they do tomorrow may look ‘slight’ in that circumstance. However it’s a bit like (and I’ve heard this complaint time and again) when someone who’s abusive or who you just have a history of them crossing the line cracks a ‘joke’ with you. Yes it might be that you are being ‘sensitive’ to their joke but then you have to consider that your reaction to the joke in this circumstance is influenced by the fact that they’ve also done A,B, and C, and actually, they might think that the joke is funny but you might not because it’s a veiled, passive aggressive chopping dig at you.
Your boundaries are your boundaries. It’s not up to anyone else to tell you about your own comfort levels or ‘correct’ them to fit around their own agenda.
Your feelings are your feelings. Some people aren’t bothered by certain things but that doesn’t invalidate your position. And yes, some people aren’t bothered by certain things because they have empathy issues so as long as they ‘feel’ (they’re not tapping into many emotions) OK with something and like their perspective, they won’t understand what you’re ‘in a flap’ about.
When somebody keeps telling you that you’re ‘too sensitive’, they’re basically saying “I’m not going to consider your feelings and respect your position because I think that what I’m saying / doing is fine, so get a thicker skin.” What they forget of course is that if they’ve said / done something repeatedly and they’re a remotely empathetic person in a mutual relationship with you, romantic or otherwise, they would consider your feelings and at least try to understand your position.
You could learn to cope with it better, but really, learning how to deal with something better is what you do when you’re for instance, sensitive to criticism and conflict, but it’s not what you do when what you’re actually trying to learn how to manage and tolerate is unacceptable behaviour. Also I’ve discovered that when there is a genuine misunderstanding, the person will clarify what they really meant not call you “too sensitive” or reply back with justification of shady behaviour.
Don’t let anybody override your feelings. Acknowledge why you’re bothered by something because it’s all information that helps you to become more self-aware. If you’re going to ‘downgrade’ how you feel about it, do it based on reviewing the facts and drawing your own conclusion not on someone mocking you into submission. You’re not being “too sensitive”. Be around people who you can be you around, feelings and all.
Updated 1st November: An audio version of this post is now available.