“Why are you so sensitive?”
These words often come from people that do not realize how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to find a response.
When a Highly Sensitive Person is told in one way or another to “stop being so sensitive,” it’s like asking someone with brown eyes to, well, stop having brown eyes.
Sure, you could wear a mask or colored contacts every day, and there may be some obscure medicine or surgery that could perhaps change your eye color, but why bother?
Why go to great lengths to change a part of you that may at times be bothersome to few?
Unlike a physical trait, having the Highly Sensitive Person Trait (HSP Trait) isn’t something one can turn on and off.
So, what can you do when someone says you’re too sensitive?
The short answer is simple and straightforward: dismiss it.
The more you focus on something, the more you show how much it affects you, and if you can answer jokingly, even better.
But what if you do take it personally?
Realistically, there will be times when a comment forces us to reflect on negative thoughts, even if the remark itself came from a misunderstanding.
It can be easy to assume your interlocutor knows how their words will make you feel, but it is often not the case, especially when dealing with sensitivity differences.
While you may initially assume there was ill intent behind their comment, it could be because the other person is unaware of the situation they put you in.
On the other hand, inducing a reaction from you for being sensitive may be a form of manipulation some people will try to enact upon you, especially in close and interdependent relationships.
Context is often key to determining how to react.
Frederik Imbo, a public speaker and communication coach, reveals in his Ted Talk, How To Not Take Things Personally? the steps to take when you take a comment personally. The key to not take things personally is to “shift our focus from me to us.”
‘Why’ did this person say you’re too sensitive?
Perhaps they are bothered by the way you react to things. Oh well. But maybe they’re awkwardly trying to give you advice.
Or, they’re oblivious to your insecurities and are only commenting with no ill intention.
All of a sudden, the focus is shifted from being only on your sensitivity.
There are so many reasons why one could say, “you’re too sensitive” it almost makes it seem pointless to focus on the ‘why.’
The second point of reflection raised by Frederik Imbo is that when a remark causes you to take things personally, it both is and isn’t about you.
Using the two sides of a coin as an analogy, he highlights the process by which one can learn to let things go.
Let’s explore both sides of the coin.
It is about you. Being offended by a comment sometimes brings unpleasant thoughts or memories to mind.
Perhaps you are self-conscious about your sensitivity, as many are, and someone bringing attention to it only reminds you of the times being highly sensitive caused you distress.
It isn’t about you.
The ego often gets in the way of rational thinking. Even though most people do things for themselves and not to others, it can be easy to assume the wrong intentions.
I would argue that trying to guess someone’s intentions for any action is a waste of time, as the only way to know for sure is to ask.
Being aware of the processes helps to alleviate the weight of the statement.
The best way to respond to “you’re too sensitive” is to treat it like any casual comment about yourself: if you feel the need to explain why you are the way you are, be honest.
“Yes, I am sensitive” will do just fine for most situations, but if your intuition screams the person is trying to get a strong reaction out of you, I would recommend purposefully trying to dismiss it. It’s not worth your attention.
Being a minority compared to the global population, highly sensitive people can remind themselves that most people will not understand this trait.
While it is perhaps possible to reduce your sensitivity, it isn’t something you should change to accommodate others.
Even though there’s little you can do to stop the initial feeling of, “what did I do wrong?” there are ways to shift the focus away from you and away from sensitivity being a problem in the first place.
Like most things, it will take practice.
The more you train yourself to purposefully not take comments like this personally, the more automatic this process will become whenever someone says something you deem offensive.
Suppose we delve deeper into our initial response to being told we’re too sensitive while simultaneously taking a step back to observe objectively. In that case, it becomes easier to obtain clarity on the situation.
What if your first reaction is to become overly defensive? Perhaps learning to be more in touch with your sensitivity would also allow you to be more comfortable with others noticing it.
What if you sense anger in your interlocutor’s words?
They could be projecting negative emotions or unprocessed trauma onto you, meaning the problem is clearly not about you, simply launched in your direction.
The wisdom to act appropriately in these situations comes from reflection, and one cannot reflect over a situation without taking some distance from it in the first place.
Now I hope you feel better equipped to deal with future comments on your sensitivity.
How do you react when someone tells you, “you’re too sensitive?”
Interested in a similar topic? Read How Highly Sensitive People Can Avoid Feeling Misunderstood