Imagine you are visiting with a friend. You are in a conversation and pouring your heart out about something that made you mad, or that you didn’t agree with, or that you don’t particularly love that someone did or said. You are hurting and upset about something. Then your friend, who has been sitting there listening says,“Don’t take it so personally.” or, “I think you are taking it too personally.” Your heart sinks to your stomach. You feel like your breath is taken away. And, worse, you don’t know how to recover. In fact, it’s hit you so deep you either defend yourself with maybe a snappy tone or you say nothing at all. The thing that is very ironic about this phrase, is that when someone says it, you are usually in the middle of talking about something very personal. Naturally, it throws you off. You are stopped in your tracks because you are hurt by their apparent judgment of you.
Could you be too sensitive?
I consider myself to be, a Highly Sensitive Person, though I have never been diagnosed professionally. Labels are tricky, especially this one for me. The trigger of being called “too sensitive”, or in this case, highly sensitive, goes deep into my childhood. Whenever someone would say, “you are taking it too personally” or “you are too sensitive”, I would feel small and wrong for having the feelings I did. This phrasing has almost always been used in a very derogatory way. It is, in essence, saying you should be better than this. In society, to be sensitive is to be weak and usually, in my life experience, it was inconvenient to FEEL too much ALL.THE.TIME. As I read through a list of what it is to be an HSP, I can see how I might fall into this category easily. *
No one knows you better than you! Let me say that one again, NO ONE knows you better than YOU. When someone is using this type of phrasing it is possible that it is their way of:
- getting off the topic because THEY are uncomfortable with the subject matter OR,
- they are parroting what someone has said to them in the past because they don’t know what to say OR,
- they are judging you for taking things on that you should, in their opinion, let go because it is “trivial” to them.
First, start with checking in, “Is what I am talking about making you uncomfortable?” This gentle way can help you get an answer, but it may not bring you to a truthful response. Though it shows you whether or not, they are the right person for this conversation. You can then decide to stop or continue based on their response. You will know intuitively whether to go on or not.
You could also go in stronger, depending on the strength of your friendship OR how comfortable you feel in doing this. “You know when you say that to me, it upsets me. I feel like you aren’t really listening and supporting me.” This opens a door to a more honest conversation and, really, a stronger friendship. It takes standing up for yourself and owning your feelings. This may take some practice because it can be scary to do after someone has said you are too sensitive. HSP’s are people who take things in and aren’t usually the ones calling someone out in a conversation. It is because of having this in-depth way of feeling, a highly sensitive person is acutely aware of how something like a confrontation can feel for the person receiving that response. This works in a funny way for HSP’s, as you can imagine. Everything is taken “personally” because we feel for everyone including, but sometimes forsaking ourselves. And yes if you are sitting there thinking, “Whoa, that’s a lot of work!” You are right. It is. And most times, we think it’s normal (or maybe hope that it is) and that everyone does it. But, not everyone feels for everyone or are aware of other people’s feelings when they are talking (um, big shocker!). Because it’s not a natural talent for everyone to have. It is confusing for HSPers too. We feel with our whole being and we have big hearts.
What could work better? A suggested approach that comes from a place of LOVE and curiosity.
What if you are (or have been) the listener and were the one who typically blurts out, “Don’t take it so personally.” Before I continue into this suggested course of action, it requires some awareness and for you to tune into your inner Coach. 🙂
Think back to the last time you used this phrase. Maybe you saw how your friend appeared to change immediately afterward. She may have stopped talking or looked deeply hurt. She might’ve gotten really defensive. We all don’t like being judged, nor diagnosed as being something undesirable. Here is a suggested way that can be used in this situation. “I can see how this topic is really affecting you in a deep way. I don’t know what to say but I want to help. What can I do to be here for you?” This shows that you care. She may tell you that it is enough to just be able to talk and there is no required advice or things needed to be said. In fact, I would say, that is what MOST people want anyway. Simply, to have someone listen. It doesn’t matter if you have never experienced what she feels or has been dealing with. LOVE is when you can sit with a friend and be with her in her suffering, no matter what kind, without labeling, judging, or “fixing” her or her problem. Listening is one of our most powerful gifts in loving one another.
I want to end by saying being sensitive is a gift that many people misunderstand and misjudge. It is a personal mission of mine to help shift the perception of sensitivity, build understanding and awareness on it, and to empower all highly sensitive people to be who they truly are. <3
**If you are like me, coming to the realization that this might be you, then I would like to suggest that you do further research on Highly Sensitive People, and consult a professional.