Are You Really too Sensitive?

Your sensitivity may just be appropriate.Why is it that those of us who are on the receiving end of rude, unkind, dishonest or manipulative behavior are so often accused of being too sensitive?

When most of our minds are shaped by the verbal one-upmanship of television, the ideal behavior is to be tough and unaffected by the hurtful behavior of others.  To the TV shaped mentality, there is only power over another; a zero sum game.

This is a rather primitive, unenlightened mentality for the 21st century.  Sensitivity is seen as weakness.  We give credence to the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who can dish out the most insults and anger.   In light of this, it is hardly a wonder that half of marriages result in divorce and our children bully each other.

“You’re too sensitive,” is a standard line from the verbally or emotionally abusive.  If one complains about manipulative behavior, the complaint is dismissed and the complainer is defined as being “too sensitive.”  Of course, this criticism is abusive too.  Who is to say that who and how you are is wrong?

There is, of course, a kernel of truth to the “too sensitive” criticism, otherwise we would never accept it.  Those of us who are sensitive do need to learn not to internalize the judgments of others too easily.

It is common for those on the receiving end of verbal and emotional abuse to begin to buy into the criticisms of the abuser – whether at work or at home.  They begin to wonder:  Am I really performing so badly?  Did I really cause him to be angry?  Should I truly have known that answer?  Could I really be mentally ill?  Unfortunately, the abusive live in a reality in which a criticism is merely a ploy to get relative power in any situation.  On the other hand, the sensitive person lives in a reality in which a criticism should be considered as an honest opinion and taken at face value.

For those who survive abusive relationships, this sensitivity is the gift that keeps on giving, making them second guess themselves far more and far longer than they should.  But this is the polar opposite of the healthy sensitivity that discerns that rude, manipulative, hurtful behavior is unacceptable.

And, I wonder, how sensitive is too sensitive?  A woman I know complained that her boss greets her with “What is it now?”  A co worker said the problem was that she was too sensitive.  As a manager, I would say the problem is that the boss is too rude…and inefficient.  A neutral greeting would actually be easier and quicker.  But a polite response would not leave the employee feeling insecure and off balance.

And, I suspect that in this supervisor’s sitcom mentality, he needs to create insecurity to have a sense of power.

A client whose husband regularly yelled and swore at her, reports that a marriage counselor suggested she develop a thicker skin about his anger.  She was too sensitive.  I can see no reason for yelling at a spouse unless she’s in the path of a truck or the house is on fire, but somehow the anger was not addressed.  This woman was criticized for not being able to take it.

It often seems that the rude and unkind people who lack empathy are not the problem in our relationships.   We who have empathy enough to be sensitive to the behavior of others should learn to care less about others; be less empathetic.

We should develop thicker skins, be insensitive and unaffected by how others treat us.  What a wonderful world that will create!

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4 Responses to “Are You Really too Sensitive?”


  1. 1 Kathy T. April 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Ruth, what a great article! You know this definitely hits home for me. You are correct that those of us who are sensitive/empathic shouldn’t try to toughen up and be like others. It is more important that we be ourselves! This is a lesson that I am still learning. It will be interesting to see how I am treated at work after I turn in my 2 weeks notice tomorrow…

  2. 2 Rita Daniels April 16, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Ruth, even the question “Are You Really too Sensitive?” causes a reaction in my body.

    • 3 Ruth Wilson April 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      It should cause a reaction. When your sensitivity is at issue, it’s a red flag. Whoever tells you that wants to blame you for what you feel…usually in reaction to what they did!

  3. 4 Rita D. April 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Ruth, even the question “Are You Really too Sensitive?” causes a reaction in my body.


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