Unkind Words Create Distress in Highly Sensitive People

“Andrew might be free, but there was built into him a carefully detailed program concerning his behavior toward human beings: a neural channel that…was there to discourage him from giving any sort of offense. It was only by the tiniest steps that he dared advance. Open disapproval would set him back months.”

From The Positronic Man, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone’s unkind words? Maybe they said them without thinking. Maybe you received an email, a phone call, or got a post on your social media that was unkind, or even mean. Maybe the person who was cruel to you did so to your face. How did you deal with it?

  • Did you blow it off, chalking it up to that person having a problem?
  • Did you retaliate, saying something even more vicious?
  • Did you spread rumors about the person who delivered those unkind or mean words?
  • Did you respond with words of kindness?
  • Did you retreat from the world, so that no one would see your pain?

Maybe you thought about it and decided to let it go. Maybe you are like a duck, letting water roll off your back easily. Maybe you’re a really tough cookie, and what people say and think really doesn’t bother you. You don’t give it a second thought.

But what if you are a highly sensitive person? Unkind words delivered in a thoughtless manner can devastate a highly sensitive person.

Can you relate to this?

If someone says something mean to you (or does something cruel, intentionally or unintentionally), you have a hard time brushing it off.

  • You may think about it constantly.
  • It may affect how you function for a few hours, or even the rest of the day.
  • You may still be thinking about it when you go to bed, and it may keep you awake.
  • You may find that you begin thinking about yourself negatively.
  • You may get angry, but you tend to feel more sad and depressed about the situation.
  • You may begin to doubt your self-worth.
  • You may call in sick, even if the event wasn’t work-related.
  • You may find that you begin to cry if anyone asks if you are all right.

If you tend to be highly sensitive, don’t think something is wrong with you or you were taught to take things too personally. Elaine N. Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, has researched the subject thoroughly and found that often people are born highly sensitive.

I guess that at one time or another, most people have felt sensitive about unkind words or actions they were the target of. And I think that many people have the ability to let go of it quickly and move on with their lives. Highly Sensitive People, however, have a harder time letting it go. They may take it personally and begin to believe the words that were directed at them.

If you can relate to this topic, you are not alone. Just because you may be a Highly Sensitive Person, this doesn’t mean that you are flawed. Not at all. You just process information differently. This quality may also make you extra sensitive to the needs of others.

Because of your ability to sense when people are in distress, you may be likely to measure your behaviors more carefully, to avoid inflicting harm on others through your words or actions. That’s a wonderful thing!

If you are reeling from emotional distress related to people’s behavior toward you, I would love to help. Together we can create a plan to help you address the feelings that result from the unkind words or behaviors of others and get you back on your personal path to success and happiness, as a Highly Sensitive (and highly functional) Person.

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Michelle E. Vásquez, MS, LPC

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