Sticks and Stones or how to stop being so sensitive that your teeth hurt

Now, sometimes I like to think that I write posts that are lessons I've learned and would like to pass on, but sometimes I think they are really just lessons for me.

(this could be ... is ... one of those times)

I am sometimes very thin-skinned. I know this about myself and it is something I am continually working on.

In my brain I can clearly see that everything is not all about me.

(except on this blog - which is why I have one, sort of)

I know that criticism is sometimes about the other person and sometimes something that I have only imagined and I know that very often it is not personal. I know all of this ... in my head.

But some other part of me gets ... well, hurt and often much more hurt than the situation requires.

In her book "The Highly Sensitive Person", Dr. Elaine Aron says that in evolutionary terms, being sensitive to criticism could be a lifesaver. "Back when we were hunter-gatherers, being excluded from the group was very dangerous. We might have starved or even gone insane from being ostracized. We are very social animals."

(now, I have never thought of myself as any kind of social animal, but I guess it is in my DNA and I will gladly blame my ancestors ... adding sensitivity to the list that includes bad hair and mild OCD)

Our sensitivity to the negative opinions of others is so strong, she says, that we record these emotional wounds in the same part of the brain as actual physical pain.

Now there is some good news here because sensitivity to other people's opinions of us (and brooding and smarting over inconsequentials) is the most adjustable type of sensitivity and I am determined to adjust mine.

(and of course this sensitivity means these are things that I actually care about ... deeply. If someone were to insult my housekeeping skills or singing voice - both pretty bad - I could shrug those things off in a second, but insult the things that matter and watch out)

So here's my gameplan:

1. Rewrite my mornings. I usually hop on the computer as soon as I am alone in the house, but this immediately opens me up to external things- sometimes good, but sometimes not so good; an email from a customer that she accidentally gave me the wrong shipping address ... to Australia ... for a 3 piece uninsured order that left my house the day before - can get me off to a rocking bad start.

But if I take some time for me first, before I open myself up to all that external stuff, I will be better able to separate the problem (if there is one) from myself. So from now on - a morning coffee, stretching and shower before I let the outside world in.

2. Clear things up right away. If something feels strange or out of balance, I will check in with the other person right away. How many times do we think we know what the other person is thinking and when we finally talk it out- we were way wrong about what was really going on.

3. Be ready to move on. Putting all our eggs in one basket is a good way to ensure we will take the outcome personally.

(good when things go our way and bad when they don't, but really always bad because it puts our emotions and happiness and stress level under the control of someone else)

I was turned down last week for a show I was really counting on ... looking forward to ... because "they were full with jewelry" and of course, being an insanely sensitive person I took this to mean "we don't like your work" when what they probably really meant was "they were full with jewelry".

Next time, I will have a list of other options available. I will move on down my list if someone says no. I will find that something else that is waiting for me.

4. Get enough sleep. I am much more sensitive when sleep deprived and stressed.

5. Give myself permission to zap 'em once in a while. I will keep a few zingers in my arsenal because sensitivity can be a strength also and it is often the sensitive people who say exactly the right thing.

(I think)

things such as - "Excuse me?"

(now this must be said very calmly and with a straight face as if we really do not understand what we just heard)

Asking someone to repeat a thoughtless comment is a graceful way to make them think twice about what they just said ... and maybe rephrase it if we have misunderstood.

"I wonder why you would say that"

The kinder gentler version of "what the hell does that mean?" challenges the person to reflect on his/her motives.

"Ouch! That hurt my feelings."

This lets someone know we've taken a comment personally

but I will use my zingers carefully and for the big things and learn to let the small things slide.

5. Keep things in perspective - who we are becoming on this journey of ours is much more important than what happens to us.

When we get beyond taking things personally and allow ourselves to choose a different way to respond, we will become more and more unflappable and happy.

At least, this is my plan, I'll keep you posted ...

(no stopping ever poster by EvenAndy)


limonada said...

I'm extra sensitive too. LIke now I just read something a few minutes before I read your post and it broke my heart. What a coincidence you're writing about this..
I guess I need to see things in a different perspective. *breathe in, breath out*

emcSquared said...

Thank you for your post! I, too, am ultra sensetive, and I'm constantly working on it. As sensitive people we feel deeply. Yes, this opens us up to deep hurt but it also alows us to experience great happiness.

The World Is My Studio said...

Wonderful post! Being sensitive is a good thing as long as we can keep things in perspective, look at the big picture and be able to tell our ego side "to shut up" once in awhile. Our ego has a clever way of being our own worst critic.

M.M.E. said...

This was the best thing to start off my morning. Just this last weekend I attended a fantasy convention and hoped to make a killing off my artwork. I didn't. And while I could take it personally that no one liked my work, after I asked a few people, I realized that fantasy fans (and especially comic fans) just don't have money to spend once they buy 4 liters of pop and some pizza. I will take your advice on 'Excuse me?' though to heart. It's a great one.

Orion Designs said...

This is a great post. I'm quite sensitive as well and find it very challenging to sort the Big things from the Small things sometimes. I can relate to being rejected from a show -- the same show, about 4 years in a row. This should have toughened me, but it did not. How did I solve that? I didn't apply this year. I showed them, didn't I?

LaineDesign said...

Oh this is so so good Cat. I think when it comes to our work, it is personal. Because in some way it's a reflection of us. So not taking things personally is hard!! These are great tips. Off to do my stretches :-)

Kendra Zvonik said...

Thank you, Cat.
You are an insightful and thoughtful woman. Your sensitivity is a blessing to those who know you or get to benefit from reading your blog.
You know me . . . you know I get this!
I like your idea of taking care of me before heading straight to work in the morning. So many times have I started my day on the computer and felt overwhelmed/stressed before even fully waking up.
Good ideas, Cat! Awesome writing & super relevant topic to every artist I know.
Love you,

Sherry said...

Cat, I think you are really on to something....tomorrow, I am not going to the computer first thing. I'll let you know how long I hold out.

Maybe being proactive instead of reactive might help us grow a thicker skin. Unless, that's some kind of yogurt!

I loved everything you said. Sorry about Pool, but I'm pretty sure something better is in the wings.


Viktoria said...

Great, great post! concerning being sensitive and taking all for personal, I can say I survived two pubescent kids.. (both are wonderful, loving, creative people today!)....they gave me some to take personal!
...I think it is important to be sensitive! ( I would love to see more people being sensitive)! but you are totally right, you have to protect yourself, your advice is wonderful!

sheila at shecological said...

honest and wise once again! my mature strategy is to imagine people as 5 year olds. I ask myself "would I be upset if a 5 year old said or did that to me?" usually the answer is no! ;0)

Angela said...

What a great post.

I could have used some zingers of late.

Anonymous said...

I've always hated that saying, "It's not personal, it's business." It's always personal to me. Sensitivity is a big part of who I am, but at times a little thicker skin would come in handy.
I usually think of a good comeback after the fact, but your ideas sound great.
That look at the computer first thing in the morning is addicting isn't it? I'll join you all in waiting tomorrow morning... at least until I get all the kids off to school.
Thanks for a great post!

Anonymous said...

Oh Cat, I need you to sit in the corner of my kitchen and give me pep talks whenever I'm feeling low, you always cheer me up and bring a smile of recognition!I'd buy you a plane ticket but England is SHUT due to volcanic ash!!
Also just to say I'm having a giveaway to celebrate my birthday at