Apr 19


Do you find it difficult to be honest and direct with certain people?  Are you in a relationship with someone who can’t handle the truth?  Some people are highly sensitive and react strongly to perceived rejection and criticism. They may over personalize the comments received or react based on residual emotion from past hurts.  We all struggle with fears and insecurities about something, but some of us allow these feelings to distort our thinking and influence our reactions.  People will sometimes anticipate and/or expect rejection even before it occurs and in some cases this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  For many these patterns of overreaction are rooted in past experiences and emotional pain.  Unfortunately, being in relationship with a hypersensitive person can make it hard to discuss difficult or conflictual problems.  When the person receiving the information overreacts, the person sharing is more inclined to shut down which creates more distance and disconnectedness.

Searching for the right words or best time to share can be taxing since we can’t predict the response of others.  Even knowing the person and appreciating their “hot buttons” may not be enough to avoid a meltdown or blow-up.  What can we do to avoid a bad outcome?  Sometimes asking a question first helps, “would you like me to just listen or are you looking for honest feedback?”  Or including a qualifier, “I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings and hope you won’t be offended.”   Another approach is to validate the other person before sharing the message, “I want to be open and transparent with you even though I recognize it might be difficult for you to hear it.”  Be sure that when you’re sharing something sensitive that your motive is good and it’s being shared out of care and concern.

Remember that so much of our communication is how we say it (nonverbal), not just what we say (verbal).  Our nonverbal communication such as tone of voice, facial expression, etc. accounts for 93% of our communication.  Be aware of how the message is sent and pay attention to how it is received.  The person receiving the message should work on responding and accepting the message instead of reacting immediately.  Avoid getting defensive or lashing out, think before speaking.  Maybe taking some time to process the message (24 hours) may help with the response and perspective.  Lastly, recognize that talking about difficult and conflictual issues is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.  Conflict like taxes is unavoidable, but how you deal with it can determine the outcome.



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    • Zhaleh on April 19, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Any tips for those of us who are the over sensitive one? It’s incredibly embarrassing to over-react and have to keep apologizing to everyone.

      • DrTony on April 19, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      Good question, but there is no simple answer. Some oversensitive types will benefit from modifying their distorted thinking so that they don’t assume the worst or anticipate criticism. Another option is to ask the person directly before assuming the communication is negative. For example, “what did you mean by that?” may help with clarification. Sometimes it helps to identify the etiology, such as childhood experiences, and confront the pain from the past since some of our insecurities may be rooted in our upbringing. Ultimately the goal would be to limit the negative self-talk and avoid mind reading, but instead ask rather than react.

    • Diann on April 19, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Good pointers on how to handle sensitive people. I have two in my life.

      • DrTony on April 19, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      Thanks Diann. Sometimes dealing with sensitive people can be exhausting.

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