We’ve just posted our second podcast on emotionally sensitive people in iTunes.
We’ve just posted our second podcast on emotionally sensitive people in iTunes.
Validation is like relationship glue. Validating someone brings you closer. Validating yourself is like glue for fragmented parts of your identity. Validating yourself will help you accept and better understand yourself, which leads to a stronger identity and better skills at managing intense emotions.
Being out of control of your emotions is a painful experience and damaging to relationships. Knowing how to self-validate is important to learning to manage your emotions effectively. Self-validation means you can accept your internal experience as understandable and acceptable. But learning to self-validate is not so easy. How do you apply the six levels of validation to self-validation? Notice that mindfulness and self-validation go hand in hand.
Level 1 Be Present
To be mindful of your emotions without pushing them away is consistent with Linehan’s first level of validation, to be present. To be present also means to ground yourself and not dissociate, daydream, suppress or numb your emotions. Being present means listening to yourself. Feeling the pain of sadness, hurt, and fear is most challenging and difficult. At the same time avoiding emotions results in quite negative consequences, while accepting allows emotions to pass and helps build resiliency. Being present for yourself validates that you matter and that you have the strength to feel.
Level 2 Accurate Reflection
Reflect means to make manifest or apparent. For self-validation, accurate reflection is acknowledging your internal state to yourself. Perhaps you reflect on what triggered the emotion and when. Maybe you reflect on the ways you feel the emotion in your body and consider the actions that go with the emotion. Reflecting means observing and describing, components of mindfulness. When you observe and describe your internal experience, you do not interpret or guess or make assumptions. You would say, “I feel angry and it started yesterday after my friend cancelled lunch. I sense tightness in my stomach, so maybe there is fear as well.”
Saying, “I am a total loser and no one wants to spend any time with me,” would not be stating the facts of your experience. Stating the facts of your experience is validating and helps build trust in your internal experience. Interpreting your experience in ways that you cannot observe to be true invalidates and leads to distrust in your internal experience and more
Level 3: Guessing
Sometimes you won’t be sure what you are feeling or thinking. In these situations you may want to say something like, “If someone else were in this situation they would probably feel sad. Am I sad?” You might also guess by looking at the actions you want to do. If you want to hide, maybe you are feeling shame. Maybe you are thinking shame thoughts. You can notice where you feel body sensations, such as fear is often felt in the throat. If you are feeling fear, maybe you are thinking scary thoughts. Guessing your emotions and thoughts based on the information you have will help you learn more about yourself.
Level 4: Validating by History
Sometimes you will have thoughts and feelings that are based on events that have happened in your past. Maybe you are afraid when people argue because in the past arguments led to your being hurt. Validating yourself by saying, “It’s acceptable and understandable that you are afraid of
Level 5: Normalizing
Sometimes people who have intense emotions don’t see any of their emotional reactions as being normal. Everyone has emotions. It’s normal to feel sad, angry, hurt, ashamed, or any other emotion. The issue sometimes is that most people would not feel this emotion in this situation. That is important to realize. At the same time, it’s just as important to validate when others would feel the same way and accept that as well. If you are sad because you didn’t get a job you wanted, remember that others would be sad if that happened to them. Check out whether what you are feeling is what most other people would experience and validate those feelings as such.
Level 6: Radical Genuineness
In terms of self-validation, this means being your real self and not lying to yourself. It means that you don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Rejecting who you are is one of the highest levels of invalidation. An important distinction is that who you are is different from what you do. You are not your behavior, yet changing some of your behaviors may alleviate some of your suffering.
Self-validation is one of the critical steps for living with intense emotions. It is part of forming relationships and thriving. Practice and more practice will help you self-validate automatically.
Belonging means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a church, some with friends, some with family, some on Twitter or other social media. Some see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Some struggle to find a sense of belonging.
Some seek belonging through excluding others. Yet a single instance of being excluded can undermine self-control and well being. A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health, and happiness. When you see your connection to others, you know that all people struggle and have difficult times. You are not alone.
Building a Sense of Belonging
To build a sense of belonging requires active effort and practice. Look for ways you are similar instead of focusing on ways you are different. Someone is much older than you? Maybe they have wonderful stories to tell. Maybe you can contribute to their lives with your youthful strength. Someone has a different believe system that you? Sharing your differences and still accepting the person creates peace. Acceptance does not mean agreement.
Communicate acceptance through validation. Validation builds a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships.
Say yes to opportunities to be with others and then throw yourself in to whatever the activity is. Let go of your judgments. Judgments build walls. Focus on people. At a dinner and nnoyed because you don’t like the food? The food is not the goal. Connecting with others is far more important than the food or the noise in the restaurant. Gained weight and don’t want others to see? Stop isolating until you believe you are worthy. No one is perfect. Others have their struggles with their health too.
If you are emotionally sensitive, remember that in general people suffer the same emotional pain you suffer just not as intensely most of the time or as quickly. Also, there are many other emotionally sensitive people who struggle as you do. You are not alone.
How do you give a sense of belonging? Watch your words and your way of thinking. Some words create separateness and others promote togetherness. Other people don’t need “fixing.” They have strengths and offer their own unique contributions. Think community and acceptance. Validate yourself. Validate others.
Dr. Gregory Walton developed a belonging intervention he called Attributional Retraining. Through this intervention, people shift from blaming themselves for painful experiences, such as “I’m flawed,” or “It’s just me,” to seeing that they weren’t alone and that other people had experienced the same situations.
The technique is brief. It involves you seeing yourself as an expert on what you have experienced and writing about that experience to help someone else. Here is a video on how the techniques works for college students. The key is to write suggestions for other people on how to cope with something you have experienced.
If you are not a college student, the issues in the video may not seem relevant. But consider how you would use the technique. For example, what two points would you offer to others about coping with intense emotions or rejection sensitivity? Your experiences can make a difference for others who also have intense emotions. Write your ideas down. I’d love to see them.
The need to be accepted by others, to have a sense of belonging, is a profound human motivation, one that is felt in some way from birth throughout life. Our natural state is to live in communities. Belonging to a community contributes to a sense of identity and purpose.
When someone is rejected by members of a desired group, anger, loneliness, anxiety and depression often result. Rejection is not only painful but rejection that happens early in life is thought to reduce the person’s ability to cope with future relationships. When children are consistently teased and left out, they are more likely to develop interpersonal rejection sensitivity.
Interpersonal rejection sensitivity is a hyper-alertness to the social reactions of others. When someone has rejection sensitivity, they anxiously expect and rapidly perceive and overreact to rejection. Because of their fears and expectations, individuals with rejection sensitivity may misinterpret and distort the actions of others. They then react with hurt and anger. The other person is confused, doesn’t understand, or sees the rejection sensitive person as too high maintenance.
Individuals who are rejection sensitive often see rejection by others as a statement that they are unacceptable as people. They see rejection as being a judgment about their worth as a person. Unfortunately, having rejection sensitivity can mean a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you are expecting rejection it is difficult to be satisfied with or feel safe in relationships, as you will see rejection frequently and often even when it isn’t intended. When you aren’t feeling rejected, you are likely to be expecting it.
Being in relationships requires acceptance of the other person’s faults. For someone with rejection sensitivity, missteps of the other person are likely to be seen as lack of caring or judgments. Even routine decisions, likes and dislikes may be interpreted as rejection. If someone with rejection sensitivity asks a friend to meet for coffee, a refusal may be viewed as rejection. The friend may have a previous commitment or other reason for saying no, but that is difficult for the person with rejection sensitivity to believe.
Emily is a college student whose family lives many miles away. She feels alone and repeatedly asks her family members to help her with various tasks such as moving, deciding where to live, and making choices about her academics. When they are unable to travel to help her or have other issues they must attend to, she is furious that they do not value her. She rages at them for their lack of support, and tells them she feels she has no family.
A typical response to feeling rejected is to be angry. Obviously, cursing the people you believe have rejected you is not the best path to acceptance. At the same time, people with rejection sensitivity are usually willing to go to great lengths to try to gain acceptance. The cycle is a painful one.
Most people are sensitive to rejection. It is not realistic to get to the point you don’t care about the reactions of others. What can you do? The following are a few suggestions to consider:
1. Be aware of how rejection sensitivity affects you. If you believe you are rejection sensitive, then keep that possibility in mind when you are struggling with a relationship.
2. Be mindful of your reactions. Take a pause and let your emotions calm before responding to a person you believe has rejected you.
3. Consider alternate explanations. What else could be the reason for the other person’s behavior? Think of at least three options.
4. Calmly ask the person about their intention.
5. Consider the facts of the other person’s life. A mother with three children may not have time to talk on the phone.
6. Participate fully in events and activities. Get involved. Contribute to social activities and conversations. When you hold back or isolate you increase feelings of not belonging.
Emotionally sensitive people are known as compassionate and caring about other people. Their emotionally sensitivity means they are usually particularly aware of the emotions of others. However, sometimes being emotionally sensitive means you are completely off base and sometimes invalidating of others’ feelings.
You Respond Based on Your Own Emotional Intensity
You see, one of the ways people are empathic is by imagining how they might feel in the same situation. Imagine a friend describes an argument with a boyfriend who broke up with her. You would feel incredibly sad if that happened to you. You respond with deep concern and say something like “Oh no. How awful. Are you okay?” Your friend responds in an off hand manner saying, “Of course I’m okay. It’s not that big a deal.”
Her response confuses you and now you are cocerned that she is upset with you when you are only concerned about her. You respond that you guess the relationship wasn’t that important to her. She frowns in an irritated way and replies that it just wasn’t working. The interaction now seems awkward. You try again and say you admire how well she is coping and that you couldn’t handle it as well if you were in her situation. Obviously annoyed now, she informs you that break ups are just a part of life and everyone goes through them. She changes the subject.
The interaction starts to feel tense. You were trying to be compassionate and validating and you know it isn’t working. You might think judgmental thoughts such as how cold your friend is. At the same time the situation seems like you’ve stepped in quick sand and whatever you try only makes the situation worse. You worry about losing your firiend. Your perspective is that she must be hurting and devastated and that is a horrible situation. You want to be kind to her. Her view is that the situation is painful but normal and she knows she’ll get through it. Your efforts to acknowledge her pain are seen as invalidating by her. The intensity of your caring did not match what she was feeling. She says you must think she is completely helpless, which offends her.
How You Imagine You Would Feel is Sometimes Not What the Person Feels
Your daughter, just home from work, calls you to announce she didn’t get a promotion. You are sure her tone of voice is sad. You feel so badly for her. She must be so disappointed. You think about her at night and can’t sleep. You feel so badly and can’t get the incident off your mind. In fact, you quite sad because of how you know she must feel. Later in the week you say something to her. She isn’t clear what you are talking about but when she realizes you are referring to her not getting the promotion, she laughs. She tells you that if you really understood her you’d know she didn’t care about that promotion. With the best of intentions, you’ve invalidated her.
Taking the perspective of the other person can be difficult. Usually the emotionally sensitive are upset by others not understanding their sensitivity. But the emotionally sensitive can misunderstand and invalidate the emotions of those who are not emotionally sensitive as well. Though you can use your internal experiences to know basically how someone might feel in a situation, you also need more information to truly validate and/or be effectively compassionate. To be validating, understanding the perspective of the other person is key.
Survey: I am very grateful for all your help in better understanding emotionally sensitive people. I am currently writing a new book and would like to learn more. If you are emotionally sensitive, please consider taking this survey about decision making. Thank you! If you gave your contact information to be interviewed about being emotionally sensitive, thank you more than I can say. It may be a few weeks but I will be in contact.
Successful people are typically viewed as possessing certain characteristics: high motivation, strong skills/abilities, and opportunity. In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant says there is another component to success and that’s how you approach relationships.
In interactions with others, are you likely to give more than you get? Or do you believe that you have to look out for yourself first so you make sure you get more than you give?
Outside the workplace, in personal relationships, most people behave like givers. With family and friends they don’t keep track of who gives what. But in the workplace, givers are rare. Givers are generous with their time, knowledge, and connections. They don’t think about the personal costs and help without expecting anything in return. Takers help others strategically, when the benefits to them outweigh the personal costs. There’s also a group of people called matchers. They attempt to keep an equal balance of giving and getting. They want fairness. They help others but expect reciprocity.
The lines between giving, taking and matching aren’t hard and fast. You may find yourself acting like a giver when mentoring an intern, a taker when bidding for a project and a matcher when exchanging ideas with a colleague. But overall, the vast majority of people adopt a primary style of interacting most of the time.
The Style Most Likely to Be at the Bottom of the Success Ladder
Which style is most likely to result in success at work? You might guess that givers would be at the bottom of the success measures. You would be right. Across occupations, givers are just too caring and too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests. There’s evidence that compared with takers, givers earn 14 percent less money, have twice the risk of becoming a victim of a crime and are judged as 22 percent less powerful and dominant.
The Style Most Likely To Reach the Top
So what style do the people at the top of the success ladder have? They are also givers. The best performers and the worst performers are givers; takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle. The givers at the top of the ladder have strong interests in helping others and get satisfication from making an impact in that way. They score high on measures of caring about others.The difference between the givers who were top performers and the givers who are the lowest performers is that the givers at the top also had strong self-interests. They were ambitious as well as giving. Self-interest and other interest are not mutually exclusive but two different characteristics.
The emotionally sensitive often have difficulty with balance and tend to extremes. This can translate into being extreme givers, takers, and matchers. Extremes usually lead to misery. Having both self-interests and other-interests would seem to create a balance that would lessen suffering as well as lead to more success in career goals.
Alan Fruzzetti, Ph.D., who just finished conferences in Sweden and Israel, is coming to Houston on March 8 to present at Secrets of Validation. The conference is primarily for family members of those who have difficulty regulating their emotions and is also open for professionals.
In addition to the presentation, professionals will have the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Fruzzetti and myself. The lunch will give more information about using validation in therapy. Family members and other interested audience members can listen to a panel discuss community resources for individuals who struggle with managing their emotions.
The cost of the conference is $55 if you do not want CEUs and $95 if you want CEUs. You can register on the Houston Council for Alcohol and Drugs website.
There seems to be a strong stigma about loneliness. Many people will admit to being depressed before they’ll talk about being lonely. Fearing being judged as unlikable, a loser, or weird, they don’t discuss their sense of aloneness, alienation, or exclusion. That horrible experience of being the last one chosen for teams in school seems to continue into adulthood, though the reasons are different. If you don’t have friends, then there must be something wrong with you. Headlines that describe the Unabomber, John Hinckley, the mass murderer at Virginia Tech and other criminals as loners add to the fear of being judged if you are alone.
I’m no talking about solitude. Loneliness is a different experience than solitude. Solitude is being alone by choice and wanting that aloneness or being comfortable with it. Loneliness means there is a discomfort– you want to be more connected to others.
Not feeling free to talk about loneliness adds to the problem and to the judgements of the experience. If you judge yourself for feeling lonely, it makes it even more difficult to take steps to change the situation.
Loneliness Can Be Different for Different People
Many people are lonely even though they have acquaintances and activities. Having hundreds or thousands of “friends” on social networking websites isn’t the same as having someone to share a movie or to get a cup of coffee. In fact, one of the loneliest experiences may occur when you are in a crowd of people you do not feel connected with or when you are with a life partner/friend and feel no connection.
Lonely may mean not having a romantic partner or not having someone to be with on the holidays. It may be about losses you have experienced or a spiritual emptiness.
Being lonely seems to be about not feeling connected in a meaningful way to others, to the world, to life.
Most People Feel Lonely At Times
Many lonely people believe they are unique in their situation and that it’s not normal to feel as lonely as they do. Yet most everyone feels lonely at times. Perhaps after a move or other transition such as graduating from school. Transient loneliness is part of life, as humans are social beings. Overwhelmingly, people rate love, intimacy, and social connections as contributing to their happiness above wealth or social fame.
Only 22% never feel lonely and one in ten report feeling lonely often. The hit songs that talk about loneliness and the number of book titles about overcoming loneliness reflect that loneliness is not uncommon. When you are lonely, though, you may only focus on those people who have what you want rather than those who are in a similar situation.
Everyone can feel lonely. And loneliness seems to bring about other issues. Compared to a group who reported strong social connections, a group of students who were in the top 20% in terms of loneliness reported characteristics of shyness, anxiety, hostility, pessimism, fear of negative evaluation and depressed affect among other characteristics. In a follow-up study, loneliness was induced. Subjects were hypnotized to believe they were well connected socially or that they were lonely. The participants who were hypnotized to believe they were lonely then showed the same characteristics as the students who were assessed to be the loneliest.
The Purpose of Loneliness
Just as physical pain protects people from physical dangers, loneliness may serve as a social pain to protect people from the dangers of being isolated. It may serve as a prompt to change behavior, to pay more attention to relationships which are needed for survival.
The idea of loneliness as a social pain has been demonstrated by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The emotional region of the brain that is activated when you experience rejection is the same that registers emotional responses to physical pain. Loneliness is a deep, disruptive hurt that can become chronic and you can’t just meet people and get over it.
Giving Up Self-Judgment
Letting go of judging yourself for your loneliness is a good first step. Blaming yourself, calling yourself names, berating yourself because you are lonely is not effective and not accurate. Feeling lonely in the absence of meaningful connections is normal.
There can be many reasons for loneliness. Today’s mobile and busy society may have increased the challenges of establishing and maintaining relationships. Acceptance that loneliness is a part of the human condiition can help you put your energy into creating solutions.
Loneliness is not necessarily about poor social skills. When you are lonely, it may be overwhelming to think about venturing out to be with people even though you may have good social skills. Loneliness can lead to depression and a wish to isolate.
For emotionally sensitive people, loneliness is likely to be a more intense experience than for those who are not emotionally sensitive and thus even more difficult to overcome. Accepting that finding ways to decrease your loneliness will be challenging will help you persevere.
Cacioppo, John T. and Patrick, William (2008). Loneliness: Human Nature and The Need for Social Connection. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Page, J. (2012). Freedom from Loneliness: 52 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Thank you to the 1,439 people who responded to our second survey. Your answers show the many similarities and differences among emotionally sensitive people and help increase our understanding.
Sometimes just knowing that others have the same experiences as you can be helpful, and I appreciate your time and thoughtful responses.
Coping Skills and Strategies
How do the emotionally sensitive cope with their intense feelings? What a variety of answers you gave!
Accepting the emotions, going to therapy, becoming a Buddhist, mindfulness, learning that others are emotionally sensitive, understanding that being emotionally sensitive can be a strength, dancing, exercise, faith in God, learning that thoughts are not facts, dialectical behavior therapy, the support of compassionate loved ones, Yoga, medication, setting boundaries, joining a loving church, and understanding that emotions pass were all ways you cope.
Do emotionally sensitive people tend to hold back in relationships? Most of you believe that is true. Only 19.7 percent said they didn’t, with some stating they gave too much or did not establish healthy boundaries. Fear of being abandoned (46.6 percent), shame (35.7 percent) and fear of being taken advantage of (43.2 percent) were some of the reasons others protect themselves by not getting too close.
Your explanations included a lack of confidence, feeling that you aren’t important to others, fear of not being liked, fear of losing yourself, past hurts, dislike of commitment and fear of being too needy. Some expressed that people don’t accept others who have physical differences.
The people who responded to the survey considered themselves good problem solvers (80.3 percent). Your comments indicated that many of you are good at solving others’ problems rather than your own and that people often come to you for advice.
Some of you are able to see many solutions at once and many of you noted that you are best at problems you can view intellectually rather than emotionally. Some said they were good in crisis situations but had difficulty after the crisis had passed.
About half of you are very clear about your identity and half are not. One person stated: “I’m not sure who I am, sometimes I’m who I need to be for that situation.” Other comments included: “Still trying to discover me,” and “I feel I tend to flip flop. Try to be what others want until the real me becomes invisible.”
Many said they wear masks to please others and some are clear but hide their true self from others. A number of you said that on some days you were clear about your identity and then confused on other days. Based on your answers, knowing who you are seems to be easier when you are by yourself than when you are with others and many are working on finding their identity.
Many of you have families who understand emotional sensitivity. Others do not think their families know and fear it would not be positive if they found out. Still others have family members who are emotionally sensitive. For some that has helped and for others made it more difficult. Some did not think it matters if their families understand and others thought it could make a big difference. A number of you are estranged from your families and others have no family.
One respondent even noted that understanding is not enough, and structure and solutions are also needed.
Fear of Emotions
Some of you described feeling overtaken by your emotions; you couldn’t trust your own behavior and decisions when emotionally overwhelmed. This situation seems unpredictable, so that adds to your fear. You don’t know when you may be emotionally flooded. Being out of control is a strong fear. Having your judgment clouded is another fear. Hurting others, hurting yourselves, feeling strong anxiety and falling into depression were other fears.
At the same time, some of you see emotions as making life more colorful. Some have worked to accept emotions as information. And 60.8 percent feel joy just as intensely as anger and sadness, and many noted that though it is as intense, it doesn’t happen as frequently. Some of you feel it rarely and some of you fear joy, expecting that something will happen to take it away.
We have a new children’s group starting February 11, 2014 for children who have difficulty regulating their emotions. We also have a week long DBT camp for children 8 to 13 June 9 through 13. The activities are fun as well as teaching coping skills. Groups will meet from 9 to 12 each morning. Please call for additional information.