When someone says to me, “You’re too sensitive,” what I hear is: “I’m too lazy to try to understand your perspective, “ and/or, “The world revolves around my personal measuring stick, which is stumpy and marked by crayons.”
There is a difference between being sensitive (very cognizant and responsive to actual stimuli) and being touchy (negatively responsive to perceived stimuli):
Sensitive: Someone says your hair is ugly, so you cry.*
Touchy: Someone says your hair looks different, so you cry.
*(You’re not necessarily actually crying – just emotionally responsive with non-happy feelings.)
If you cannot tell the difference, you may be touchy, sensitivity-challenged, or both.
Being sensitive renders one open to feeling emotions quickly and strongly, and can be a powerful aid for things requiring intuition and innovation, such as business, sports, art, and inventions.
Being touchy is a useless exercise for everyone, including the touchy person. It is a defense tactic that can come across offensively, creating unnecessary discomfort for and disconnection from everyone around.
I grew up with parents who gave me an abundance of love and praise, which resulted in me having had a strong sense of security and a free, natural confidence. I was also very sheltered, and so assumed that everyone was like me: I met positive stimuli with optimism and energy. Without exposure to real pain until I was older, I didn’t realize until later in life how extremely sensitive I actually was.
The times I have been told I was “too sensitive” were by people who were raised without the care and attention that I was given. They were dismissive because they did not have a reference point for such things. The irony was that the same people often were very touchy, themselves.
The distinction between the two is an important one to be made, because modern society often looks at sensitive (easily emotionally evocable) people as weak. If the sensitive person is also animated and expressive, as touchy people tend to be when irritated, society looks at the sensitive as being unable to make sound judgments, because sensitive and touchy people are often clumped into the same group.
Some may argue that whether one is sensitive or touchy may be a matter of perspective, and so that it is a moot point to try to figure out who is which type. That viewpoint is dangerously incorrect, for it can eventually turn an otherwise sensitive person into a touchy one, or exacerbate the response or condition of an already touchy person.
DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS OF SENSITIVE PEOPLE
Following are the main qualities that separate the sensitive and the touchy. For those who recognize that they tend to get bristly easily, but don’t know how to approach triggers, pay special attention to the “Touchy Tips” at the end of each item.
1. SENSE OF CLARITY:
Sensitive people feel strongly but also see the big picture because they observe, or rather, absorb the world around them. They are naturally curious, and tend to be stocked with information because they constantly seek to satisfy their curiosity. They simply enjoy learning and understanding.
It can be said that touchy people also observe—like a hawk. They observe and analyze, but often to find “problems,” not solutions. They seek “proof” to support their negative decisions rather than amass info to make an informed one.
A great poster, created by bestselling author, Karen Salmansohn, perfectly illustrates this:
(Credit: Karen Salmansohn)
The general population senses the lack of clarity in a touchy person’s reactions, whose negative reactions are usually easy to see. This is why emotionally responsive people are generally not taken seriously. Unfortunately, this attitude is taken towards the expressive sensitive, as well, because we’re in a very connection-lazy society – people don’t take the time to really understand or care, so they dismiss or ignore.
Not only is this unfortunate for the sensitive individual, but the byproduct of this as a society is a perpetuation of disconnection. In prison, with hardened criminals, cases have shown that being put in isolation can literally make an inmate insane. Yet here we are, walking around by droves, disconnected, isolated – it is no wonder our society is riddled with mental illnesses!
Touchy Tip: The question of clarity is tricky because from the eye of the beholder, the view usually appears to be accurate. But as it goes with perspective, whatever you seek to see, you are more likely to find. To avoid this biased vision (which is like looking through a lens akin to a fun house mirror), seek truth instead of proof. This will require that you trade your tools of war for those of an explorer: open eyes, ears, and mind.
Relinquishment of pride or control is a mandatory prep for a space of clarity to settle in. This will take practice. Start now, and practice often.
2. SENSE OF SELF:
Sensitive people not only have a strong curiosity for the world around them, but they turn that curiosity inwards, as well. They want to understand who they are, why they are as they are, and how they can use this understanding to grow and improve as a human being.
Touchy people tend to limit their observations and analysis to the external world. They may know what they like and don’t like, but they do not spend much time investigating their own psyche, motives, and values. Because of this, and having an ironic mix of both deep insecurity and inflated ego, touchy people often assume to be experts on others while struggling with accountability. They are quick to identify how others are meeting their expectations (or not), but they are disconnected from their own roles in their disappointments.
Touchy Tip: Rap artist Ice-Cube sums it up: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Is there any aspect about your life, including your history, relationships, characteristics, that you are ashamed of? How do you deal with those feelings of shame? How do you think people see you? How would you like people to see you? Are those images aligned? Answer those questions in detail, and then interview yourself candidly: Ask yourself hard questions and answer them as honestly and thoroughly as you can.
If you are just getting to know yourself, consider how much less you may actually know others. Keep this in mind the next time you get into an argument, and adjust your approach accordingly. You may discover that acknowledging your errors and imperfections to actually be a win that multiplies in returns.
3. SENSE OF JUSTICE:
Sensitive people have a strong need to for what is right and fair for all, because they have an innate sense of it. They do not want to wrong another person any less than they want to be wronged. In essence, they are sensitive for others as well as for themselves.
Therefore, in arguments, the sensitive person may be slower to respond to verbal attacks, as s/he is absorbing both the message and emotions that the speaker is projecting. They want to understand. This pause may be mistaken by the other person as the sensitive person’s admission to fault.
Touchy people are often immersed in an ego-centered world, so arguments for these people are less about mutual understanding or resolutions, and more about some form of “winning.” Most of the time, their winning is in the form of “being right,” and unfortunately, their conviction is one based on negative assumptions.
When a sensitive and a touchy person argue, it’s often a futile effort, as it is with most human connections where the give-and-take flows in only one direction. The sensitive person who is experienced with the touchy recognizes this, and will usually try to disengage from such situations.
This is not to say that sensitive people will not stand their ground. Where they feel something unjust or inhumane may be concerned, their sense of justice supersedes their usually peaceful nature. It is in situations where a disagreement is expressed with an agenda other than for clarity and resolution by the other party, that the sensitive will walk away.
Touchy Tip: In your next argument, ask yourself, “Why am I here? Am I in it to win it?” Unless you’re in a courtroom, if the answer is “yes,” game over – you are not there for the right reason, and it will show.
You probably want to be heard and your feelings to be considered, right? Guess what? So does the other person. So this has got to be a fair fight.
1. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – abandon yours for a minute. Listen for the message beyond their words, and try to feel what they are feeling.
2. Respond to them with what you’ve learned from having positioned yourself from their perspective. Don’t accuse first – ask for clarity, and describe your viewpoint as if you were a third person observing the situation.
3. Only after successfully attaining the prior 2 steps do you share your emotional response to the issue at that moment it impacted you.
If you commit to this exercise, you may discover, more and more, that things are not as dastardly as you believe them to be.
* * *
Nobody is absolutely 100% on either line of any group. A level-headed, insightful, thoughtful, just-minded, sensitive person may have moments or a situation that makes them touchy. This will be the exception for them, however, and most likely they will regret such incidents, (wo)man-up to it, and make any necessary amends.
The one-way hypersensitivity of touchy people, along with their lack of clarity, introspection, and sense of justice, make remorse and atonement illogical options to them. BUT, there is hope for them if they find that being touchy is no longer rewarding, even with all the “points” they’ve collected in their minds.
If the touchy commit to being more open, striving for truth above “proof,” they may find their position—in life as well as arguments–soften, maybe even change, and they need to know that this is OK. Gaining understanding is better than winning points anyways. Understanding can build bridges and lay foundations for growth, while “points” build walls and fund isolation, and all the points in the world won’t make anyone more powerful or happy.
The best thing that a touchy person can look forward to in becoming open to clarity is a new perspective on the world in which they live, one where the world is kinder, friendlier, and not out to get them, as formerly believed.
As for those who are still trying to figure out who they can call “too sensitive”: Put your measuring stick away before you hurt someone. In this, and other matters of the heart, size does matter, and your stump is showing.