Why Being “Too Sensitive” In Relationships Is A Good Thing
It’s often advantageous to be vulnerable and feel things deeply.
Disagreements will pop up in any relationship, and since people respond to conflict differently, the way they’ll handle it with an S.O. varies. For some, arguments with a partner can evoke frustration; for others, hurt feelings and tears. If you relate more to the latter, how did your partner react? Have you ever been called “too sensitive?”
Hearing a partner call you “too sensitive” can really sting, in part because this language suggests you’re overreacting. Often, if someone’s feeling sensitive what they actually need is for their feelings to be validated and understood. Otherwise it could create a rift or cause you to start filtering and suppressing feelings, which doesn’t help anyone.
Many people falsely equate being sensitive with weakness, says Andre Sólo, the co-founder of Sensitive Refuge and co-author of the upcoming book Sensitive: The Hidden Power of the Highly Sensitive Person in a Loud, Fast, Too-Much World. “As a personality trait, being sensitive just means you take in more information about your environment and respond more to it,” he tells Bustle. “Sensitive people tend to be deep thinkers, they tend to be highly creative or innovative, they are more aware of emotions, and they score higher for empathy.”
So why would a partner say this, and what are they implying? “Often, the partner is not aware of and/or educated on empaths and highly sensitive people,” says Maria Inoa, a licensed clinical social worker. “Your partner may need some gentle education on this superpower.”
If you’re feeling stuck in this scenario, read on for expert tips on how to deal with a partner who says you’re too sensitive.
Acknowledge That Being Sensitive Is A Strength
In many situations, it’s advantageous to be vulnerable and feel things deeply. “Sensitive people will spot that half-smile that someone thought they concealed, or notice the worried look on someone’s face who is trying to act happy,” Sólo says. “They are wired at a brain level to process information more deeply. ... Seen that way, it’s hard to imagine being ‘too’ sensitive. Can you be too innovative? Too thoughtful? Too compassionate? Or is it maybe just hard for others to understand?”
Inoa echoes this sentiment: “I believe it’s a superpower because ‘too sensitive’ often means the person is intuitive on some level, and therefore can recognize and understand emotions in others more easily,” she says, noting examples like being able to pick up on anxiety or sadness in a partner, or having the ability to empathize when others are grappling with tough emotions.
Recognize The Moments When You’re Feeling Sensitive
While being highly sensitive is a strength, it’s important to look for patterns around when sensitivity is triggered, says Inoa. “If related to trauma, this sensitivity can be triggered by a variety of things, such as your partner’s tone, body language, and certain words they use,” she says.
When you’re feeling sensitive with your S.O., take a moment to pinpoint what caused the feeling to spike. Did your partner raise their voice, use unkind words, or suggest blame? Once you’ve sussed out the root cause, it’s up to you to address that, both individually and with your partner.
“If the sensitivity is related to trauma, it’s important to know that you can find healing for your triggers,” says Inoa, since allowing the triggers to continue could be detrimental to the success of your relationship. “No one asks for trauma. It’s a part of your story and has led you to be the person you are today.”
Don’t Suppress Your Sensitivity
You might be inclined to bottle-up feelings when someone calls you “too sensitive,” but that’s one of the least helpful things you can do, according to Sólo. “Sensitive people face pressure to hide who they are. They can’t actually stop being sensitive, so they cover it up, [but] hiding your sensitivity is a trap. It cuts you off from your greatest gifts,” he says. “The best thing sensitive people can do for themselves is to embrace being sensitive and lead with it in everything we do. The best thing our partners can do for us is the same: accept us for who we are and view our sensitivity as a good thing.”
Communicate With Your Partner
Even though it’s hurtful to hear your partner call you “too sensitive,” take a beat before responding. This can prevent the situation from escalating. “Pause for a second, make sure you’re calm, and tell them something like this: ‘I am a sensitive person, I’m proud of it, and I need a partner who’s going to love that part of me. Can we plan a time later when we’re both calmed down to talk about what my sensitivity means to me?’” Sólo says. “One of the best things you can do is to be vulnerable and honest.”
Your partner may need the same patience you’re asking of them, Inoa adds. Staying patient with each other and sharing perspectives without judgment can lead to deeper intimacy and understanding.
If you know what triggers your sensitivity, share that. It can help hold your partner accountable to communicating in a way that doesn’t cause you pain in the future, and also give them a deeper understanding of your emotional needs. “Try to stay calm and be gentle, as they may not understand. Give one another time to speak without interruptions,” Inoa says.
But ultimately, if your partner isn’t open to hearing you out, it might be time to reevaluate the relationship. “If this person [is] unwilling to change their view and brings it up as a way to hurt you or be dismissive of your needs, that’s a problem,” Sólo says. “You deserve better.”
Andre Sólo, co-founder of Sensitive Refuge and co-author of Sensitive
Maria Inoa, licensed clinical social worker