Being oversensitive can feel a blessing and a curse.
Do you often feel like you were born with the capacity to feel things that others just can’t?
Or lack the self protective ‘skin’ others seem to naturally have?
Are you emotionally sensitive?
“Oversensitive” is perhaps not the best term because it is a judgement. It implies that your level of sensitivity is ‘too much’, or not acceptable.
Other terms are ’emotionally sensitive’ or the trendy ‘highly sensitive person’ tag.
Being emotionally sensitive can look like the following:
- if someone raises their voice you run off or cry
- sad or violent films make you cry or feel deeply upset
- you might avoid people or situations that upset you
- things like music, art, and nature move you more than others
- sensory output (noise, lights, smells) can be overwhelming
- timeouts in quiet, calm places are things you need
- You suffer intermittent depression.
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Can I be diagnosed as an oversensitive person?
There has been quite the hype around being a ‘highly sensitive person’ in the last few years.
It’s a buzz created by an American psychologist Elaine Aron, who coined the phrase with her series of successful books.
Aron’s main research paper looks at animal studies. It then connects this to research done on human personality traits to suggest that ‘sensitivity’ might be a trait we can be born with. I
It’s an interesting hypothesis. But it’s actually only that, and based on other people’s research at that. There are far too many other factors to yet claim we are just ‘born sensitive’.
Aron admits this herself in her main research paper. Its says, “personality differences can be related to many factors, including of course the physical and social environment, development of specialised skills through experience using them, and as a side effect of other inherited traits such as growth rate in nonhuman animals and body size and strength in human extraverts.”
And the hypothesis of ‘I am just born highly sensitive’ has a dangerous side. It can mean someone does not take the time to look at other contributing factors that can actually be effectively treated.
What Can Cause Emotional Oversensitivity?
Before writing off your oversensitivity as just something you were born with and can’t change, consider other possible contributing factors.
Childhood trauma is the leading contributor to emotional oversensitivity.
This can be physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Childhood trauma throws a child into a sort of long-term PTSD, where they are always on alert. This can include emotionally.
Flawed parenting can also causes emotional oversensitivity.
Attachment theory suggests that you need at least one caregiver as a child who offers you unconditional love and is trustworthy. If your main caregiver was instead unreliable – if they only loved you when you were ‘good’, for example, of if they were mentally ill or emotionally unavailable – then you will grow up to have what is called ‘anxious attachment’. This leaves you overly attuned and responsive to other people’s actions.
The most important thing to note here is that both childhood trauma and unsuccessful parenting are issues that can be effectively treated with talk therapies.
While being ‘highly sensitive’ is not a diagnosis, there are proper diagnosis for some forms of emotional oversensitivity. These include:
Borderline personality disorder – often related to childhood sexual abuse, BPD sees you having strong, uncontrollable emotional responses in relationships.
ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder causes impulsivity, which can include emotional impulsivity (try our ADHD quiz to see if you might have it).
Major Depression – depression causes cycles of negative thinking so that we interpret everything as against us, then have bigger emotional responses then those around us understand.
Social anxiety – anxiety causes overthinking, which means we can be oversensitive.
If considering yourself as a ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP) helps you understand yourself, and works to make your life easier and more fulfilled, wonderful. And if it means you focus your sensitivity in useful ways like being creative and empathetic, even better.
But if you find you are using being oversensitive as an excuse, then not so great. If you are opting out of relationships, for example, or not going after the career you want, because you are ‘too sensitive’, then that is not helpful.
And if you suspect you had childhood trauma or did not receive the love and care you needed when young, then it’s a very wise idea to reach out for support.
Difficult childhoods do not have to be life sentences. There are many types of therapy geared to help you. You can new ways of thinking and being that mean you are no longer controlled by your sensitivities, but can use them in ways that benefit you.
Want help with managing your oversensitivity? Harley Therapy connects you with highly experienced therapists in several London locations. Not in London? For affordable counselling worldwide, please visit our sister site harleytherapy.com .
Still have a question about being oversensitive? Post in the public comment box below.