Emotional sensitivity: Elephants without a skin

Some people are emotionally sensitive. They readily pick up on the emotions that others experience, have a high emotional “radar”, and they notice emotional “tones” or changes while interacting with others. Being alert to changes in emotional intensity may be a way for people to predict emotional outbursts- and thus stay away from threatening or angry people. Emotionally sensitive people may be good at reading others, attending to relationships, and paying attention to their gut or intuition. They may also have difficulty when others express strong emotions.

Others may have a higher threshold for absorbing emotional information- or be less reactive to expressed emotion. They may be seen as having a “thick skin” or an ability to brush things off and not be greatly affected. They may be less acute at picking up and reading the emotions of others- and possible less “tuned in” to the emotional nuances of interpersonal situations. They may have a better capacity to “get over it”, “move on”, or “pick up the pieces”. They may be seen as stable, consistent, or “uneasily rattled”.

Differences in how we experience emotions are sometimes labeled as bad, mentally unhealthy, or crazy. Some people have ideas about how emotions “should” be experienced based on their own threshold for emotional tolerance. Comparisons can frequently turn into judgments, and the way in which a person is emotionally impacted by something can easily be under or over-estimated. Misunderstandings and inaccurate interpretations about what a person is feeling or should be feeling may ensue. The emotionally sensitive person may have been told they need to “get over it” and the emotionally “tough” person may be experienced as “cold” or “uncaring.”Jetsam

Instead of emotions being “right” or “wrong”, it is important to consider several factors about emotional thresholds, sensitivity, and tolerance:

  • Are you in an environment in which others are less or more emotionally sensitive than you are? If so, how does it impact your ability to trust your emotions?
  • Consider the pros/cons to being emotionally sensitive vs. having a “thick skin.” Emotionally diverse ways of responding to situations can be adaptive ways of coping-all depending on the person and the situation.
  • Are you looking for people who value your emotional experience? Seeking people who are can be responsive to your emotional needs is better than not liking yourself for “being emotional” in the first place.