How to Navigate Other’s Emotions as a Sensitive Person
Maybe you were born more sensitive to others’ feelings or grew up in an environment that reinforced being hypersensitive or aware. For example, if you were a child of parents who are emotionally volatile, you may have learned to read subtle emotions for safety and survival. I have worked with many clients with parents who go from raging to sobbing in an hour. These individuals learned as infants when not to cry; as toddlers, they learned when to play the clown; as teens, they learned when to run and hide; and all throughout their years, they learned when to comfort or soothe their parents before the parents knew for themselves.
The Up Side
In the best case, sensitive people can feel very connected to others. You get to see the vulnerable and hidden parts of people. You also may be very good at navigating social situations and building relationships. However, there can be some down sides.
The Down Side
If you are a sensitive or empathic person, navigating relationships can be quite confusing. You can become awash in other’s emotions, and overwhelmed by them. You can sense their complex motivations and their unease. You may wonder why they aren’t saying all that you can sense and you can see.
At best, you may want help by pulling out what you perceive is deep in the other’s core. At worst, you may believe they are lying or denying these clearly obvious feelings, then learning to distrust others. It can be great being sensitive. You can feel so much, but mostly, it is so exhausting. You may end up hiding from the world, withdrawing, or closing yourself off from others to recharge or protect yourself. Finally, It may also be hard to know the difference between their feelings and yours.
Sometimes, growing up feeling more attuned to others leaves one with unmet needs around being cared for or comforted. Also, You may feel resentment toward others who aren’t so intuned with you and your emotions as an adult. It is time to stop surfing others feelings and start duck diving. You don’t need to be clobbered by the waves of other’s emotions; now, you can let them passing over you like a duck in water.
Ways to Help Yourself
Increasing your boundaries and re-attuning to yourself will allow you to let go of any overactive responsibility to be aware of others. Now that you’re an adult, you have the power to be in safe relationships and get out of survival mode. It may be hard to not use your gift of sensitivity as much, but you will save so much energy and take better care of yourself. Moreover, you will allow the other person to be empowered to be responsible for their feelings and their side of the relationship.
Here are ways to care for yourself:
Circle eights: Imagine that you and the other person have two separate gold rings circling both of you in opposite directs, containing and separating both your energies like gentle force fields. This is great for one-on-one meetings.
Create your bubble: Imagine a bubble made of any substance (metal or bullet proof glass) and you only let in what you want into your personal space (2 ft side-to-side and front-to-back). Good for parties or walking down the street.
Ground back into yourself and body: Just notice your sensations using the 5 senses: feel you feet in your shoes, the taste of a beverage you are drinking. Listen to your breath and your heart beat. This will help you not be as vigilant of the other person and redirect your focus back to your own experience.
Practicing going in then coming out of the awareness of yourself: we all do this but let it be a mindfulness game like changing the focus of a camera lense from you to the other person.
Give Others A Chance to Take Care of Themselves
You do not need to react to what you think you perceive. We all can feel or think things we do not want to share... let alone act out! Let others choose to filter themselves for what they want to tell you or keep private.
Allow the other person to have privacy; It can be alluring to pry, but that can be a violation of their boundaries.
Respond by checking in with your assumptions. You do not need to take on more responsibility to manage the relationship or the conversation.
Finally, tune back into what you want and you need. You are responsible for sharing your wants and needs. If this is hard. You may need do some therapy to find out what you are avoiding or why there is a block.
Being a sensitive person does not have to be overwhelming or exhausting. Learning to navigate other’s emotions doesn’t mean managing the other person’s feelings; it does mean taking care of yourself by having good boundaries and asking or asserting what you believe. Being sensitive can a process of learning to calibrate yourself. You can amplify your sensitivity at times when you want deep intimacy and learn to be more boundaried and self-aware at other times when you need to be clearer about holding your center. Enjoy being sensitive can make life a beautiful song with volume control.