Have you ever been called 'too sensitive'?
Have you ever attempted to express your feelings to someone about having an issue with their behaviour towards you, only to be shut down, ridiculed, and told that you were overreacting or being ‘too sensitive’? Perhaps you were told that you couldn't ‘take a joke’ and that they can't say anything to you because you 'always' take it the wrong way and get upset. You may have been left feeling stupid, confused, emotional, immature or even embarrassed.
Did it leave you feeling like you were making a big deal out of nothing? Did you start questioning yourself whether you overreacted? Did it make you want to seek reassurance from others to confirm that you had addressed the situation appropriately?
Before we go any further, I would like you to know that you have a right to your feelings. If somebody tells you that what you are feeling is wrong after they've been unkind to you, they are probably trying to cloud your judgement for their own benefit.
People get manipulated in all kinds of relationships – intimate ones, friendships, parent-child relationships, as well as professional ones. It is important to recognise when someone is trying to pull a veil over your eyes and make you feel like your feelings don't matter so that you can protect yourself from getting hurt and start taking your power back to live your life in a way that is best for you.
Covering up bad behaviour
We may get this sort of response from someone when we pull them up on being unkind to us in their words or actions or when we try to set a boundary within our relationship with the person in question.
By telling you that what you are feeling is wrong, they make you doubt yourself. You become unsure of whether they really didn't mean to hurt you or you took it the wrong way. By being the nice person that you are, you give them the benefit of a doubt and they ‘get away’ with not treating you the way you deserve or crossing your boundary.
The focus also changes from their unhealthy behaviour to your reaction to it: you feel like you have to defend yourself or work on not being ‘so sensitive’. Needless to say, this becomes a cycle that can be difficult to break, especially if the person you are dealing with is a family member, a friend, an intimate partner or anyone else you are close to.
It happens so subtly
It is a dangerous situation for you to be in because, after a few times of being told that you are overreacting or being too sensitive, you start to believe it – especially if the person telling you this is someone you love and trust. Your sense of self, confidence and self-esteem are being stripped away bit by bit.
It starts with a tiny drop of poison – an ‘innocent’ remark about your appearance, behaviour, or choice of a hobby or occupation which very quickly turns into an ocean of abuse. Before you know it, you find yourself drowning, having no idea of how you got there and how to get out. The most dangerous thing is that you might not even know that you are being mistreated or abused. It might feel like something is ‘off’, but difficult to understand what is actually happening to you.
In worst cases, people become unable to make any decisions because they don't trust their judgement or even start doubting their sanity because they are being told that what they feel is wrong.
Start taking your power back
First of all, whenever you hear someone saying the following things to you, consider it a red flag. You are being manipulated.
- "You are overreacting."
- "You are so dramatic."
- "You are too sensitive."
- "I better not say anything to you."
Now, the person doing it might be aware of trying to make you doubt the validity of your feelings or they might not be. There are people who manipulate you unknowingly as they try to fulfil their own needs for love, connection and safety, which they are very often not aware of either. They may even believe they are acting out of your best interest.
In any case, their motive and reasons are not as important as you doing your best to protect your sense of self, your ability to trust your instincts and saving the trouble of getting into an unhealthy and potentially dangerous situation.
Secondly, once you notice the red flag, you may consider saying to yourself something along those lines: ‘It looks like I am being manipulated. I have a right to feel how I feel. It wasn't OK for that person to say/do what they said/did’. It will help you re-affirm to yourself that you feel the way you feel for a reason. Maybe you reacted differently to how someone else would have reacted, but it is for you to decide what you are OK with and what you are not OK with and no one else.
Finally, after recognising that you are being manipulated, you may want to address the issue by saying things like:
- "It doesn't feel good when you call me that. Please stop."
- "Please don't say that to me. I know how I feel. What you said or did wasn't OK with me."
Or something bolder, like:
- "I might have hit a nerve with how I reacted. What's going on with you?"
- "It sounds like you are trying to make me doubt my feelings. Why do you feel the need to do that?"
Burying your head in the sand doesn't work
Not addressing the issue would only make it bigger. Ignoring the comments or pretending like they don't hurt will not make the person stop. With time, resentment will build and it will become more and more difficult to resolve the situation. No matter how hard you try to pretend that it doesn't affect you, it very much does, because you are human.
If you are reading this now and realising that you have been in this situation for a long time and don't know how to change it (i.e. the person is a family member and your interactions have always been the way described above), I want you to know that it is not too late to start relating to them in a healthier way.
You may be met with resentment and misunderstanding for trying to alter the dynamics of the relationship, but it will transform if you give yourself permission to honour your needs to feel loved, heard and respected. I know it is not easy, but it's your job to set those boundaries, to vocalise and protect them. If it feels overwhelming, start small, but start.
There is always a risk of the other person deciding to not carry on having the relationship with you because, by speaking up, you no longer fulfil their needs. In my mind, it is a risk worth taking as you get to keep the most important person in your life – you.