Many years ago, I had a painful falling out with a roommate. My roommate (let's call him Robert) was one of my best friends in college. However, as our lease was nearing its end, I decided, for the sake of my own personal growth, to move out. When I told Robert, he told me he was "mad, disappointed, and hurt" by my choice to move out.
In the last three months we lived together (after my telling him), he stopped talking to me completely. Reflecting on this after so much time has passed, I recognize now that Robert is someone we'd refer to as an HSP (a highly sensitive person).
Elaine Aron, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in San Francisco and author of The Highly Sensitive Person, first identified this personality type in the early 1990s.
Though I didn't know it then, I, too, am an HSP. So, I was just as hurt by the dissolution of my relationship with Robert as he was. Once upon a time, HSPs might have been written off as shy or even neurotic, but there is significant research to support the idea that high sensitivity is a valid personality characteristic—a real condition that Aron's research suggests affects 15 to 20 percent of the population, both male
Translation: Highly sensitive people are not just people who get their feelings hurt easily. Part of being highly sensitive is having a complex inner life and an active imagination.
So, how do you deal with the criticism or the sense of rejection you get when someone tells you they're moving out, or ends a relationship, and you suspect you feel it more keenly than they do?
Recognize that you are someone who feels more strongly than average—the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the horrifying—and accept that that is OK.
Next, focus on finding balance in your emotional responses. You may feel something very acutely, but you don't have to react that way. Get out of your head and try to put yourself in the other person's position.
Here are a few tips and reminders to file away the next time you have to deal with a high-stress emotional situation. I promise, they'll help you achieve a more satisfying, authentic outcome.
1. Remember that it's not just about you.
If someone tells you something that makes you feel defensive, recognize that everyone's opinions are coming from their own point of view. You get to decide if it resonates. If someone points out a "flaw" or "annoyance" of yours and you take it personally, ask yourself if their advice is valuable to you. Do you respect that person's insight? If so, consider taking a closer look at that behavioral pattern or situation. If not, remind yourself that if that person's opinion isn't important to you, their words don't deserve an emotional response from you.
2. Know that when you believe in yourself, the approval of others becomes irrelevant.
If someone offends you, instead of getting angry, focus on your own authentic journey. When you know you're where you need to be, you won’t feel desperate for the approval of others.
3. Don't apologize for feeling things intensely.
Many people relegated to the "overly sensitive" bucket just feel things very strongly. We genuinely care about others. We often have more sympathy for others. The world needs more people who care. Never apologize for being sensitive or caring about the world and the people you love.