A child that routinely learns to second-guess themselves and to match and cater to the feelings of their parents and caregivers becomes an adult disassociated with their needs, expectations, desires, feelings, and opinions. They have little sense of their boundaries and values because they’ve learned that differences are wrong. Having their own identity is threatening so they continue the people pleasing of playing expected roles. They base their actions and thinking on managing internalised messages about them being “too sensitive”, “needy”, “dramatic” or “difficult”. They make it a priority to be needless and “low maintenance”, to perform, be “good” and not rock the boat too much, if at all.

The thing about telling someone that they’re “too sensitive” is that you teach them to distrust their feelings.

To distrust our feelings is to also distrust (and attempt to switch off) our needs, desires, expectations, and opinions. Without a sense of self, we can’t live by our values and have healthy boundaries.

In times gone by, society had an attitude that feelings were a nuisance. Feelings? What feelings?

It was like, live from the head up, ignore your body, conform, and do what everyone else wants. Say yes even when you really need, want to or should say no. No is a dirty word. Don’t say or do anything that threatens the safety and security of the herd.

But this does not work. And much of what we’ve learned is us being “too sensitive” is us, rightly, recognising our boundaries. We have, in those moments, been aware of who we are and what does and doesn’t work for us.

We must be very wary of anyone who tells us that we’re “too sensitive”. Granted, we all have our moments, especially if we’re exhausted, routinely ignoring ourselves, feeling wounded by something, or anxious. We actually wouldn’t experience so much of that if we’d been allowed to learn how to feel our feelings in the first place; if we’d been allowed (and gave us permission) to listen to ourselves. We’d know when we’re over our bandwidth and where we’d responded disproportionately as a result.

The only people who claim we’re “too sensitive” are the very ones who don’t want us to feel so that we don’t have the much-needed boundaries. They want us to trust their feelings and perspective instead. In doing so, they don’t have to look too closely at themselves.

Ultimately, though, if you’re wondering if or telling yourself that you’re “too sensitive”, it’s a code red alert that you’re overstepping your boundaries. You need to listen to yourself.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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