Sensible Sensitivity
June 28, 2006 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I have always been an a emotionally sensitive guy, and I guess being this way has its pros and cons. In my current and past relationships, my emotions really seem to get the best of me. When I am single, I usually have a firm grasp over my emotions, but when I am in a relationship, my emotions become heightened. I am usually very sensitive to the moods of my significant others, to the point that if they are in a bad mood, I also get in a bad mood. And a lot of times, I think I wrongfully attribute the reason for their bad moods to myself, and therefore get somewhat insecure. I don't think this is very healthy. My current girlfriend thinks its great that I am sensitive some of the time, but not great at other times. It drives me crazy when she says "I am too sensitive" when she may tease me about a topic that I am sensitive about, but she feels is funny or harmless. I don't like feeling like a wimp, but I also don't like feeling like my sensitivities are unwarranted. I guess I want to figure out how to be more disciplined with my emotions while at the same time not becoming a heartless boyfriend. Help me become emotionally mature and intelligent.
posted by jasondigitized to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sensitive or clingy? Does your girlfriend feel smothered by your sensitivity?
posted by LarryC at 10:17 AM on June 28, 2006

No, I am not clingy at all. Well, I guess if she is in a bad mood, I may want a little affection to let me know she isn't pissed off at me, but besides that, she has all the space in the world.
posted by jasondigitized at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2006

1. Trust the people you care about
2. Don't sweat the small stuff
3. Ask yourself, "Will this matter in an hour [or a day, or next week]? If the answer is no, let it go.
posted by contessa at 10:23 AM on June 28, 2006

Maybe you could consider some therapy. After all, how much is emotional balance worth to you?
posted by JJ86 at 10:23 AM on June 28, 2006

First thing, guilt won't help. Learn to remind yourself to relax and that a lot of the insecurity is created by you, *not* by the situation. Easy to say, I know, but being mindful of how you act, and talking openly to your girlfriend will help a ton.

also, try to resist the urge to turn this into a black and white issue. You say you don't want to become heartless, as if that's the only other option. Stop labeling your feelings as negative, or else you'll just reinforce the guilt. And that you recognize this and want to feel more balanced, I'd say you are in fact acting mature and intelligent.

and remember, emotions don't respond well to logic... try your best to keep perspective when you are feeling balanced (i.e. practice good habits when you are feeling stable so when things feel unbalanced again, you've got some mental support set up in your head)

stop the negative labeling... keep talking to the girlfriend and REMEMBER she likes YOU, as you are. Sure, we all want to improve, but your sensitivity and occasional insecurities are part of what endears you to her heart, ok? You don't want to change yourself so much she won't recognize you. Just get into the habit of approaching yourself in a positive way and stop feeling guilty and focus on all the things you already have to feel secure about.

Hopefully after you get those good habits in place, the rest will start working itself out naturally. And just accept that you will always be a bit emotional sometimes. Acknowledge it and move on.
posted by johnstein at 10:28 AM on June 28, 2006

As for the moods, realize that some people cannot show affection if they aren't in a good mood. It will feel very superficial and fake and in her mind, she probably respects you too much to lie to you and pretend she's feeling better than she is. I agree, it sometimes feels uncomfortable when you feel like you are being blamed for a mood, but I would say more often than not, she's just frustrated with some aspect of her life and needs to deal with it in her own way before she can come back to you as an affectionate other half.

and on preview. basically what contessa says. trust her. know it won't matter in a week or so. when she's in a better mood, talk about it. ask her how she was feeling and let her know how it makes you feel. this way, you won't simply bury it inside, but do it at a time when both of you are feeling pretty good.
posted by johnstein at 10:35 AM on June 28, 2006

I think it always helps to assume that your partner's moods are not because of you, unless he or she explicitly says otherwise.

Doing so accomplishes a number of things:
  • It keeps you from being clingy or annoying when your partner's in a bad mood.
  • It helps you realize that you are not the only thing going on in your partner's life, which is good for giving you perspective and making them feel like you respect them as a person with a life outside the relationship.
  • It forces passive-aggressive partners to actually communicate with you when they are upset with you, rather than just sulking and making you ask "What's wrong?" 300 times a day.
  • It can prevent that "She's mad, oh she must be mad at me, that makes me mad, now she's mad that I'm mad" cycle that can quickly spiral out of control.
  • It helps make you an objective, helpful person for your partner to turn to when they're upset, since they can be confident you will actually listen to what the problem is and won't jump to erroneous conclusions when they just want some emotional support or help.
  • It makes you seem like a confident individual who understands that sometimes people get in bad moods, or have problems, or have bad days, and it's not all about you.
Really, I find it's such a huge help when I'm dealing with anyone (not just romantic partners). And it doesn't really require all that much soul-searching; the next time she's upset, just say to yourself, "This is probably not because of me," sincerely ask if you can do anything to help her, and if she says no, just go about on your merry way.

If she want to vent, or she does want some help, then of course listen to her, but again just repeat to yourself "This is probably not about me." Any time you find yourself wondering, during the conversation, how this will affect you, stop that train of thought and concentrate instead on her.

And when she is mad at you... well, just listen and try to figure out where she's coming from then, too.
posted by occhiblu at 10:49 AM on June 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

From the way you describe yourself, you sound like you may be suffering from some anxiety. I'm not saying OMG To The Doctor Therapy Pills Now!, but framing your sensitivity in other terms may be helpful to you. Approaching the issue from a different angle, so to speak.

Bonus: There's tons of resources on techniques to help ease anxiety, including a lot of AskMe questions.
posted by desuetude at 11:09 AM on June 28, 2006

Please ignore hapless assclowns that tell you to a) change; and/or b) see a therapist.

Don't take your gf so seriously... when she tells you not to be so sensitive tell her, "This is me, take me as I am, I'm sensitive, b!t#h!". Actually use this exact phrase.

This might/will jar you both initially, but it will help both of you accept you for who you are. The strong language will seem funny after awhile, but continue to emphasize the importance of the message.

You are who you are. Fly your freak flag. Don't let the #$@ing commies get you down.

posted by ewkpates at 11:18 AM on June 28, 2006

Step One: Get over yourself, already. Your question reads more than a bit narcissistic. But since I'm only a random Internet guy, this isn't intended as a diagnostic remark. Just a word that a high proportion of the "sensitive" guys I've known have been remarkably self-absorbed.

One of the things that a lot of traditionally male pursuits teach is to disregard yourself, and suppress your physical and emotional discomfort if it isn't serving the purpose of a group, or of getting to an individual goal. Maybe that's some evolutionary hold over from prehistoric hunter days, or not (I take a dim view of anthropology, personally). But the practical fact is, well adjusted men can take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. That's apparently what you want to do.

My suggestion is to get into some competitive sports or martial arts, where you can trade pops with other guys on an equal, legal, and positive basis. I've seen remarkably fast and positive emotional growth in several young men to whom I've recommended this.
posted by paulsc at 11:30 AM on June 28, 2006

While I don't have anything useful I can add, I just wanted to let you know that I could have posted this exact question myself this week. You're definitely not alone. It's a pretty frustrating issue.
posted by ZackTM at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2006

Same here.
posted by JakeLL at 11:58 AM on June 28, 2006

But to throw a difference in there for me, it just feels like she takes things out on me when she's in a bad mood... or I'm just in denial about being sensetive to her moods.
posted by JakeLL at 12:00 PM on June 28, 2006

You might want to dig up your personality type from the Meyers-Briggs stuff and see which niche you fit into. I have found that remarkably helpful as a "sensitive" guy over the past 12 years or so of using it to sort out why I inexplicably react in certain ways that seem out of my own control.
posted by smallerdemon at 12:01 PM on June 28, 2006

I think there's a difference between a girlfriend who makes her bad moods your problem, and a boyfriend who makes a girlfriend's bad mood all about him.
posted by occhiblu at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2006

it just feels like she takes things out on me when she's in a bad mood
Well, duh! That's what people do. It's called sharing the pain.

Why do you believe your feelings are the most important thing in all the world? Have you never let your brain decide something that overruled your emotions? That's what adult civilization used to be build upon, btw, but we've become so feeling-dependent that many people find it difficult to do hard things.

Like allowing other people to have moods that have nothing to do with us. Imagine that!
posted by trinity8-director at 12:13 PM on June 28, 2006

Question the advice of anyone who makes this all about you or all about her. Being people, your relationship is too complex to describe in AskMe and it's unlikely one or the other of you is 100% to blame.

You're sensitive, and sound like you have some needyness (Well, I guess if she is in a bad mood, I may want a little affection to let me know she isn't pissed off at me) which would get under my skin, personally. She sounds like she sometimes lashes back when you're a bit under her skin (saying something to you that upsets you, then saying you're too sensitive).

First and foremost, if you're not BOTH willing to make an effort to come to a common ground where you're both happy, you have a problem. Be willing to change/adapt/tolerate and don't be afraid to ask the same of her. It's a RELATIONSHIP, it goes both ways... or should.

For yourself, you need to be mindful of when you do these things, particularly (IMNSHO) when she's in a bad mood. People have a right to have feelings and be upset or pissy - life is hard enough to cope with without having to completely cover up how you're feeling at any particular moment just to placate someone else's desires.

You see how that relates to her obligations? She doesn't have a right to just hurt you, even if you're a little quick on the draw to be hurt.

When she's upset and you're worried it's you, simply ask. Then take her at her word. She owes it to you to be honest, you owe it to her to believe her. When she does something that hurts your feelings, simply say so. If she continues with writing it off that you're "too sensitive," tell her that even if that's the case, it still hurt your feelings.

My girl hates mushrooms. I think that's a sign of seriously poor taste, but I alter what I cook to accommodate her insanity in this area. I won't always - sometimes I'm cooking for other people and the dish revolves around mushrooms - but in most cases it's not a big sacrifice to make her happier by confining my mycology to when she's not around. Don't be afraid to ask you girlfriend why she can't make a small sacrifice to make YOU happier, so long as you're returning the favor in other ways.
posted by phearlez at 12:28 PM on June 28, 2006

"it just feels like she takes things out on me when she's in a bad mood"

Well, duh! That's what people do. It's called sharing the pain.

I call complete bullshit on that, by the way. Commiserating or seeking support are sharing the pain and occasionally being human and losing your tempter and being snappy are a reality. Consistently taking things out on others when you're in a bad mood is called "being a jerk."

Never be afraid to ask someone to treat you with courtesy.
posted by phearlez at 12:31 PM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Question the advice of anyone who makes this all about you or all about her.

I thin phearlez has great advice, but I do take issue with this. You're the one asking the question, you're the only one we can talk to, your behavior is the only one you can change (though you can certainly ask her to change hers). Many of us are making our answers "all about you" because you're the one we're talking to. I'm sure if your girlfriend had asked for advice about the situation instead of you, we'd make it all about her.
posted by occhiblu at 12:40 PM on June 28, 2006

I, along with a few others I see, feel your pain. I admit and know it's very narcissistic and in a perfect world, the solution is indeed incredibly easy by not letting the world revolve around myself.
Of course it isn't that easy and while I've learned to mitigate the effects of being "over-sensitive" or whatever you want to call it, I think it is important to note you're not going to eliminate the ill consequences over-night, if at all. I like ewkpate's approach, though it still doesn't solve the anxiety-driven side effects such emotions can cause.
Anywho, a few things I've found that work for me:
- Keeping busy. I'm sure there's a quote out there about idle minds...well, don't allow your mind to remain in idle. I find that it's in the down-times where I allow myself to dwell on those I care for and draw out (incorrect) conclusions causing anxiety, insecurity, and other ill effects. By always being on the go, I don't allow myself to think which can be a good time.
- While I try not to allow myself too much time to dwell on things, I try to bring issues up with my SO. Over the years, I've found nothing more frustrating than knowing something is wrong with my SO- so I've tried to stop doing the same and just state what's going on.
By the same token, I expect (and state it clearly when we first dating) her to be blunt honest with me. For example, when she she's pissed off I assume it is because of something I did. Unfortunately, just telling myself just doesn't cut it. Consequently, I let her know early on to inform me when she's pissed off that it is my fault to make things clear. I try to let her know early on in the relationship because when she is in a bad mood and needs me, the last thing I should be doing is wondering the pissiness is aimed at me. If I wait untill she is pissed at something else and then turn it into being about me, then that's where the lady because irritated at my sensitivity.
- Have someone to vent to outside of the relationship for some context. Some issues b/w SO's just don't go over well. In times like this, I find it helps my mental stability to have someone I can blow off steam to. I actually prefer if they're great listeners versus spewing out advice. I just want to bitch sometimes, damnit.
posted by jmd82 at 12:49 PM on June 28, 2006

Two key points resonated with me:
I am usually very sensitive to the moods of my significant others, to the point that if they are in a bad mood, I also get in a bad mood. and
if she is in a bad mood, I may want a little affection to let me know she isn't pissed off at me

My husband is like this and it can be quite irritating. From my POV, it means that whatever is bothering isn't as important as how he's feeling. Also, this conversation gets old quick:

"Are you mad at me?"
"No, just in a bad mood."
"Did I do something."
"No, work just sucks."
"Are you mad at me?"
"AARRRGHHHH!!! Not everything revolves around you!!"

Behavior is a habit that can change. Now I usually say immediately what I'm mad about (e.g., not him); and he doesn't keep asking ad nauseum.

BTW, we've been together for 10 years now. Relationships are a process.
posted by sfkiddo at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2006

ewkpates said: Please ignore hapless assclowns that tell you to a) change; and/or b) see a therapist.

Well see, I'm not the one to advise someone to go to a therapist for every little headache in life but when someone has a persistent problem that they acknowledge and that is debilitating enough to keep them from any normal relationship then that person needs outside help. I'm not saying he needs to get medicated. Professional therapists can help people to put some order in their lives and help to resolve the issues which can strangle them.

I know people with severe emotional swings and it is frightening. These people have a hard time seeing how bad their condition really is, so handling it on their own accomplishes nothing. At least a therapist can make a better diagnosis than some random ewkpates on the internet.
posted by JJ86 at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2006

It would be interesting to see a show of hands of long-term relationships (more than five years) from those giving advice. ;)

Honestly, every person is different, including yourself and your SO. You can learn to communicate just fine. Loving each other won't be enough if you don't figure out some agreed upon way to communicate thoughts and emotional states. You want to get to the point where you also like each other enough to hang out and just do things together.

As said, my wife and I used the Meyers-Briggs types as a starting point for our radically different perosonality types, which despite of we can get along and have been doing so for nearly 14 years now. Not that every interaction and communication is ideal. There's always some days that nobody wants to be involved with either one of us or the two of us together, but for the most part, she's my best friend in the world and she's a damn good sport to accept the fact that I am a bit of a moody weirdo sometimes, as I am with her... stuff. :)
posted by smallerdemon at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2006

I think a lot of people confuse the concepts of sensitivity and awareness. I have never met a woman who considers emotional sensitivity an asset. However, emotional awareness is valued by both men and women. In short, when women say sensitive in a positive light they are referring to awareness. When they say sensitive in a negative light they mean impacted in a negative emotional way by others, something which doesn't necessarily involve awareness.

I don't know how helpful that comment is to you but when you speak with your girlfriend in the future you should be aware of the distinction.
posted by 517 at 3:19 PM on June 28, 2006

"...But to throw a difference in there for me, it just feels like she takes things out on me when she's in a bad mood... or I'm just in denial about being sensetive to her moods.

It's all about you, isn't it.
posted by 517 at 3:29 PM on June 28, 2006

If I were in a bad mood, I would NOT want to be forced to show affection just to soothe your overinflated ego. This is the definition of needy, letting her do what she wants when she's in a good mood and WOULDN'T be bothered is irrelevant.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:25 PM on June 28, 2006

Man, you people are really kind of bitchy.

I was going to post this same question, and I've been married for twelve years. 80 percent of the advice upstairs seems worthless, condescending, or just misinformed. The question is, which 80 percent?

One approach towards more emotional resiliency is offered by cognitive-behavorial therapy, as outlined in the highly-recommended Feeling Good.

I saw a cog-b therapist, actually a grad school counselor, briefly, and it helped me unwind some of my irrational, escalating fears I built up around my spouse. It's not a silver bullet, however.
posted by mecran01 at 8:53 PM on June 28, 2006

I'm a little late to the discussion, but I'm curious why nobody has suggested that you find a new girlfriend. Some people bring out the best in you, some the worse. It seems all the solutions provided imply some sort of implosion, where you're constantly eroding your personality.

A pattern with a lot of the solutions above is that "it's all in your head." What if it's not. What if the problem is in your choices.
posted by philosophistry at 7:35 AM on August 28, 2006

Ugh, I'm in a similar boat. My sensitivity is definitely related to anxiety. The best thing for me is keeping busy, but I still end up working myself up into a nervous wreck on a regular basis. For that, I rely on my friends who are good listeners.
posted by mintchip at 10:12 PM on December 5, 2006

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