Inner Work With MaryAnn Walker

Navigating Emotion as a Highly Sensitive Person

February 08, 2024 MaryAnn Walker Episode 81
Inner Work With MaryAnn Walker
Navigating Emotion as a Highly Sensitive Person
Show Notes Transcript

Are you someone who is highly sensitive to the emotions? Maybe you're highly sensitive when it comes to reading others microexpressions, tone, and body language. If so, it's highly likely that sometimes you struggle with not only others emotions, but your own emotions around others having feelings.

If you are highly sensitive to the emotional state of others, it can be really easy to assume that YOU are the ones responsible for the upset. But this isn't always the case.

Before over-owning your contribution to a situation and getting caught up in your own worry loop, slow it down and gather more information.

For example, rather than assuming that someone is upset with you, ask how they are doing:

"You're more quiet than usual. Are you doing ok?"
"You seem upset. How are you?"
"What's up?"

Asking questions helps to bring more clarity to the situation while also providing an opportunity for both parties to own and process their own emotions.

Second, learn now to manage your own emotions.

Highly sensitive people want to feel good which often times means making sure everyone around them feels good, too.  This means doing whatever they can do to placate others.

The thing is, when we invest our energy into placating and managing others emotions, we are not managing our own emotions.

And while we can influence how others feel, we can't control their emotions.

Learning to feel and process our own emotions AND allowing others the opportunity to learn how to feel and process their emotions is a sign of emotional maturity.

Remember, trying to manage others' emotions denies them the chance to learn and grow. Embrace uncertainty, let go of control, and practice open communication.

Want to learn more? Come and listen to this weeks podcast episode! If you find this helpful, share it with a friend or leave a review.

Click here to find me on my other platforms or apply to work with me!

Built-in Microphone:

Well, hello and welcome back. So I thought I would tell you a little story before we get started because this just happened right before recording and I am kind of busting up. So I got a message from somebody on my Instagram and they said, Hey, can I offer you some, some feedback on your Instagram page? And of course, whenever that happens, then I know, okay, they're either really opinionated or they're trying to sell me something, right? So I went over to look at their page. You guys, I was busting up because they had. Five posts. I think that they were following, like, 21 people, and they had 55 people following them, And here's the kicker you guys, they're not even following my page. They aren't even following my page and then they wanted to send me a message. to give me feedback on the content that I'm putting out there. And I was just busting up. I thought that was the funniest thing ever. So I want you to know that everybody on the planet is going to have their opinion about how it is that you're showing up in the world. And the truth is your opinion is the only one that matters. So anyway, I just thought that was hilarious and I had to share. So today we're going to be talking a bit about how to manage emotions. Now people who are more sensitive or empathetic than other peoples, they oftentimes are more aware of other people's emotional states. They are very good at reading tone, microexpressions, and body language, and while they might be accurate in what another person is feeling, oftentimes they actually misattribute the reason why that person is feeling the way that they are feeling. More often than not, then they're making it about themselves. And when this happens, they often can appear needy or insecure. So a classic example of this was making the rounds on social media a few years back, but it was an image of a husband and wife and they were sitting together on the couch, and they were kind of on opposite ends, and the husband looks at It's deep in thought and the wife is looking over and I'm wondering what's going on. And I can't remember exactly what was in their thought bubbles, but here's the gist of it. So the wife's thought bubble said something like, I wonder what's wrong. Well, I did make a comment on the weather and he just gave me an uh huh. And then he just started staring off into space again. He must be so upset. Is he mad that I talked to my mother? Maybe I didn't express as much joy as I should about his promotion. I just don't know what to do. He's probably going to leave me. And all of these thoughts just go on and on and on in her head. And then you see what's happening in the husband's thought bubble and in the husband's thought bubble, it says. Motorcycle won't start. Not sure what's wrong. So yes, she was right in the fact that he was actually upset about something and his mind was elsewhere. But she over identified as the problem rather than asking him for clarity. Now highly sensitive people, they oftentimes pride themselves on being very good at reading people and sometimes they are spot on and other times They're completely off. So first let's kind of play out this motorcycle scenario with the husband and wife. So let's say that the wife continues to believe her story, that she must have done something wrong, and she also continues to remain silent. And she's assuming what's wrong rather than actually asking him. So soon her insecurity starts to show, right? She's trying to play it cool, but after a while she's telling herself the story so frequently that she starts to believe it. She starts to get anxious and then her insecurity starts to show. So it starts out by being hyper vigilant. She's cleaning the house top to bottom. She's making his favorite food for dinner and then she even tries to cuddle up to him and then she starts to cry and she might even look at him and say, why are you so upset with me? And then he might feel totally. blindsided. He wasn't even thinking about her in that moment. He's thinking about the motorcycle, right? So he might say, wait, what, what is happening? We're fine. I love you. What is going on? And now he's more than likely trying to help to manage her emotions. And rather than actually talking about the original problem, the motorcycle, then now they're in a big fight essentially about the story that was happening in her head and why he wasn't talking to her and why he's so distant you know, the list just keeps going on and it's all because she has that story in her head of insecurity and she's made up this story around why he's distracted and why he's not fully present with her. Now, what I want you to recognize in this example is that essentially, She was trying to manage his emotions for him. She can see he's upset. So she's trying to manage his emotions by cooking and cleaning and cuddling. But really this all became a mess because she was actually unable to manage her own emotions. She got sucked into the story in her head rather than regulating these emotions. And then she began to Spew all of the emotions that she was having around the story in her head, all over her unsuspecting husband, and it kind of created a big mess. Right. Okay, so let's play around with a few more examples. So let's say that you're at a family gathering and you notice your sister Mary sitting alone and a little bit distant. So as somebody who's really quite tuned into emotions, you immediately pick up on her discomfort and you start thinking, Oh no, did I do something to upset her? Maybe she's mad because I didn't compliment her dress earlier. Did I unintentionally ignore her? Now in reality, Mary might just be lost in thought about a work project, but here you are crafting an entire drama in your head about your assumed role In her mood. And soon you find yourself tiptoeing around her offering snacks and desperately trying to lift the mysterious cloud that might not even exist. Okay, here's another example. Now let's imagine that you were at a social gathering with your friend Alex and he seems to be pretty quiet. So your sensitivity radar goes off and then you start weaving the story in your head. Did I say something offensive? Maybe I should have invited him to the event last weekend. Does he regret being friends with me? So meanwhile, Alex is simply having a low energy day. And then your assumptions about the friendship, they start creeping into your behavior. So then you're becoming overly accommodating, apologizing for these imagined offenses, and inadvertently turning a casual hangout into a highly emotional Ordeal. sometimes lead us down a rabbit hole of overthinking and misinterpreting situations, ultimately creating unnecessary drama and stress, and actually adding even more emotional weight to the very person whose weight we are trying to alleviate. It is so easy to just assume what's going on for people. And the majority of us are not psychic.

Built-in Microphone-1:

So why do you do this internal story writing? There are a few reasons.

Built-in Microphone-2:

It might be due to childhood conditioning, for example, maybe you had to become super sensitive to other people's emotions while growing up in order to help keep yourself safe.

Built-in Microphone:

Maybe you're conflict avoidant. So this is the belief that any conflict is bad. So essentially it's a fear of conflict and then a lack of trust in actually finding a solution. It might also be because of social conditioning. So society really reinforces the importance of being considerate and caring for others. But many people really struggle to actually communicate what is going on for them. And it might also just be a lack of emotional self awareness. And today we're going to focus mostly on this last one. The lack of emotional self awareness. Because when we're hypersensitive to others, then often this is because we don't know how to manage and navigate our own emotions. This means that we must do all in our power to make sure that everyone else is happy because we don't know how to manage it within ourselves if someone isn't happy. Now there are lots of tools that can help with this, but today we're going to practice just three. Okay, self awareness, curiosity, and communication. And yes, this does sound super duper simple and it's surprising though that even though it sounds really simple, that this can really be challenging for some people. So first let's talk about this self awareness. So this means that when you find yourself feeling insecure and caught up in this worry loop around what you might have done wrong or what you need to do to make it right, Call it out. Actually acknowledge what it is that you are feeling and it can be really helpful and beneficial to actually name the emotions. So in this case, oh, I'm experiencing insecurity and worry. And then get really curious about why you are feeling that way. So if you're thinking, I'm worried that they're mad at me. I'm insecure because they are quiet. Or I'm anxious because I haven't heard from them in a while. Then notice that you are choosing to make other people responsible for your feelings. And in the above examples, then their actions actually have nothing to do with you. Now when we're stuck in the thought that I'm feeling this way because of them, we are not actually taking ownership of our emotions and our thoughts that are creating those emotions. So try reframing those thoughts to be about you and your thoughts about the situation. Not what they are or are not doing, but what you are making it mean. So for example, I'm feeling insecure in our marriage because I'm thinking my husband doesn't love me anymore. That opens up space to correct the story, right? Or maybe you think the thought, you know, I'm feeling anxious. So again, you're naming the emotion and then getting curious about why. I'm feeling anxious because I'm thinking that my sister doesn't want to talk to me. Or, I'm feeling worried because I'm thinking that Alex doesn't want to be my friend anymore. Now, it's a really subtle difference, but it can make a huge difference to just acknowledge that this is my thought, this is what I'm thinking, this is my story. Because guess what? Stories can be rewritten. So then once you've identified both your feeling and why you're experiencing that feeling, then ask yourself, okay, is my reason why I'm feeling this, is this a fact? Or is this a thought? Your brain is going to tell you that it is a fact. It's going to tell you that, yes, you're thinking it and you're 100 percent right. But really, a lot of these things are just thoughts. You don't actually know what's going on with them. You've just made some really big assumptions. And those really big assumptions can really get in the way of connecting and meeting each other where we're actually at. And this is where the curiosity comes in. Get really curious about what is actually going on for the other person. Stop making it about you. I know that you might not think that you are making it about you, because it really goes against the intention of your heart, right? You're hypersensitive to other people. You're just noticing who might be in need of a friend or in need of support. You want to love and serve others, and you want them to be happy. And that's awesome. But, if you aren't managing your own emotions, it's going to make it significantly more likely that you're actually going to be making it about you. So notice if you're feeling insecure, and then separate out the facts from your story. about the facts. Acknowledge that you don't actually know what is going on for them, and then ask them. Hey, you've been pretty quiet lately. Are you doing okay? You can ask about it proactively before you get stuck in your thought loop and make it about you, right? So this gives you an opportunity to find out what's going on and it gives them an opportunity to express their own emotions. Now the truth is that when we try to manage other people's emotions for them, then they're not learning how to do it themselves. So now not only are we avoiding managing our own emotions around the story in our head, but now we are also denying the other person the opportunity to learn how to manage and navigate their emotions as well. So ask them and then learn to trust their words. So if they tell you nothing is wrong, Believe them. And if they tell you that they're just tired, believe them. If they tell you that, you know, I'm experiencing a little bit of pain, my back hurts, believe them. Stop telling yourself stories. And sure, what they tell you may or may not be true, but that is not your responsibility. That is their story. They can choose to tell you the truth or not, but we are not supposed to be mind readers, right? We need to give them the opportunity to share their truth. We can trust it and then let everyone learn how to navigate their own emotions on their own. Now, highly sensitive people are very good storytellers and their stories, they're not always accurate. We want to believe our stories because for some reason, even when the story isn't a helpful one, it still makes us feel like we have some level of control over the situation, but it's still just a story. So admit that you don't know what's going on. And just ask. It is essential to recognize the pitfalls that can come with being highly sensitive and empathetic. So while we pride ourselves on understanding other people's emotions, there is a tendency to misattribute the reasons behind their feelings, and that oftentimes means making it about us and our feelings about what we think their feelings might be. And this can lead to appearing needy or insecure in relationship as we really dive into these elaborate narratives that might not even align with reality, it can really muddy up the relationship. So again, let's use the example of the husband and wife where the husband is thinking about his motorcycle and the wife is creating a story about her. She assumed that his silence was something about her and it turned into this cascade of emotional turmoil. The motorcycle was the actual issue, but she had over identified as the problem and that really seemed to create chaos in their relationship. By improving our personal levels of self awareness, curiosity, and communication, we can create the peace that we are seeking in a relationship. So acknowledge your emotions when you're feeling insecure or worried. Name them. Get curious about why you're feeling that way. Reframe your thoughts a little bit to be more about your interpretation. of events, rather than assuming that your interpretations are true. Distinguish the facts from your story about the facts, and most importantly, just ask questions. Curiosity becomes a really powerful tool to help to shift that focus when we find ourselves stuck in those internal negative thought loops. So remember when we try to manage other people's emotions for them, we are actually denying them a chance to learn and grow. So practice asking, practice trusting their words, and admit when you don't know what's going on. It's okay to not have all of the answers, it's part of being human. So embrace the uncertainty, and you might find that the stories that we tell ourselves, they're just not always accurate. So let go of the need for control, and allow the truth to unfold through open and honest communication. And as always, if you would like more help and support learning how to self regulate your emotions, and how to become a little bit more self aware of these self created stories that are in our heads, come and work with me. I would love to work with you. And hey, if you have found this helpful, will you please share it with a friend or leave me a review? It really does help me to reach more people. So thank you so much for being here, and I hope you have a great week. All right, bye now.