Dear Rachel,

I have always been a very sensitive person. When I was younger, I used to think it was an excellent quality, as I thought that it kept me in tune with others. But as I get older, I find that I am getting more self-centered. I think that everyone should be as in tune with my feelings as I think I am with theirs. And, as painful as this is to write, I am not really in tune with others, because all I see is how their behavior affects me, rather than what they may be going through. I find myself constantly getting hurt by others, and then refusing to talk to these people based on my perception of how they slighted me. How can I stop this cycle? My best friend sat me down the other day and pointed this out to me. I was so upset, I almost stopped talking to her! But then I realized I needed to do something. Can you help me?

Too Sensitive

Dear Too Sensitive,

First and most importantly, I want to commend you on the courage it must have taken to write this letter. Making life changes, Kudos for your self-awareness and willingness to changeespecially ones like you describe, is huge. So, kudos for your self-awareness and willingness to change.

I hear you saying that have a middah of sensitivity which you always thought was commendable, and now you realize that it is not as beneficial as you thought. While I agree that your sensitivity may be isolating you from those around you, being sensitive is an excellent character trait that more people should be trying to develop.

So, rather than trying to eradicate your middah of sensitivity (which may not be possible), focus on how you can modify this aspect of your character.

Take a step back and try to identify how being sensitive is good for you and those around you. Does this sensitivity help you remember to call a friend who may be depressed? Does it propel you to make a meal for a new mother in your neighborhood? These are two wonderful examples of how sensitivity can help you be in touch with others.

But you said that you are too sensitive. What does that mean? Take the time to identify where this middah “goes wrong.” For example, if you make that meal, is it because you just want the thanks, or do you really want to help someone? If it’s the former, then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment (new mothers may not remember to say thank you, etc.). If it’s the latter, then practice appreciating yourself for what you do, and learn to be satisfied with that. I know this may sound painful, but, ultimately, you need to rely on your own positive feedback. As you have noticed, once you search outside for approval or appreciation, the trouble Ultimately, you need to rely on your own positive feedbackbegins. While it feels good to get approval and appreciation from other people, you must have your own inner source of self-worth.

Here’s another exercise to try: Consider where other people are coming from. They, too, have their feelings, hopes and disappointments. When you take the time to look at a situation from another’s perspective, you will begin to find that while your feelings are important, other people’s feelings matter too. Then you will truly be a sensitive person.

You may need to engage the help of a competent therapist to help you figure out where this extreme sensitivity comes from, and how you can temper it to help you lead your life in the most fulfilling way possible.

I wish you the best of luck on your journey.