All of us feel sensitive about something. We all have our soft spots and our “no-go” topics, but to the hypersensitive among us, a gentle poke can feel more like a stab in the heart. Instead of being able to shake off certain comments, we focus on them, internalize them and begin to question ourselves.
Learning to “toughen up” by taking things less personally can benefit both ourselves and others. We can protect ourselves from pain, feel less self-doubt and we can stop reacting to hurtful comments with defensiveness and anger, which often leads to relationship conflict making it harder to work or live together. And for those in positions of power, hypersensitivity can cause us to shut people out or to be over controlling stunting our team’s moral, growth and performance.
So how can we toughen up without becoming hard-hearted?
Tip 1: Create space between you and your reactions:
When we feel criticized, our initial response is to react. The result is usually not a good one. Instead of following that knee-jerk reaction, try to pause and take a few deep breaths. This is known as the “mindful pause” and it allows your systems to calm down. In your calmer state, you can then reflect on what was said and choose how you want to respond vs. simply reacting (and then regretting it later).
Tip 2: Consider the source:
Does the critique in question come from someone who knows you well and is a person who you like and respect? Or does it come from someone who doesn’t know you, has zero regard for others and has a tendency to shoot their mouth off regularly?
Considering the source can help you decide whether to take their feedback to heart or with a grain of salt.
Tip 3: Challenge your perfectionism:
There is a straight line between hypersensitivity and perfectionism. Many of us react so strongly to criticism because we’ve worked so hard to be faultless or good enough (precisely so no one will criticize us). When we get negative feedback, it turns all that hard work into dust.
One way to challenge perfectionism is to get better at receiving criticism. Another, even more challenging way, is to accept the cracks and the imperfections. Slowly realizing that you are enough just as you are takes time and work, but simply acknowledging your triggers can be a powerful first step.
Any critique that brings forth old hurts (reminders of being bullied in school or pigeonholed by your parents for example) cuts extra deep, but just being aware that something is a hot button issue for you is the first step to owning it, and eventually healing it.
Tip 4: Give critics another chance, but not unlimited chances:
People are human – we make mistakes, we say dumb things and we can be awkward. But if you’re criticized or insulted by the same person repeatedly, that’s not a mistake, that’s a pattern. It does not mean that you need to end the relationship, which may be especially hard to do if the repeat offender is a relative or a co-worker, but it does mean that it’s time to speak up, set some boundaries and limit contact if necessary.
Tip 5: Know Your Worth:
We are our own biggest critics. The more confidence we have in ourselves, the less likely we are to feel crushed by someone’s criticism. Developing confidence can be a slow and arduous process but it might be helpful to remember that our brains are wired to focus on the negative and often we’re much harder on ourselves than we deserve. To start building confidence, focus on your accomplishments and the things that you do well and try to say one kind thing to yourself everyday. Have conversations with people who like and respect you and let them remind you of how awesome you are. Hold on to those feelings. Understanding your own value is your best defense when someone makes you feel small.
As always, be kind to yourselves and remember, we are all works in progress!