Sensitive much? How to not take things so personally.

Sensitive? Feel like you take things wayyyyy too personally? Welcome to my world. I’ve spent much of my life feeling like there was something wrong with me because I am so sensitive and tend to take things too personally. Maybe you can relate.

girl sitting in the back of an SUV

Here’s what I’ve learned: Being sensitive doesn’t mean there is anything “wrong with me”. And if you can relate, it doesn’t mean there is anything “wrong with you” either. (Plus, how absurd is it that we are so quick to judge ourselves so harshly like that?!)

Some of us are simply more sensitive, and that’s okay.

Whether you’re just wired that way and always have been, or became that way through conditioning or trauma, it’s okay. In fact, I would argue that for most of us, it’s actually a gift. IF we are willing to accept and embrace it. (And that can be tricky, at first.)

Once we stop resisting this part of ourselves – the tender, sensitive part – we can learn to actually harness it as a powerful aspect of our identify.

Let me explain what I mean. Most of my clients, many of my friends and colleagues, and I identify as some or all of the following: introverts, empaths, HSPs (highly sensitive person), intuitives, or healers of various kinds. When we compare ourselves to the mainstream “ideals” that have been presented to us culturally about what success looks like (in the Western world), it’s not surprising that we have been taught to judge ourselves as weak, overly sensitive, or high maintenance.

We’ve been told to “get over it” and “not take it so personally” all our lives.

Instead of cultivating our gifts, we’ve ignored them and tried to mold ourselves into something else. Something more acceptable and comfortable to the rest of society. And guess what? It doesn’t work!

If anything, it shames us into playing small, attempting to atone for our apparent lack of value, and judging ourselves incessantly. NOT HELPFUL. Not only is it painful for us, but more importantly, it robs the world of our legacy, because we’re too busy trying to change who we are, rather than focusing on our unique gifts and the potential impact.

one person holding their hand out to another; the second is resisting

Luckily, I think modern mainstream culture is finally starting to catch on to the fact that some of us are different in this way and that it’s perfectly okay. We’re being heard (literally and figuratively) more in boardrooms. We’re being put in leadership positions. We’re starting to have a seat at the table (assuming that those who naturally dominate the conversation have learned how to listen and invite us in).

Ironically, this is nothing new. Rather, it seems to me more like the modern world is re-learning some ancient and universal truths again. Thankfully.

This is all great news. But in the meantime, daily life as an empath or HSP can be hard. We absorb the energy of everyone and everything around us. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. We feel everything. Deeply. It can be exhausting if we haven’t learned how to manage our own energy and the energy coming at us and moving through us.

But it doesn’t have to be. The more we learn about how to accept, embrace, and navigate these parts of ourselves the more we can not just survive, but thrive, in an extrovert’s world, in a still pre-dominantly patriarchal paradigm that values other things.

Young girl looking intensely into the camera.

Once we learn to be okay with who and how we are and figure out effective ways to navigate the outer world, that’s when the fun starts. From there, we can learn to harness our gifts. To not only not take things personally, but to use our highly tuned sensitivities to connect deeply with people (which the world desperately needs) and to heal and transform others. It’s bananas.

So, this one is for the introverts, the empaths, and the HSPs. Here are a few of the tips and tools I’ve gathered over the years that have helped me and my clients.

Here’s how to not take things so personally and to, instead, own who you are – ALL OF YOU – and to do what only YOU can do with the unique gifts that you have.

Because you are not only good enough, you are important and crucial to the world, and especially to what the world needs right now.

Breathe
It’s amazing how many of the things we get worked up about can melt away and become insignificant if we would just remember to breathe. Just pause and take a big ass breathe before you do anything else. It will help, I promise.

Slow down
Slow down and make space. Like, seriously slow down. Build time into your schedule to do things slowly and deliberately, so that you have space to charge your battery before being social, time to decompress after, and permission to process external circumstances and experiences at your own pace (which may be more slowly than other people).

It’s about them not you
Remind yourself that what other people think, say, and do (especially when it’s directed at you or is about you) is actually about them! I know it’s counterintuitive, but it’s true. Whether what they say or think about you is true or not, they are seeing it through their own filter – through their own life’s worth of experiences, fears, insecurities, failures, wisdom, prejudices etc. Much of the time they will actually be projecting their own fears and judgments onto you. Let them have their opinion. For the advanced people: Acknowledge it even! Validate them in their right to believe what they believe. When you remember that you can have compassion for them and respect their journey. And remember that it’s not about you at all.

Stop making assumptions; instead, ask for clarification
In my experience, much of the time when I take things personally, I am actually making assumptions about what the other person is thinking. Let’s say for example, maybe they said something relatively innocuous, but I felt that their tone was condescending, so I assume that they are judging me and consequently feel bad. One of the easiest ways to avoid that whole situation is to simply ask what they meant. You might even be able to have a laugh with them about how silly your negative assumption was, once you hear that the intention was harmless.

Know your triggers
The more you become aware of your own triggers and insecurities, the more you can catch yourself in the act of being triggered because you’ll recognize the pattern. Instead of going into an unconscious knee-jerk response every time, you can develop a conscious ritual for handling those situations instead. Come up with strategies ahead of time for how you ideally would like to respond in the face of one of your triggers and make it a point to practice doing that instead.

Focus on your purpose
When you are tempted to let the words or behaviors of others bring you down, come back home to your WHY. Meditate or just think about what’s most meaningful to you, what you’re all about, what you’re here to do, and then notice how much bigger and more important that is than whatever that person was causing you to feel.

Two people laying on the grass with backpacks, looking at a map

Those are just a handful of my favorite tips and tricks. Choose one or two that resonate for you and practice. Be gentle with yourself because un-training our brain out of our unhelpful tendencies, like taking things personally, takes just as much time (if not more) than training our brains to adopt more helpful ones. Be committed, be patient, and just keep going.

The more you’re able to let go of the HUGE waste of time and energy that we sensitive types like to spend on taking things personally, the more you’ll have to invest in what truly matters to you.

Relationship hack: An easier way to keep in touch

Can you think of a relationship you struggle to maintain? I mean just staying in regular contact with the people you love? I know I do.

Stack of old letters: how we used to maintain a relationship from afar

Whether it’s living too far away from extended family and old friends, being too busy with work and other obligations, or simply not having the energy by the end of the day, we have plenty of compelling excuses for letting our most important relationships fade away.

Sure, most of us loosely follow each other on social media these days but, let’s be honest, looking at and liking someone’s vacation pictures is NOT the same as actually having a conversation with them.

Most people I know would love to have better contact with certain people in their lives. And yet how many of us actually make an effort to change it? This has been on my mind recently because, personally, I’m pretty terrible at keeping in touch with people. The most poignant example of this is my contact with my dad.

He lives in Sweden and while we have a great relationship and I try to go visit when I can, neither one of us is very good at initiating contact or doing so regularly. I hated that sometimes months would go by without us talking.

So I decided to finally do something about it! 

I used one of my favorite time management hacks, which is putting things on a calendar instead of (or in addition to) a to do list, as a way of truly committing to and prioritizing them.

This is something I recommend to clients all the time. And I realized it’s also a powerful strategy when it comes to deepening relationships. Here’s what you do:

Simply add a regular recurring event to your calendar as a standing date with the person you’d like to reestablish or deepen your relationship with. That’s it! 

A couple of months ago I suggested to my dad that we schedule a weekly phone call. We found a time that would work most weeks, despite the 9 hour time difference, and now every Monday I get to start not just my day but my week with a 30 minute phone call with my dad to go with my morning coffee. I get off the phone feeling so happy (and tender) after our conversations and it’s very comforting to know it’s a weekly thing.

Jars of coffee beans, because sharing coffee together is one of the sacred ways we bond and deepen a relationship

Whether we are simply catching up and sharing our plans for the coming week or laughing together and telling stories, or going deep and philosophizing about the world and life, it’s been incredibly meaningful for us to have that regular check in, since we historically haven’t. It’s been working so well that I even set up a similar but in person version of the same thing with my sister!

Now, it’s your turn. Is there someone in your life you’ve been wishing you could have more frequent contact with? Get them on your calendar!

Make it a monthly or weekly thing. Whether it’s a get together, a Skype date, a phone call, or even just a text check-in, committing to the regular practice, just like you would with any other practice (e.g. a morning ritual), removes so many of the challenges – the mental challenge of remembering to reach out, the scheduling challenge of finding a time that works, and the emotional challenge of feeling guilty that you’re not maintaining that relationship. Try it and let me know how it goes 🙂

Just keep showing up

“Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.”

The trainer who repeated those words over and over during a boxing class I was in several years ago probably has no idea how much he helped me that day. He helped me not just get through a grueling workout, but planted the seeds that would start blossoming into the increasingly unshakeable sense of perseverance I have today.

If you care deeply enough about something to want to get good at it, to succeed, and to have an impact, you’ve GOT to keep showing up. Over and over again. Even when it gets hard, or boring, or terrifying, or uncomfortable.

Sidenote: Just to be clear, this only applies to things that are important to you! Please don’t continue to tolerate something that is harmful or makes you miserable just for the sake of being persistent! 

As far as I’m concerned, your ability to persevere in the pursuit of your dreams far outweighs all other factors when it comes to creating an extraordinary life you love. The good news is that it can be learned, so if you haven’t already, make it a priority to get better! Here are some tips to get you started.

Be clear on the purpose
Be honest about why you’re pursuing something in the first place. Is it because you think you should or because you genuinely want to? Go for the plans and projects that are rooted in your values and light you up. It’s much easier to stay committed to something if you have a strong WHY to come back to when it gets hard.

Commit
Decide that this is important enough to put in the work. It will be hard. You will fail. Accept that from the get go as part of the process and commit to seeing it through. Make it non-negotiable. Declare your commitment to yourself, the universe, and your people (preferably the supportive ones who will cheer you on.)

Skateboarder at skatepark about to go

Confront your fears
Fear is a great indication that there is something important in front of you. It’s also a ridiculous source of energy. Feel the fear, then take action, even though you’re scared. Tap into the physical energy coursing through your body and channel it into the bravery you need to take that first step. If you let it, fear might even become your greatest ally, instead of your worst enemy.

Keep showing up
Get out there. Some days you’ll be excited, progress will happen quickly, and you’ll feel unstoppable! Other days will seriously suck. Just keep showing up. Day after day. It may feel awkward, uncomfortable, or embarrassing. You might want to give up. Don’t. Just come back. Over and over again. Remember it takes consistency to see results.

Skateboarder at skatepark

Embrace failure
Know that failure is simply part of the process. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s SO not helpful. Instead, pause and lick your wounds for a bit if you need to. Then take a deep breath, pick your ass up off the ground, dust yourself off, and climb back on the damn horse. It’s all about learning. Or as a yoga teacher of mine once said, “when you fall out of a pose, that just means you’re learning how not to fall out of that pose.”

Fall down seven times. Stand up eight. ~ Japanese proverb

One of my favorite frameworks to use when it comes to learning new skills is the conscious competence ladder, which this article explains in more detail. The middle phases are bumpy and that’s okay. You’re allowed to suck before you rock.

Gordon's conscious competence ladder

Get support
Like the stick figures helping each other in the diagram above, remember that getting support is part of the process too. It could be in the form of a coach or mentor, a mastermind group, a sports club, family, or just a workout buddy. Lean into your people and give them the great honor of letting them lift you up. We all need help sometimes.

Don’t compare
Don’t waste your precious time and energy comparing yourself to others. Cheer them on, celebrate their wins, and then go back to honing your craft. Your journey will likely look unlike anyone else’s, so honor your own timing and process.

Skateboarder in the air

Savor your progress
While the destination (let’s say mastering a certain trick on a skateboard or reaching a milestone in your business) may be an amazing reward in and of itself, undoubtedly the greatest reward is who you are becoming in the process. Acknowledge the small wins and how you are expanding as a person along the way.