The “You’re too sensitive” game

When someone cares about you, they don’t say things like “you’re too sensitive” or “you’re so emotional”, they actually become more sensitive to your sensitivities.

Don’t fall for the “you’re too sensitive” game. It is played by those who want to get away with their own bad behavior.

Transcript follows.

There’s a game that some people knowingly (or sometimes unknowingly) play. There are people that know they’re doing it – the emotional abusers, the manipulators, the coercive type, and the unethically influential type. 

I speak from experience. I was married for 4 years and during that time (not only my marriage but other relationships too), I was highly manipulative. I didn’t know I was until we separated. I had this realization that I was being manipulative. I didn’t know the term back then but I was being emotionally abusive and I was doing so in many ways.

One of them was being highly judgmental. I was judging my wife for doing things that I didn’t agree with. I wanted her to conform to my standards. I wanted her to conform to my values and I set the bar very high. I was also giving her the silent treatment.

The silent treatment, not too many people know, is a form of emotional abuse. It doesn’t always start off that way because sometimes you need silence to process. Sometimes you need silence, because you’re so angry, you don’t want to just lash out at someone. You just need your time to process things, to think about them, and figure out what to do next.

But when the silent treatment turns into making the other person feel guilty, making the other person conform, there’s a level of control in there – “I want you to do what I want you to do so I will be silent. I will withhold and withdraw love.”

These are the types of things I was doing in my marriage and it was very unhealthy and very toxic. So I come on here, showing you my cards, letting you know that I was there. But I was on the other side. I was the one playing that game. I didn’t know it was a game – it was the game I played for many, many years.

As soon as I got into relationships, I needed the other person to be the way I wanted them to be, instead of allowing them to be the way they were when they showed up in the relationship and allowing them to be authentically free.

“Authentic” in the sense that they could show up as a themselves and “free” as in, ‘if they showed up in a way that I didn’t like – I still accepted them, I still allowed them. I don’t even like using that word, but I allowed them to be who they are, and who they were.

What I’ve learned over the years is that my trying to control the person in my life was a selfish way to get what I wanted and make life perfect for me instead of sharing in the experiences of someone else, and celebrating their successes and commiserating in their failures, and not telling them what to do, but being there as they did it, and supporting them as they did it.

There’s a lot more to unravel there and really dig into so that we can understand the entire breadth, the entire spectrum of emotional abuse and manipulation and coercion, and just downright lies and deception, and other bad behaviors that we don’t necessarily want in our lives – and also that we can catch ourselves doing. I caught myself doing these things in my marriage, and realized, wait a minute – is this how I want my wife to feel? That was the one question that probably changed everything: is this how I want her to feel?

I believe when you truly love someone, you support their happiness, you support their path to happiness, you support them wanting to be themselves. When you can show up in someone’s life and they want you to be you, not someone they want you to be – doesn’t it feel uplifting?

Doesn’t it feel freeing?

Don’t you want to spend as much time as you can with that person?

That’s what I figured out late in the game. I was 41 or 42 and I realized, “so that’s what relationships are about – supporting her path, sharing life with her walking to the sunset together, holding hands, and having our own life too, having our own path of success and failure, and hoping that our partner is going to be there to support us through this – through the thick and thin – knowing that we’re all doing the best we can”.

Sometimes we’re going to show up in ways that our partners, our friends, and our family doesn’t like. When that happens, how do they show up in our lives? How does our partner, our friends, and our family show up after we follow a path that they don’t like?

You really start figuring out who’s important in your life and who finds you important to them, and you learn who wants to control you and who doesn’t. As soon as somebody starts making you feel bad about yourself, about your decisions, about the steps you’re taking in life – that’s when you really have to start questioning who the people are that you’re involved with, that you’re associated with, that you’re even related to.

This happens in so many different dynamics, including family. In fact, in my other podcast, The Overwhelmed Brain, I talk about family dysfunction, family drama, and defining your personal boundaries. That episode is called “How family drama can teach you a lot about personal boundaries” if you want to check it out.

Coming back to this topic today, how I define emotional abuse in general is when you not only make somebody feel bad, but you make them feel bad about themselves.

When they feel bad about themselves, guess what? – You don’t have to do too much of the work because they’re putting themselves down, they’re questioning their own decisions; They’re losing trust in themselves.

So if you’re the emotional abuser like I was, I was putting all this doubt in my partners over the years and my wife when I was married. I put doubts in their minds so that they would feel bad about themselves. I would give them dirty looks, I would give them the silent treatment – sometimes for days.

They would ask “Where did you go? I need your love. I need your attention.” They wouldn’t use those exact words but in hindsight, I can see that’s exactly what was happening – “Where are you? Are we in a relationship? Why are you withdrawing?”

It was my hope that they would feel so guilty that they would change and then show up in the relationship better, just to suit me – that’s a very narcissistic tendency there: It was just to suit me.

Thankfully, I asked the question, “Is this how I want her to feel?” I think that’s a great question to ask the people in your life: “Is this how you want me to feel?”

If you have someone manipulating or being emotionally abusive or coercing you in some way – go ahead and ask that question. It may not be appropriate in every situation but it’s a great question to have when there’s somebody who claims to love you, and claims to want you to be happy if they do things and they say things that they know hurt you.

This brings up the main topic I want to talk about today, which is the “you’re too sensitive” game. If you’ve ever been told “you’re just being too sensitive”, or “you’re being overly emotional” – that was one of the checkboxes in The M.E.A.N. Workbook. 

The 200-point assessment in the workbook is a bunch of checkboxes that you go through helping you to define the level of emotional abuse that you might be experiencing. One of boxes is “My partner calls me too sensitive and overly emotional.”

I want to let you off the hook. If you’ve ever been called too sensitive or overly emotional, 99% of the time it’s not true. I know there are people out there that say “No, I’m a highly sensitive person, it is true. There’s a lot of situations that I am sensitive about.” But if you’re in that space, and you know that about yourself, that’s okay. I understand that there are people that are sensitive. I’m sensitive to needles, I don’t like them. I just barrel through them and hopefully it’s done before I think about it.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about emotional sensitivity, of course. There are some people that have developed a higher emotional sensitivity.

That term – highly sensitive person – that’s a thing. My wife considered herself a highly sensitive person and I’m here to tell you that highly sensitive people often get involved with emotional abusers. Highly sensitive people often get involved with in-sensitive people.

This is something that’s very important to know if you’ve ever been called overly emotional, highly sensitive, or too sensitive. I want you to look at the source and ask yourself, “Who is telling me that, and is that person insensitive?”

This is where I’m going to let you off the hook. Most of the time, when somebody says you’re too sensitive, it’s a way for them to focus your attention on yourself. If they can focus your attention on yourself, then they get away with bad behavior.

This I have strong feelings about because I have heard from so many clients and so many listeners of my other show, The Overwhelmed Brain. People write in and say, “My partner says I might be too sensitive. I think I am” and I always answer that comment with this response – it’s not that you’re too sensitive, it’s that the person telling you that is insensitive to your sensitivities.

If someone really loves you and they really care about you, they’re going to understand that you have sensitivities. If they trample on those sensitivities and then blame you for those same sensitivities (the ones they knew about before they trampled on them), then the problem is their insensitivity to your own fears, doubts, and emotional triggers.

When my girlfriend and I first met, she had many sensitivities. One of them was the inability to trust men. She was sexually abused as a child and she developed a distrust of most men in general. She still had relationships with men – some good, some not – but when we met, she did not trust me and it took her a long time.

Because I understood that she had this sensitivity of not being able to trust me, I had to be extra sensitive to that. This is my point with today’s episode – you need to understand that it’s not that you’re too sensitive, it’s that the person telling you that is not being sensitive to your sensitivities, and that pretty much makes them insensitive.

I don’t mean to label someone else as that because sometimes we know we’re playing the game and sometimes we don’t. When I was being insensitive toward my wife, I didn’t know I was playing the game. I wanted what I wanted and I learned to do that from childhood – to get what I want, I just have to use the silent treatment.

I just have to sulk, I have to mope, and I have to feel bad, because I want my overly sensitive wife to feel compassion for me, to feel guilty that I feel bad so she needs to do something about it to make me feel better. I wanted to use her sensitivities against her.

Thankfully, I figured that out because I was ruining many, many relationships. I don’t want your relationships ruined. I want you to understand that some people are going to use your sensitivities against you and it’s not your fault. It’s not something that you need to fix.

You can work on your sensitivity, sure. You might be overly sensitive to certain things. But when someone tells you that and they use it as an excuse to get away with their behavior, that’s where the line needs to be drawn. That’s what needs to stop.

You might have to say something. You might have to speak up for yourself and say, “Look, if you know I’m sensitive in that area, and you really love me, and you really want to support me, and you really want me to be happy – then why would you be insensitive to that?”

Hopefully, the person doing that will step back and realize, “Oh, jeez, I’m sorry, I guess you’re right.”

That would be great. I’m not saying everyone will have that response, but some people don’t even realize they’re being insensitive. Some people need to be reminded that “Yes, I have sensitivities and I want you to know that when you call me too sensitive, knowing that I have these sensitivities, it makes me feel like you don’t respect my sensitivities. It makes me feel like you don’t care about me, you don’t support me, you don’t love me, you don’t even like me. You just want me to feel bad.”

I don’t want you to get caught in that game, the “you’re too sensitive” game, because you don’t deserve it.

So what! We all have sensitivities, right?

Absolutely. I want you to know that just because you may have higher sensitivities in some areas and not so much in others, we all have our sensitivities.

I guarantee you that even the people that are abusing language and abusing their relationship with you have sensitivities, and it would be very unfair of us to take advantage of those sensitivities, just like it’s unfair of them to take advantage of ours.

Remember, you are not alone. You do not have to feel as if no one will ever see or understand what you’re going through because the word is out.

This show and many other resources are highlighting manipulation and emotional abuse and outright deception so that more people are aware of it and more people can call others out on it.

The more people that know about it, the less other people will get away with it.

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