Sensitivity can be a difficult thing to understand, especially for those who aren’t sensitive themselves. It can also be mistaken for other conditions, including depression, autism or even ADD. Perhaps most insidiously, however, is the frequency with which high sensitivity is mistaken for insecurity or low self-esteem, which consequently attracts people who are either insecure themselves or who see you as a potential victim.
Insecurity and sensitivity are not the same thing. Insecurity is a feeling of low self-worth. It is the sense that whatever you are is just not good enough. The result of this negative belief can range from withdrawal from society to timidity or shyness to overcompensating with authoritativeness, materialism or bullying.
High sensitivity is none of these things. But our tendency to feel overwhelmed in certain situations can lead others to assume that we are shying away from ourselves rather than too much sensory stimulation. They may think we are fearful when we are courageous, weak when we are strong.
Our true sensitive selves are often revealed to others only after we have engaged in a relationship with them. When others begin to get to know us as we truly are, rather than a projection of who they think we are, one of two things happens. People will either love and accept you for who you are, full of sensitivity, as well as compassion, understanding and a deep appreciation for the world. Or else they will resent you for being more confident than they believed.
Someone who is insecure will tend to feel very threatened by someone who is confident. The confidence of the secure partner only seems to magnify the insecurity of the other partner. They will often begin a power struggle to try to regain control of the relationship, employing any number of unpleasant tactics such as putting you down to build themselves up, or becoming passive-aggressive or manipulative.
So what can you do? First, to ensure that others see you as a confident person and not an insecure person who can be controlled or victimised, make sure you work on developing your own self-esteem so that you truly are confident. One of the best ways of building your self-confidence is to be assertive. Healthy self-assertiveness is expressing your feelings and needs and being there for someone else without abandoning yourself. Unhealthy assertiveness is self-destructive and comes in the form of always saying no, like a rebellious teenager. It’s a way of protecting yourself and asserting your boundaries, but you do not get your emotional needs met. Furthermore, by always saying no you remain fixed at that emotional level of development. Growth and confidence both require vulnerability, risk, trust and faith that you will be okay.
Second, watch for signs of insecurity in people as you enter into relationships with them. Here is a list of traits that often indicate insecurity in others and can mean a power struggle for you:
• Defensive. People who are insecure are constantly on guard and try to protect their own feelings by justifying their actions and blaming others.
• Sensitive to criticism. Insecure people will take almost anything you say as a personal attack. A secure person is open to feedback and to hearing ways they can improve.
• Talk a lot. People who can’t bear silence and have to talk incessantly are trying to avoid thinking about themselves or giving anyone else a chance to criticise them.
• Joke too much. Turning everything into a joke is a way of avoiding facing difficult situations or painful feelings, and it can become offensive and insensitive to others.
• Controlling. Insecure people often try to hide their own fears, needs and feelings of self-doubt by becoming overly domineering, authoritative or controlling.
• Bullying. Feeling threatened by others, the insecure person will try to feel more powerful by victimizing the other person, either verbally or physically.
If you find yourself trying to cope with someone possessing any of these traits, remember that you need to put your needs first and question whether this person is really good for you. Sensitivity is not insecurity and with practice, you can build the self-assurance that will keep the bullies at bay.