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posted: 7/25/2013 10:37 AM

Manage emotional sensitivity for successful relationships

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I was one of those "sensitive" kids. My feelings were hurt easily. You might say I was so emotionally tuned in to the world around me that I easily got emotionally bruised and battered by the emotional volume and emotional turmoil that is part of everyday life.

Actually, there are a good many of us sensitive children around. Fortunately, if we can learn to work with our sensitivity, we can make good friends, spouses, parents, nurses, social workers and counselors.

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Unfortunately, if we don't find some way to handle our heightened emotional awareness, we too easily can become casualties of this world. Some of us just shut ourselves off, protecting ourselves by a barrier through which no one is allowed to pass.

Others continue to risk being emotionally vulnerable, but at the first sign of danger withdraw, rather like a turtle retreating into its shell. Still others of us act out our hurt, lashing out in ways that are destructive to ourselves and to those around us.

Learning to live with being emotionally sensitive, then, is awfully important. Let's talk a bit about how we might do it.

Take a look at your fingertips. They're rather amazing. Our fingertips are some of the most sensitive parts of our bodies, yet they are also covered with calluses. We use them for some of the most delicate, exacting tasks we perform. But we also count on them to be sturdy and tough enough to withstand a good deal of abrasion and stress.

Perhaps there is a lesson there for us. Perhaps we might consider the idea of developing a few emotional calluses. We would still want to be sensitive to the world of emotions around us. But we also would want to be able to protect ourselves from such emotions when they become a bit too much.

Physical calluses build up slowly over time, so I guess our next question has to do with how we could build up emotional calluses, too.

First, just as we need health and strong fingers to develop physical calluses, we also need a healthy and strong sense of our own self-worth to develop emotional calluses. We need to believe we are lovable and capable, no matter what goes on around us. We need to see ourselves as survivors, as able to handle a bit of emotional bruising and battering and still be OK.

Second, we need to build up our calluses gradually. This occurs best in loving, caring and open relationships. If we know we are loved and cared for by people, when we are occasionally -- and inevitably -- hurt by them, we can put it in perspective.

We can slowly come to learn that we do hurt the ones we love, that this is a part of all human relationships. We come to accept, and expect it. We become less sensitive to it.

Third, we can protect ourselves from too much wear and tear. No matter how callused our fingertips are, we recognize that there are some things they won't tolerate. They won't stand up too well to a sharp knife. Nor will they last too long if we continually hit them with a hammer. And they are no match for sandpaper.

Similarly, no matter how emotionally callused we become, there are limits. The cutting remarks, the heavy blows, the constant emotional wearing down we find in some relationships require that we protect ourselves by either walking away or getting help.

All in all, a few emotional calluses are valuable for any of us. Life is rough. Relationships are not easy. If we are going to risk being sensitive to the world and the people around us -- which I think we must do if we are to have a life worth living -- then we also need to be able to deal with the inevitable emotional volume, turmoil and pain that come with such sensitivity.

And if we are one of those "sensitive" kids to begin with, then it is even more important that we find a way to deal with such a mixed blessing.

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