War of Words

It is common amongst the emotionally sensitive to dwell on negatives and to take criticisms very personally. As a result the comments of others, particularly their criticisms can be very painful indeed, perhaps far more so than their originator intended. For the emotionally sensitive the strength of words that others use towards us can cause significant emotional distress.

I was interested to hear an individual regard one comment as, 'the last straw,' not that they had received more than one criticism from the same individual but that they felt that they had received a barrage of negatives from different individuals. The context of this pastoral encounter got me thinking...was this individual an unhappy victim of bullying or were they hyper-vigilant to negative comments and criticisms.

Have you noticed how easy it is to read criticism into emails? I find that I often re-read ambiguous statements with a view to a potential criticisms hidden between the lines. Rather than using a potentially positive way of hearing or reading, we can carefully scan for criticism. The difficulty is that because criticisms are so often cloaked amongst niceties, we get trained to notice them and can fall into the habit of finding them where they weren't intended.

I have hear the advice proffered, "Just develop a thick skin!" But I want to suggest that this is both difficult and negative for the emotionally sensitive. Emotional sensitivity can be a real blessing and a gift, but it's flip side can be hypersensitivity. Making new appraisals can be a really helpful way of maintaining sensitivity but avoiding falling into hypersensitivity. By this I mean to ask yourself new questions about what you are hearing or reading. Ask yourself honestly....is that really there? Is the criticism aimed at me personally or just at this situation? Is the originator tired or stressed? Am feeling delicate at this moment?

Through asking new questions a more balanced and rational view can allow you greater peace of mind when criticism comes, and help you to avoid unnecessary concern when it doesn't.

Will Van Der Hart, 01/04/2008