Have you ever been called oversensitive? If so, did it feel like a bad thing? Today I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as being “oversensitive”. In fact, your sensitivity is actually a gift and I have some research to back that up. In this episode, I explain how your oversensitivity can help you love yourself and find and sustain a healthy love. I also explain how to integrate this concept into your life and relationships.
Listen in to learn the pitfalls of hiding your sensitivity, ways to heal attachment wounds, and how oversensitivity relates to your search for love.
Hello, and welcome to the Deeper Dating® Podcast. I’m Ken Page, and I’m a psychotherapist, author of the best-selling book “Deeper Dating®”, and the founder of the Deeper Dating® Intensive, and your host on this podcast. I’m really excited about what we’re going to talk about today because it’s about the concept of what’s called oversensitivity, and how the research actually proves that those of us who are “oversensitive” are actually the most poised to have healthy love in our lives.
So in this episode and in every episode, I’m going to bring you the greatest insights and tools that I know to help you find healthy, beautiful love, and keep it flourishing, and heal your life in the process, because the skills of dating are the skills of intimacy, and those are the true great skills for a joyful and meaningful life.
So if you like what you’re learning here, please go to deeperdatingpodcast.com, and there you’ll find transcripts of every episode. And if you join my mailing list, you’ll get some free gifts from me and tons of resources to help you in your journey to find and grow beautiful, healthy love. And if you like what you’re hearing here, I would love it if you could subscribe and leave me a review, and the reviews that people have written, if you go look, are just so amazing and touching, and I truly appreciate them.
Okay, dear folks. So let’s jump in. And here is what I want to cover today. I want to talk about this quality of intense sensitivity that many of us have and many of you listening have, and why it is actually a gift. And then I’m going to offer some research that’s mind-blowing and explains this and proves it in a really powerful way. And then I’m going to talk about how your “oversensitivity” can actually help you love yourself, find healthy love, and sustain it when you find it. And finally, I’m going to offer some suggestions on the nitty gritty ways that you can integrate this into your own life and relationships.
Our Core Gifts® often feel like curses because we feel so deeply around those places. Click To Tweet
So for those of us who’ve been told we’re too sensitive, or we worry about being too sensitive, or we try to toughen up to the sensitivities that we feel in our relationships, I’m going to show you how that sensitivity, even if it’s really intense, is in fact actually one of your greatest gifts. And I’m going to use some powerful, rigorous, highest-level research to back that up and help you use that innate Core Gift® of deep, intense sensitivity to love yourself more fully, and how you can use that exact same sensitivity to date more effectively, and use that sensitivity to sustain love when you find it.
In my work as a therapist and in my teaching and my intensives, I see again and again how many of us are wounded by being told we’re too sensitive. It’s a core wound, and it happens to the people who have the most exquisite sensitivity to high-quality connection, to safe connection, to unsafe connection, and to breaks in connection.
We feel it in our bones and it hurts, and it makes us feel badly, and most of us have been taught that that’s a flaw and a weakness. For example, in your family growing up, maybe you sensed things that other people didn’t sense, like when things felt off, they would bother you more deeply than the people around you, and when things felt good, maybe that would give you an extra sense of relief. But you would feel the things that were off, even if you couldn’t put them into words. You would still feel something wrong inside.
So in many families, those of us who do that actually become the scapegoats. We become what’s called the perceived sick one in the family, because everyone else is like, “Oh, we can handle that. We’re fine. That’s not even an issue to us. In fact, we don’t even notice it, so it’s probably just a problem with you.” And then the other people in the family get to feel more healthy and more strong in comparison to those of us who have that deep sensitivity, and we get knocked down at the knees sometimes by these things.
Is being oversensitive a bad thing: Your antennae in this area of connectedness is exquisitely sensitive and this is, in fact, a Core Gift®.
But in fact, we are the ones who are registering the secret wounds of the family that nobody else wants to touch. This is a profound gift. What it means is that your antennae in this area of connectedness is exquisitely sensitive, that this is in fact a Core Gift®, and our Core Gifts® often feel like curses because we feel so deeply around those places. And here is where I want to bring in some research that has huge ramifications, which a psychotherapist friend recently shared with me.
So in 1999, John Gottman and Catherine Swanson and James Murray, as part of an ongoing and incredibly complex detailed exploration of couples, and what led to a healthy relationship or an unhealthy relationship, what led to success in love and what led to divorce, and their results say something really fascinating. They worked with this concept, among many other things, but they worked with this concept called a negativity threshold, and that’s the point in an interaction between members of a couple where things start to get difficult.
So a negativity threshold is where at least one of the partners would start to feel negative, irritated, bothered, things were not going right and they felt it, and maybe they let it be known. That was the negativity threshold. So, okay, what would you guess? Would you guess that a couple who had a low negativity threshold, in other words, people got bothered by stuff more easily and quickly, that that couple would be less successful or more successful than a couple with a high negativity threshold, meaning that the stuff rolled off people’s backs, that they didn’t get as bothered, they didn’t take it as seriously? Which couple would be more successful?
What does it mean to be oversensitive:
Well, it turns out that the couples who were most successful have a low negativity threshold. They sense when things bother them. The exact gift that you and I as deeply sensitive people have, that we’ve been blamed and shamed for that really amazing quality. So these couples basically register breaks and ruptures. They register mini hurts and micro ruptures in their connection, and they’re bothered by them, and that means, as a couple, that they decide to work it through, and those are the most successful couples.
Someone who’s numb to that is not going to be able to sustain that kind of exquisite caring work that can happen in a really successful couple. So what does this mean? And now we’re going to talk about what this means for you, how this can help you profoundly to find love, to start with a foundation of loving yourself, and to sustain love when you find it. That very gift of your oversensitivity is going to be one of your absolute greatest and most powerful tools to achieve a life filled with deeper intimacy.
So let’s look first at self-love, and this connects with something I teach about Core Gifts®, which is that these parts of ourselves, which I think are our unique genius in the world, and genius is not an easy thing, these Core Gifts® are where we get stuck because we’re either too different for the world, or we’re too fierce for the world, or we’re too tender for the world so we doubt ourselves.
But these are our Core Gifts®, and as long as we hide them in a room, our sensitivity, our intensity, our differentness, as long as we lock them up, or airbrush them for public consumption and don’t really let them live and play and find their tribe and interact in authentic ways with the world, we remain stifled and stunted. So that’s why the deep and rich first step of self-love includes recognizing these gifts that we have been maybe shamed for or we haven’t known what to do with because they’re so intense or different or sensitive.
When we don’t start out with an assumption that there is validity and wisdom in what we’re feeling, we start to feel like we can’t trust ourselves. Click To Tweet
The reclaiming of those parts and naming them as treasures, as part of the nucleus of our very self-organization, our very being is the task that we all need to commit to. And in that act of treasuring and dignifying these parts of ourselves, our interactions with the world begin to shift in very profound ways.
In my six-month intensives, we spend three months just doing this work of excavating and naming and learning to cherish our Core Gifts®, because it’s so counterintuitive that the places where the most insecure mark where our greatest gifts lie. And here is something I think is really interesting and important. What happens when you sense something wrong, and instead of realizing that you have extraordinary antennae, and that you’re sensing something that’s probably real, instead you go to that familiar place.
And I can talk about myself here. This happened for me and my family. I come from a family of Holocaust survivors, and toughness was really important. And in some way, I never got that particular toughness gene. I got maybe other toughness genes, but not that one, so I didn’t fit into my own family because I operated at a different frequency. So I subdivided, intellectually and down to my bones, emotionally, I felt like I was weak and I felt like I was a little bit crazy.
But the other part of me that sensed things just became angry, and there was a mixture of feeling strident and angry about what I thought and also totally doubting myself. And I wonder if any of you recognize that experience? So my salvation came from therapy where I learned that those sensitivities were portals to my soul, to my deepest self, and I am forever grateful to my therapist, Shirley Elias, who I worked with for 13 years, who helped me reclaim those parts of myself.
I remember a dream I had during that therapy. I was with my family at the beach and I sensed that a plane was going to crash somewhere, and I told this to my family with real fear and they told me I was crazy. It was that same bone-deep self-state that I went into then of weakness and wrongness and anger, and then a plane crashed somewhere far away, and I remember thinking, “Oh my God. My intuition wasn’t wrong. Maybe I can trust myself.”
Pitfalls of hiding our sensitivity: When we don’t start out with an assumption that there is validity and wisdom in what we’re feeling, we start to feel like we can’t trust ourselves.
So here’s this amazing thing is that when we don’t trust our sensitivity, when we don’t start out with an assumption that there’s validity and wisdom most likely in what we’re feeling, we start to feel like we can’t trust ourselves or navigate the world as we are, and then we start to mask. And when we do that, there will always be a sense of insecurity in our relationship with ourself and others, which is a really different kind of understanding of this aspect of attachment theory.
It’s that those of us who have a really extreme sensitivity to connection, and to the micro-breaks and ruptures in that connection, when we don’t trust that, we will always feel insecure in the world, like we’re walking on unsafe ground, unstable ground, or climbing a wobbly ladder. So what doesn’t get talked about at all enough is that one of the ways we can heal our attachment wounds is by understanding what our Core Gifts® are, and seeing the ways in which we don’t yet know how to hold those Core Gifts®.
For example, holding our deep sensitivity with respect, and dignity, and care, and support. Until we do that, we will always be locked in that strange, painful, awkward battle between trusting ourselves and existentially doubting ourselves. So this quality of sensitivity of yours you can use to note when there’s a break in self-love, and when that’s bothering you, when you’re not feeling right inside because you’re sensing that you’re not right with you. People who have this deep sensitivity register when they don’t feel right inside, and it bothers them. They have a lower threshold of negativity around their relationship to themselves.
Why it is important to honor your sensitivity:
And I believe, and this was not part of the research, but I think it’s true that those of us who have a lower negativity threshold in relationships have it with ourselves too, even if we, like we’ve been taught, tell ourselves we’re just being too sensitive or too demanding or too needy and we try to squash those parts of ourselves. When we hold them as treasures when we dignify and value them, we develop an authentic, secure attachment capacity, and this is life-changing stuff.
This is how by honoring your intense sensitivity, you develop an authentic, secure attachment style in these ways. This is a formula where you will unwind and rewind in a self-organization now based on self treasuring, and these Core Gifts®, which are at the very nucleus of your being, will lie at the heart of a possibility that you can really learn to love yourself at the next level.
So that’s self-love, and let’s move on now. How does this relate to your dating life? How does it relate to your search for love? Well, here’s how. How many of you relate to the experience in your dating life of you meet someone, they’re cute, they’re attractive, maybe they’re charming, they’re a real, real maybe, or maybe they even are a yes, but there are ways that you don’t necessarily feel safe with them, like they say things that are a little bit cutting, or they don’t show up, or there’s something flaky, or they behave in ways that are slightly inappropriate sexually, and you start feeling funny, but you tell yourself, “Oh, it’s probably nothing.”
Or you’re with someone and you just don’t feel emotionally safe. You feel maybe judged or like you have to prove yourself, and maybe you tell yourself, “I just have to get tougher. I have to match this person in their strength and intensity. I have to be more like them. I have to be less effing sensitive. I have to match this person.”
And then you waste, in all likelihood, way too much time with people like that. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience, but I certainly have. But imagine learning to honor your sensitivity. You register that stuff on a date and you register, “I don’t feel good in the moment. What is this?” And then you think, “Well, it makes sense. It must make sense that I feel this way. So if it makes sense that I feel this way, because my sensitivity is valid, what could it be that feels wrong?”
And then maybe when you do that, when you honor your sensitivity, you realize the other person said something that touches a wound for you, but with no intention of doing that. It’s just a trigger spot for you, so maybe it’s not them, or maybe they said something a little insensitive. When you honor your low negativity threshold, you will respond in a way that dignifies you. So when you date like that, which in my work what I teach is that the central question that everything should hang on is, “Does my soul feel safe with this person who I’m with right now?”
We do ourselves first and we do our partners next, and then, even if you find real understanding and compassion and you soften and you want to give your partner a big break, if it’s still bugging you, you still speak it. Click To Tweet
And if the answer’s no, you honor your low negativity threshold instead of doubting it. You honor your deep sensitivity and you say, “Okay, this must make sense in some way, so let’s explore. Let’s piece this together.” And then you do what successful couples do, but you do it inside yourself, and maybe potentially even in this new dating relationship by dignifying what your sensitivity is telling you, and that changes everything.
And when you do this, I promise you that your search for love and your dating life will change significantly. But more than that, you will be buoyed by a sense of self-love and self dignifying, and that feels really good. And I also just want to say it’s too hard to make these changes all alone. You need support. You need a group. You need a coach. You need a dear fabulous friend or two who remind you of this.
Okay. So then the next level is that when you find healthy love, which I can’t tell you folks how true this is that when you do this work, your attractions shift, and the people who you find shift, and they shift in the direction of inspiration and away from deprivation. This is the beautiful blueprint of what I call the deeper physics of dating. And in a relationship, as John Gottman and team discovered, honoring your sensitivity, which means honoring your lower negativity threshold, allows you to do the deeper, richer work of intimacy. And I just want to tell a story here. I notice these fluctuations in relationship way more than my husband, way more actually than most people I know. And by the way, way more than a lot of people who have secure attachment styles, like my husband.
So I would call this a gift that a lot of us with insecure attachment styles, maybe particularly anxious attachment styles, but I think insecure attachment styles in general, that this is a gift that we have, that we’re exquisitely sensitive that we have a low negativity threshold. It’s just we haven’t known what to do with it. We haven’t known how to honor it and work with it.
So Greg and I were on vacation together, and it should have been wonderful. We vacation really well together, but it was not feeling wonderful to me. I wasn’t feeling connected. So we hold hands like all the time, and we were really holding hands less, and I felt like we were getting into this place where we were getting too familiar in not a good way, and that the magic was disappearing. We weren’t really listening to the subtle bids for attention and connection that each of us gave, which is another really rich concept I’ve talked about from the Gottman’s, and I’ve talked about this in the past.
But so Greg and I were talking over each other, and things were moving, for me, from this place of magic to this place of mundane. And it hurt, but I felt so oversensitive. I didn’t trust this. And I felt like, well, Greg seems totally fine, and we’re on vacation and maybe this is the way he wants it. Maybe I’m asking for too much. Maybe I’m imagining everything.
How does oversensitivity relate to dating: This is a formula where you will unwind and rewind in a self-organization now based on self-treasuring.
And I said nothing until I became so difficult to be with that he was like, “Honey, what’s going on?” And so, I said, because I was trapped and because I wanted to speak my truth but it was really hard, I said, “So this is mortifying and embarrassing, and it’s really hard to talk about, but since you asked, I’m going to tell you.” And he was glorious. He said, “All right. Let’s find a space,” and we found a space and he put his arm around me and said, “Tell me,” and I felt like an idiot because of my past conditioning. This felt like anything but a gift at the moment, but it was a gift, as you’ll see.
And I told him, and his reaction, it was beautiful. It was just what I had hoped for and even more. And he told me that, A – he didn’t notice any of these things at all, and was pretty surprised, but, B – that he really cared that I did. And our romance came back in really significant ways. The romance that I felt was, after many, many years together, moving more toward the mundane. Our handholding increased, our hugging increased, our expressions of love increased, and that was months ago, and it’s continued since then.
But I guess part of the point here is that it’s not easy. It is not easy to do it in interactions. It’s not easy to do it in sex. It’s just not easy, but with the right person with whom your soul feels safe, it can be wonderful. And that brings us to, okay, how do you do this? When things bother you, how do you bring them up? They’re hard to bring up, but how do you do it? Preferably better than I did in Montreal a few months ago.
Tips for implementing The Aha Process:
So in my book, “Deeper Dating®”, I talk about a process that I call The Aha process, which has three steps, and in some ways it’s maybe a little different from other conflict resolution pathways because it focuses more deeply on the issue of self-honoring, honoring the treasure of our sensitivity.
So the first step is awareness, which means awareness of what’s going on, but also awareness of the fact that you’re hitting your negativity threshold at the moment somehow. The second stage is the stage of honoring, and that’s the stage that I think isn’t honored or articulated enough in conflict resolution approaches, because in that stage we ask ourselves, we frame things like not, “I must be too sensitive. I need to get over this,” but we frame it like, “It makes sense that I feel this way because,” fill in the blank. “This connects to some of the deepest parts of me because,” fill in the blanks. “I feel hurt or bothered or troubled because I care so much about a particular value that’s not being seen or honored, which is,” fill in the blank.
And when we ask ourselves these questions, we begin to carve a pathway and build a foundation for that kind of self-honoring. And the next stage is to do the same with our partner, to think about what we honor and treasure about them, what might be going on for them that this disconnection is happening, even though we don’t know, to think about what needs of theirs might not be being met.
But we do ourselves first and we do our partners next, and then, even if you find real understanding and compassion and you soften and you want to give your partner a big break, if it’s still bugging you, you still speak it. And that’s a whole other piece, is how to do that, but I think the simplest way to talk about how to do that is in that saying from program, which is: say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean. And say what you mean I think means don’t fudge what you really want to say.
And mean what you say I think means don’t be doing threats or exaggerations to prove your point, which, again, those of us who have been told we’re too sensitive, we will tend to either repress or act out, get extra strident, like I was doing in Montreal with my husband. We just get difficult. So mean what you say means don’t let that tendency to be strident or repressed stop you from speaking the actual simple truth. And the third is don’t say it mean, and that is so important. I just adore that one and I’ve said so many times what Harville Hendrix says about that, which is, “Practice turning your anger into an ask.”
So we’ve talked about so many pieces here, and I would like to ask you to take a minute now, and you could even pause the recording, just to think about what hit you, what touched you, what feels important. So maybe just take a minute to do that now.
And with this knowledge that your deep sensitivity is a Core Gift®, a talent to be cultivated, honored, and helped to mature in the world in these ways, picture what your life and your relationships will become like as you continue to honor your sensitivity and help it grow into an adult in the world. And I think that the comfort with self and the validation of self that will create will allow you to feel this really luscious feeling of your body, your sexuality, your heart, and your soul existing more comfortably together, and there’s a joy and a hope and a possibility in that. It literally changes our future in love.
So thank you all for listening. I’d love to hear your feedback and your thoughts. And please visit me on Instagram – deeper.dating, where I do a lot of short videos on this. But most importantly, go to deeperdatingpodcast.com and sign up for my mailing list so that we can stay connected. Thank you all.