“Get over yourself.”
“Stop being so sensitive.”
“Let it go.”
“You’re too needy.”
That was the message I received the other day, before I had even left my bed.
I had decided to take a few minutes to read through my social media pages before officially starting my day. As I laid there groggily scrolling through my friends’ updates, I came across an article on friendship. Without a moment’s hesitation, I opened the article.
In the words of Julia Roberts, “Big mistake. Big. Huge!”
The overall theme of the article was pretty clear: sensitive friends take too much time and energy. The author of the article had come to the conclusion that it was time to turn away from those relationships, choosing instead to focus on friends that were more secure in themselves and didn’t require so much attention. To me, a sensitive person, the words stung. I identified with the friends the author was letting go of because they were “too sensitive.” And, just like a sensitive person, I took the article to heart.
I allowed my interpretation of the article to set the tone for my entire day. The words echoed in my head as I got my kids ready for school and myself ready for work. The words brought back all the feelings that I’ve struggled with for so much of my life, struggles that I see lots of others face too: the push to conform and be something or someone different to make others happy; the push to hide who you really are because who you really are is just not right.
The truth is, it can be difficult to be my friend. It takes a lot for me to actually let a new friend in and then once I do, I have pretty high standards. I want to be included in things. I want my friends to be honest with me, even if it’s difficult. I also need my friends to understand that sometimes, as an introvert, I get overwhelmed with too many social activities, crowded places, or as my niece calls it, when things are “too people-y”. Sometimes I retreat and go dark for a bit. Sometimes my own depression and anxiety rear their ugly heads and I can’t get out of my own way. I need friends who won’t judge me during those times or tell me to “just be happy.” I also need my friends to take ownership and apologize when they’ve done something that hurts me, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I am a complete juxtaposition of a person at times. To be friends with me is a lot to ask of someone. I get that.
But, does any of that make me a bad person? A bad friend? Am I wrong to feel the way I feel? Am I out of line to approach friendship the way I do? Am I too sensitive? I think for most of my life, I answered “Yes” to all of those questions and allowed myself to feel shame for who I am as a person.
But, as I contemplated that article, I began to wonder not just about my own potential shortcomings but those of the author. What about her? Could it be that she and all of the people that liked and shared the article were wrong? Is there something wrong with them? Are they out of line to approach friendship that way? Are they too abrasive? Are they not sensitive enough?
Which of us is right? Which of us is the better person?
I’ve chewed on this question for the past few weeks, weighing out the benefits and drawbacks to each personality style and approach to friendship. While being the way I am has certainly posed challenges to those in my life and to myself, it also has probably led me to where I am in life. It probably makes me a better clinician. It probably makes me better able to understand the pieces of my children that are just like me. It probably has allowed me to feel things, not just bad things, but good things as well, on a deeper level than others that aren’t quite so sensitive. It probably is what allows some of my friendships to feel so very deeply rooted. Would I really want to be a version of myself that didn’t have these components? I don’t think so.
Does that mean that I am fully grown and have reached enlightenment and can’t improve as a person? Absolutely not. I think I can be someone who still wants to improve and grow AND can also still be someone who can be proud of who I am.
So, which of us is right and which of us is the better person?
In the weeks since I allowed that article to punch me in the gut, I’ve come to believe that friendships come with a price, just like most things in life. When it comes to friendships, all of us have a budget of emotional energy to invest in friendships and it is up to us to decide how we spend it. We can decide whether the cost is worth the return. For some people, what it costs to be my friend might be too much for too little in return or they just may choose to use their budget differently. The author is probably one of those people and that’s ok with me now. I get it. Her decision doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with me. It doesn’t mean that I actually need to stop being so sensitive or need to get over myself and my feelings. It just means that we aren’t a good fit for each other.
So, to those of you that have been told you are too sensitive, let me tell you this: you keep on being you. To those of you that don’t want to be friends with someone like me, you keep being you too. Neither one of us is wrong. Neither one of us is better than the other. Neither one of us is more well suited for life or for friendship.
It turns out that what some may see as our flaws or weaknesses may actually be our greatest strengths and assets.
How do you express love for your partner? Is it through Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, or Physical Touch? In this episode, Jenni and Josh take an on-air quiz to determine their respective "Love Languages." Applications of the quiz and the theory of the "5 Love Languages" are then explored.
I have an investment question for you. Of the following two banks, which would you choose?
So, which option would you choose?
What if the options were not banks but people in your life and what if the funds were not money but emotional energy? Would your choice change? Why?
No. Really. Ask yourself why?
Often in psychotherapy, I start to see patterns among clients. Perhaps it’s the time of year or phases of the moon or something I don’t understand like Mercury in Retrograde or El Nino. Or, maybe it’s just me. Whatever the reason, lately I have seen a pattern emerge in many of my sessions – the expense of emotional energy.
What is emotional energy?
I like to think of emotional energy as money. It’s the emotional cost of doing something. Think about Bank A and Bank B. Now think about the people in your life. Which people would you categorize under Bank A? Which would you categorize under Bank B? Think about your last encounter with someone from Bank A. Maybe it was a phone call, a party, a work meeting, a vacation. How much did it cost you emotionally to participate in that encounter? Did you find yourself emotionally drained afterwards? Did you text someone from Bank B after the encounter and say, “I need a glass of wine. Stat!” Did you go home and overreact by snapping at your spouse or your children? Did you skip a workout because you were too drained? Did you push yourself super hard at the gym because you needed to process the encounter? Did you turn your radio up really loud in your car? Did you cry? If you had any of these responses, then it’s safe to say that the encounter was probably emotionally costly for you. You invested a whole lot of energy into being with that person and you didn’t get anything back of value in return. In fact, it cost you to be with them.
Now, think about your last encounter with someone from Bank B. What was that experience like for you? How much did it cost you emotionally? Did you actually feel that it recharged you emotionally? These are the people we need to be focusing on in our lives. These are the people we need in our lives. They fill us up. They make us rich, emotionally.
But, how do you manage these people in your life that are emotionally costly? How do you handle Bank A? Well, you have three choices:
1. End your relationship with them.
While this is not always a possibility, sometimes it is something that can happen. You can end friendships. You can leave toxic work environments. You can avoid certain family members. Sometimes you can choose Bank B over Bank A. Usually, however, I recommend trying the other options first…
2. Limit your encounters with them.
Perhaps you aren’t ready, don’t want to or simply can’t leave Bank A completely. Are there ways that you can limit your time with Bank A? Can you establish some new boundaries with them? Can you weigh out how much emotional energy will be invested in a certain encounter and perhaps skip it or role play some ways to better balance it beforehand? Can you be honest with them about how you are feeling?
3. Change how you approach them.
The first step in this option is to evaluate WHY your encounters with them are so costly. Take some time and truly explore your previous encounters with these individuals. What is it about the encounters that requires you to invest so much emotional energy? Are you being criticized by them? Are you constantly trying to seek their approval? Do they use up all of your time asking for your advice or complaining to you about their own problems and never give you anything in return? Is there something in the past for which you aren’t able to forgive them?
The second step in this option is to understand HOW your encounters are costly. What is your internal process while you are with them – are you anxious, angry, hurt or feeling some other emotion? What are you thinking in the days leading up to the encounter? What are you thinking during your time with them? What are your immediate thoughts after the encounter?
The third step in this process is to truly accept that the individual will likely NEVER CHANGE. I know what you are thinking – “How does she know? Maybe if I could just be a litt more _____ or a little less ______, I can make them ______ or help them to see ________________.” No. Change is hard and people only change when they want to change. Nothing you say or do is going to make someone love you, respect you, appreciate you, value you or acknowledge you more. Nothing you say or do is going to make someone hurt you, ignore you or let you down less. Stop trying. Stop hoping things will be different. They are who they are and you cannot change that. The only thing you can change is how you choose to interact with them, how you respond to them and how much emotional energy you choose to invest in them.
Let's take a moment to think about and consider the feelings of people from Bank A. They probably are not bad people. (In fact, I often correct my children and tell them that there aren't bad people, only people making bad choices.) They probably aren't aware of how emotionally costly they are to you. They likely think you are overly sensitive or rude or require too much from the people in your life. It's worth considering those thoughts for a while. Are there some changes that you should be making in yourself? Are they right? Do you want to change those things?
If you have people in your life from Bank A and you feel that you are investing a lot of emotional energy in those relationships then you have some soul searching to do. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee or go take a long shower or take a long drive or get out your journal. Do whatever you need to do in order to create some space for you to think and reflect.
Life is too short; far too short. Isn’t it about time you find a way to invest more in yourself?
About Changing Perspectives
I often find myself encouraging people to consider changing their perspective or reframe the way in which they view things. This blog is an extension of that practice and is also an opportunity for me to write from a number of different perspectives including clinician, educator, mother, friend and supervisor. Blog topics are also quite varied and changeable. Topics explored include, but are certainly not limited to, grief, parenting, health and wellness and relationships. Join me and explore a number of changing perspectives!