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Not Everyone Is as Highly Sensitive as You Are


We all want to be sensitive to other people. Sensitivity greases the wheels of relationships as you empathize with what others are feeling because you’ve felt similarly yourself. Ditto compassion which makes you hurt for people’s suffering. Where some dysregulated eaters get into trouble, however, is when they assume everyone is as sensitive as they are. There is no universal sensitivity standard. Instead, it runs the gamut from highly sensitive to highly insensitive with mentally healthy in the middle.

My client Coz, a musician, assumed that everyone got hurt as easily as he did, which put him at a disadvantage in relationships. He couldn’t throw a party without inviting everyone he’d ever met, even briefly, in fear of hurting someone’s feelings, though many invitees were surprised to receive an invitation and told him so. Raised in a family where abuse and neglect were rampant, he was easily wounded and projected this feeling onto others, never dreaming people didn’t feel as deeply as he did.

Naturally, there were some folks (mostly those who also were highly sensitive) who appreciated Coz going out of his way not to hurt their feelings. But others saw him as a sap to be taken advantage of—crashing at his apartment, not replaying loans from him, and asking for favors he rarely said no to. It was difficult for Coz to fathom that there were people who wouldn’t feel terrible if he told them no. He simply assumed everyone felt exactly as he did and suffered miserably with rejection.

This view crops up frequently with dysregulated eaters, though by no means are all of them highly sensitive. They can’t fathom that other people either don’t get hurt feelings as easily as they do or that they can shake them off quickly. They think that if someone doesn’t suffer from rejection or hurt from refusals, they’re heartless. Instead, I try to teach clients that these people are often emotionally healthy.

People have lots of ways of coping with not getting their way. Some think, “Oh, well, next time will be my turn” or “I’m sure so and so wanted to help but they didn’t have the time.” These people actually don’t feel hurt because they reframe the situation. Others do feel a pinch of hurt but brush it off because they don’t want to stew in feeling rejected or abandoned. They recognize the sting of it, but don’t dwell on it. 

Please remember that your feelings and way of reacting to them are not universal. Recognize that while you might be highly sensitive, many others are not. Don’t assume. Instead, practice emulating people who manage the experience of hurt effectively.