Emotional Resilience and High Sensitivity

Posted January 16, 2024 by Cristina Vrech

Cristina Vrech - Individual and couples therapist

Cristina Vrech

Founder and Director - Individual & Couple Therapist, Corporate Services

Co-founder and director of Leone Centre, Cristina Vrech, has 20+ years of experience in working and supporting people, 14+ years of extensive experience as a therapist and offers valuable knowledge to individuals and couples. Prior to being a therapist, she worked in the financial sector.

Cristina takes a down-to-earth and direct approach across the landscapes of relationships, communication, stress, infidelity, confidence, loneliness, addiction, separation and divorce, IVF, and anxiety.

Offering Online Counselling and in person counselling.

Cristina Vrech can help with...

In a world that frequently equates sensitivity with weakness, it is important to dispel the myth and embrace the truth: Sensitivity is a superpower. It enables a profound connection with oneself and others, fostering empathy, creativity, and a rich inner life. Yet, like all superpowers, it comes with its own challenges. The key lies in cultivating emotional resilience, the ability to navigate the ebbs and flows of our feelings without being overwhelmed.

Learning to embrace and work with the aspects of yourself which make you unique is imperative for flourishing. For the highly sensitive, the ability to view and relate to yourself with empathy and encouragement can empower you to build a strengths-based approach towards your interactions and lifestyle.

What does emotional sensitivity mean?

In the realm of human emotions, being highly sensitive is akin to possessing a finely tuned instrument. It’s a quality that allows you to pick up the subtlest nuances in conversations, events, and situations, much like a sensitive seismograph records the faintest tremors of the earth. This depth of reflection, when channelled correctly, can transform into a powerful tool, enabling you to draw profound and insightful conclusions. However, this requires a delicate balance – like a tightrope walker maintaining equilibrium; you must consider all potential meanings and outcomes without swaying too far in any direction.

Emotional sensitivity is often characterised by an acute awareness of the thoughts, actions, and feelings of oneself and others. It’s a double-edged sword; on one side, it equips you with an exceptional ability to empathise and connect, while on the other, it can lead you down a path of overwhelm, personalisation and self-criticism.

The journey of a highly sensitive person is not just about managing this sensitivity; it’s about embracing it as a part of your unique self. 

Some traits of highly sensitive people include:

  • High levels of empathy
  • People-pleasing or putting the needs of others first
  • Feeling overwhelmed by sensory stimuli (lights, noises etc.)
  • High levels of self-awareness
  • Being mistrustful of compliments
  • Emotional dysregulation (difficulty calming down, feeling out of control or feeling like your emotions control you)
  • Avoiding overwhelming situations
  • Procrastination and perfectionism
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Avoiding violent or distressing scenes in books and films
  • Sensitivity to rejection
  • Being able to feel and appreciate pleasant sensations deeply
  • Needing “quiet time” to relax and unwind away from people
  • Strong emotional responses

Emotional resilience, sensitivity and relationships

Emotional resilience and sensitivity deeply influence our interactions with partners, friends, family, and colleagues. At its core, emotional sensitivity is often a sign of fear-based inflexible thinking, where a tight grip on specific expectations leads to intense reactions when things don’t go as planned. Learning to approach situations with a flexible mindset, rich in curiosity and open to various outcomes, can refine our emotional responses.

For those who are highly sensitive, remarks from others can often feel intensely personal, even when not meant that way. Practising mindfulness and developing self-awareness helps create a buffer between you and your immediate reactions, fostering freer and more measured responses. This approach not only tempers emotional volatility but also strengthens relational and social bonds.

Often, heightened sensitivity can be a legacy of past trauma, neglect, or unstable relationships, especially in childhood. Such experiences can breed a heightened emotional state, with hypervigilance as a common defence mechanism. Professional support from therapists or counsellors can be very helpful, assisting in healing and building healthier emotional responses.

Life’s upheavals, like losing a loved one, a breakup, or job loss, can also amplify emotional sensitivity. Acknowledging and understanding these roots can be the first step towards nurturing a more emotionally resilient self.

Building emotional resilience 

Firstly, emotional sensitivity and emotional resilience are not mutually exclusive. Emotional sensitivity can help you to feel more attuned to your own emotions and those of others. Many sensitive people are also highly empathetic and considerate, as their self-awareness enables them to also be conscious of the thoughts and feelings of others.

3D render of balancing pebbles on sand against a sunset sky. Image by kjpargeter on Freepik

The word ‘resilience’ originates from the Latin ‘resilio’, which means ‘to bounce back’ or rebound. Being resilient means you are able to recover and persevere – to pick yourself up and dust yourself off even when you experience setbacks.

Emotional resilience is the ability to draw upon your inner reserves to calm yourself and mentally recover after adverse or stressful experiences. Some people are naturally more emotionally resilient, but this is a skill which can be practised and strengthened. 

It’s important to note that you can’t stop being emotionally sensitive, but you can learn to manage your responses. It’s about whether you work with your sensitivity or allow it to work against you. For example, harnessing your emotional sensitivity to help you empathise with others can enrich your relationships with friends, family, colleagues and yourself.

Research indicates that emotional sensitivity can be more challenging for people with lower levels of self-awareness and acceptance. Practising mindfulness can help you raise your levels of gratitude, acceptance, and accommodation of different outcomes, enabling you to retain all the positive benefits of being sensitive without becoming overwhelmed by intense emotions.

Working on your self-esteem and confidence can also bolster emotional resilience. By cultivating an awareness of your own inherent self-worth, you can learn not to take things people say personally and understand that other people’s behaviour is a reflection on them and their inner world, not you.

Therapy can be instrumental in identifying which aspects of your sensitivity are not serving you and help you to find coping strategies. A professional integrative counsellor will be able to support you in understanding the roots of your sensitivity and where you may be acting out of a historical need for safety or as a defence mechanism, as well as finding ways to navigate your emotions without closing yourself off.

Maintaining good physical, emotional and social health is vital for emotional resilience. Quality sleep, a balanced nutritious diet and regular exercise are the foundation of emotional resilience. Similarly, maintaining fulfilling relationships reinforces your value as a friend, family member or colleague, which supports growing your self-esteem and self-worth. A meaningful social life looks different for everyone – all that matters is that you feel fulfilled and supported by your social circles, no matter their size.

Flower has grown in arid cracked barren soil

In conclusion, embracing emotional resilience as a sensitive individual is akin to learning a beautiful dance between heart and mind. It’s about harmonising the depth of your feelings with the strength of your inner wisdom. By pausing to reflect, extending grace to others and yourself, and steadfastly believing in your own value, you transform sensitivity into a powerful ally. In this journey, remember: your sensitivity is not a burden but a gift that, when balanced with resilience, paints your world with richer, more compassionate colours. Keep dancing to the unique rhythm of your emotions and wisdom; it’s a dance that makes you wonderfully you.