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Highly Sensitive People: How to Stop Dwelling on Past Comments, Gestures, or Looks

Updated on February 10, 2017
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Richard O'Neill is proud to be a highly sensitive person. It has allowed him to experience life on a more spiritual and intuitive level.

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You are NOT Flawed. You Were Designed This Way

When I say "you," I don't mean your soul or your spirit. I mean the body you reside in, that wonderful mechanism that regenerates every 7 years. You, as a being, or a force, or whatever you like to believe, have no choice regarding the body you are born into.

But you can be damn sure that it wasn't a simple fluke of nature or a glitch in the program. Some are born fighters, with adamantine nervous systems that can seemingly take the full force of an atom bomb and still barely twitch in response. Most are born with a standard package, one that is neither sensitive nor robust, probably because they are the workhorses of the species.

Then there is you, the highly sensitive person, born with a nervous system that is so sensitive it knows things before you do, hence your powerful intuitive capability, the ability to feel something before your rational mind can analyze it. Once upon a time, back when humankind was as wild as the lions that roam the savannahs of Africa today, the leaders depended on your ability to detect danger in the form of beasts, changes in weather, forest fires, droughts, etc.

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You were important. You were needed. In fact, when you think about it, you were just as important as the warriors and the hunters because your ability to sense things before anyone else would have kept your people alive.

Fast forward a few thousand years to today, however, and into a world in which your greatest enemy is no longer the animals of the wild, but your own kind, and you can see how your gifts may no longer be given the appreciation they deserve.

What happens then?

Well, knowing and feeling so different, whilst not having a means to fully express yourself, means that you probably feel something like a terrified cat stranded between two busy roads at night, alone in an ocean of noise, aggression and blinding light.

Occasionally, you may see other cats who are just as frightened, some having used their abilities to reach the other side where it is a little more peaceful, but many--like you--will be stuck in the middle, overthinking every decision because your nervous system is programmed that way.

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Rumination and Regret Holds You Back in Life

I know this is a rather obvious statement. You already know this, otherwise you wouldn't be here reading this article.

But it does help to understand why dwelling on the past holds you back.

Let's see. Dwelling on comments, mistakes, criticism and the opinions of others:

  • Causes us to lose sight of what we really want.
  • Resets any improvements we might have been making.
  • Breeds fear within us, fear of people, fear of situations.
  • This fear leads to avoidance, possibly social phobia or anxiety.
  • Causes us to overlook the many good things about ourselves.
  • Turns us into people pleasers.
  • Makes us perennially ashamed.
  • And finally leaves us open to being manipulated by narcissists who prey on the passive and the gentle.

Make the decision right now to stop looking back at all those moments when you could have done, or said, or chosen something different.

You are a highly sensitive human being with a highly efficient sensory processing machine in your body, that allows you to see things others don't. Use this for what it was meant to be used for. Use it for good. Use it to adapt to your environment.

Studies have shown that this trait of high sensitivity evolved in many species as a means of adapting and responding to their environment, before using their greater cognitive processing ability to develop a survival strategy.

Let's focus on that.

Break free from regret

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The Curse of Noticing EVERY Detail

As a highly sensitive person, I often used to stop and stare in bewilderment (discreet bewilderment) as non-sensitive people tore each other apart with comments/jokes, which is known as "banter" in England, my home country.

Sarcasm, irony, and exaggeration are some of the tools which non-sensitives wield with efficiency, and hence, this is where much of our humor comes from. For highly sensitive people, however, it is difficult to become proficient at this because we overthink everything, and we tend to do it slowly too, which means a back and forth round of banter with a non-sensitive can be almost impossible--unless we are well-rested!

But remember, as a highly sensitive person, you are a watcher, a listener, a feeler and an adapter. These are nature's gifts to you. So in reality, if you really think about it, there is nothing that you can't do or be. However, your nervous system will never become so hardened that it stops being sensitive, otherwise, it would be flawed. It must always be ultra sensitive if it is to do the job that nature intended it to do: sense, feel, warn, and adapt.

So, you too can be sarcastic, sly, silver-tongued, or silly, but at the same time, you'll always be sensitive, and need to rest and ensure you don't dwell on anything that you or someone else said.

As sensitive human beings, we forget that non-sensitives do not over-analyze or dwell on things unless they are of extreme importance. As a highly sensitive person, almost everything is of importance to you, because everything, be it words, facial expressions or gestures; is noticeable to you down to the smallest detail.

As sensitive human beings, we forget that non-sensitives DO NOT over analyze or dwell on things unless they are of extreme importance.

Yes, you may be prey for narcissists who make mean comments as a form of manipulation, in order to garner the desired response--usually defensiveness followed by submissiveness--but oftentimes you might also misconstrue a perfectly innocent comment.

For example, you may have just treated yourself to a new haircut and someone you know might see you and say: "Loving the new haircut," and wander off smiling. For you, as a sensitive person, alarm bells might begin clanging at this point. You need more than that. You need clarification. Was it an ironic comment? Was it genuinely nice?

So what was a perfectly normal comment becomes a weed in your mind that spends the next few days strangling your thoughts, making you anxious, causing you to spend hours staring in the mirror searching for and finding flaws that aren't even there.

Sometimes, however, those comments are meant to be subtly hurtful. That's how people manipulate. They give you a lemon and watch you turn it into a whole grove of lemon trees!

The key then is to never dwell. When you dwell, thoughts swell (accidental poetry, I promise...), and you lose sleep, confidence, control, you name it, anything that was going well for you when the comment was made is lost under a flood of doubt.

It's time to stop letting past comments, looks, or gestures hold you back.

Go forth

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Action Steps to Counter Dwelling Behavior

Because you take time to process comments, you probably don't act on them until later, which is of course too late to actually do anything about it. At the time, you might react defensively or simply say nothing.

Try these steps at the time of the comment:

  1. Do nothing because by doing nothing, you give nothing, you avoid manipulation.
  2. Look away and immediately divert your attention. The person commenting will again miss out on the required manipulation.
  3. Mentally, speak a word or phrase that immediately shuts down the urge to become defensive. Remember that it is the reaction that the person commenting seeks to draw out of you, in order to confirm that they have power over you. Mentally say, "shutdown," and cut the ties to your emotions.
  4. Stare blank-faced. A blank face will not only unnerve the person commenting, but it will also stop negative emotions from arising.

These methods will only work at the time of the comment, however. You also need methods to halt any dwelling you might start to do later after the comment or comments were made.

Go forward, free of regrets

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To stop any dwelling behavior:

  1. Remind yourself that the person commenting desired to manipulate you because inwardly, they are insecure and possibly even threatened by you. Therefore, it was their intent to make you feel small. Confident people do not do that. Brush it off.
  2. Use it as fuel to give you a boost of motivation to initiate change in your life. Remember, you have the power to use any experience as you wish. It can become a problem that holds you back, or it can become an opportunity for you to grow. Take the focus you would have put on the "why me's?" and "what ifs" and use it to propel yourself toward a positive change.
  3. Choose to be a "responder" and not a "reacter" because a reaction is subjective, driven by emotion and thus can wear you out and cause you to make unwise decisions. A response, on the other hand, is objective and therefore is chosen carefully, after you have thought things through. Highly sensitive people often react emotionally, with anger, bitterness, and woe as they dwell on the past. It hurts. It weighs you down. But instead, use your wonderful HSP ability of deep thinking to pull apart any "reactions" you might have and instead replace them with logic. If you find yourself thinking, "She is so evil to think that of me," realize that you are reacting, not responding. Consider why the comment was made, but do so from a point of power and wisdom, not emotion.
  4. Work out a plan on how you will deal with such situations in future. Not all highly sensitive people are the same. What works for one will not work for another. If your only method of dealing with a slight aimed at you is to react with emotion, then you are leaving yourself at the mercy of others, especially those who enjoy pulling your strings. Instead of dwelling and wondering why, practice confronting the person in several different ways, in your mind, until you find a method that works for you.
  5. Mentally prepare to use your more objective approach before you meet someone that you know might make a comment or aim a look at you. Sometimes, the best and most effective approach, the one that throws people off, is the candid but cordial approach like: "What's that look for?" or, "What do you mean by that? Explain." Not only will this clear things up, but it will also give you more confidence, which in turn will melt some of the anxiety that you might have otherwise felt around people.

Whatever you decide to do, and whatever your approach, just make the decision to quit dwelling. If you find yourself dwelling, stop yourself and throw your energy into something more productive instead. You're sensitive, and so feel things more strongly than others do, but never forget that your sensitivity is a gift from nature. You were chosen to be the "spotter" for humankind, the listener, the observer, and the teacher.

You are a vital cog in this ever moving machine that is humankind. Don't ever forget that.

© 2017 Richard J ONeill

Do you find that you dwell on the past? Have you found an effective way of halting dwelling in its tracks?

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    • profile image

      Elizabeth Hannah 3 weeks ago

      Realising that we humans are so very different and understanding more about ourselves. Realising our own worth, truly, is a great step forward.

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 5 months ago

      Well, I have high regard for sensitive people because they are soooo easy to get on with!

    • profile image

      Nenyenjoku 6 months ago

      Thanks for sharing. I v been enlightened.

    • Paulanton profile image

      Paul 6 months ago from Durban

      Very enlightening. Thanks for the thoughts.

      Well written

    • Richawriter profile image
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      Richard J ONeill 6 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      You're not wrong there Tess! Lol!

    • TessSchlesinger profile image

      Tessa Schlesinger 6 months ago from South Africa

      Actually, there's a simpler way of getting it out of the way - just understanding why people said it. Then one can dismiss it! :)