The Difference Between Sensitivity and Drama

When I was young I was super sensitive to tone of voice. I remember telling people not to yell at me and they would respond that they weren't yelling. While they might not have been raising their voices, I was picking up on an angry or annoyed tone and made the assumption that they were yelling.

In my first marriage, the tone I was sensitive was one of judgement, but I blew it off as just me being over sensitive. I know now that I was right in my interpretation.

When you intuitively sense things beyond what is said (or even what the person is aware of in themselves), it can leave you questioning your own judgement. For me this led to quite a bit of defensiveness and drama in the past.

I always thought drama was an inevitable byproduct of two intense and sensitive people getting together. Now that I'm getting married again to an intense but low-drama partner, I see that I was dead wrong. I think when it comes down to it, the difference between sensitivity and drama is in how we interpret and communicate about our sensitivity.

I've heard many emotionally sensitive friends talk about how they have been accused of being irrational. I actually find that often highly sensitive people are the most rational of all because they can see many sides of an issue. The intense emotional response is a highly rational reaction to the fact that there's a lot of cruelty and unfairness in the world. The drama comes in when we react before have time to fully process...

  • Sensitivity may mean reacting more emotionally than average. Drama is taking everything personally.
  • Sensitivity might involve intuitively picking up on subtleties others might not notice. Drama is making assumptions based on those feelings without clarification.
  • Sensitivity could be reacting more intensely to the thoughtless acts of others. Drama is blaming others for your feelings and actions.
  • Sensitivity often involves considering a variety of perspectives. Drama is looking for others to reinforce your own perspective.
  • Sensitivity is being considerate of the needs of others. Drama is playing a martyr.

There are two resources that I've found invaluable in handling my sensitivity while reducing the drama. One is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz: Be impeccable with your word; Don’t take anything personally; Don’t make assumptions; and Always do your best.

The other, more active, tool I use is Nonviolent Communication. NVC is all about communicating our needs in a way that respects the needs of others. It empowers us to take assertive action and live out the Four Agreements. I developed a four step process to help sensitive and intense people use the elements of Nonviolent Communication to embrace their sensitivities in a positive and proactive way. I use the acronym STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Request) to remember the steps.

Stop - Develop a self-care toolkit to help you reach a calm state and objectively observe your situation.

Think - Consider your feelings and needs around the situation then think of strategies that might meet your needs.

Act - Choose a strategy and do it.

Request - If someone can help you meet a need, make a request of them. Be sure that it is indeed a request, rather than a demand.

I share a more detailed post about the STAR process here.

We can not control the actions of others, but we can control how we respond. Considering the Four Agreements and using the STAR process we can communicate our needs in a drama-free way and live our lives proactively rather than reactively.