Recognizing and Overcoming Oversensitivity
Years ago, I had volunteered to help out at a Christian event. When I saw how I had been scheduled, I was deeply hurt. It appeared that I was not being used nearly as much as other people. I interpreted this as meaning the leader was rejecting me and thought that I was less skilled than the other volunteers.
The scheduling bothered me so much that I approached the leader and asked her why she was not using me more. She could see that I was hurting, and felt bad about that. When she explained the reasons why she was using this setup, I realized that her choices had nothing to do with me or my level of ability. I was being oversensitive because I had suffered a lot of putdowns that questioned my abilities and rejection in my past.
Everyone can be a little touchy sometimes. We overreact to criticism or bristle when people say they have seen a movie we do not approve of. We become offended when we cannot sway people to our way of thinking. When we become overly sensitive, however, this state can seriously interfere with our Christian walk and harm our relationships with others. We are miserable because we are hurting and angry all the time.
Lets face it, none of us wants to be around someone who is so touchy that we have to walk on egg shells around them. We do not want to go near someone who is constantly on the verge of exploding at us with hurtful words that we often do not deserve. Alarm bells may sound around some people who may carry a grudge against us or seem to want to harm us.
Common reasons why we may be oversensitive
- Physically exhausted
- Emotionally vulnerable – already upset or angry about something else
- Have unaddressed and unresolved emotional pain
- Are overly judgmental
- Pride and vanity is hurt
- We are around people who may have harmed us in the past
The Christian Response to Offences
There is a big difference between experiencing a true offence and overreacting. We need to understand the difference between actual offences and an overreaction to innocent words or actions of other people. We should not take things to heart or other people will despise us (Ecclesiastes 7:21).
God wants us to experience joy, good health, and peace in our lives. He does not want us to be constantly stewing in our own juices, resentful, and in emotional pain over imagined slights. Being slow to anger is a good and wise thing.
The Bible says that is a blessing to us to overlook an offence (Proverbs 12:16). When we can overlook words or actions that have hurt and angered us, we are showing love to our offenders (Proverbs 17:9). When we are quick to forgive, we can let go of our rage and hurt. If we are overly prickly as a porcupine, however, there are issues in our lives that need to be addressed.
Steps to Overcoming Oversensitivity
Identify the underlying cause of the overreaction
In the incident above, I recognized that I misinterpreted the leader’s scheduling as her rejecting me and her thinking I was unable to do the work. I realized that I was seeing her actions through the filter of past rejection and hurtful putdowns from the people in my life.
It is also possible that I was more vulnerable to overreacting because I was physically exhausted at the time. If I was already fuming and upset about something else, I am more likely to be triggered to blow the incident out of proportion. Another possibility is that I have pride. arrogance, or vanity in certain areas.
Some people are very sensitive to criticism and have a strong reaction to it. At the root of their response may be immaturity or feelings such as guilt or shame. Criticism, both constructive and destructive, hurts but can also be an opportunity to grow.
Once we can put our emotions aside, we can analyze the offender's points. We can discard invalid remarks, and use the constructive ones to correct ourselves. If we stay stuck in our oversensitivity, we may be missing lessons we need to learn.
Address unresolved emotional pain
Our human tendency is to run from emotional pain and suppress it so that we do not need to deal with our feelings. Then we can pretend that everything is OK. Dealing with hurts this way is like trying to put a lid on a volcano. Volcanos are unpredictable and the lava bursts up to the surface whether we like it or not. These outbursts often come when we least expect or want them.
When we face our pain and work to heal from it through spiritual steps such as prayer and forgiveness, we desensitize ourselves to words and situations that might trigger us.
Seek clarification, if needed
Sometimes it is helpful to ask why someone said or did something, just like I did.
Stop being judgmental
Some oversensitive Christians mistake judgment for righteous indignation. They see themselves as being like Christ upsetting the moneylenders’ tables at the temple. These people bristle if someone mentions seeing a movie or reading book of which they do not approve. They become upset when other people do not conform to their opinion of what Christianity is. They feel they have a divine right to correct others.
In reality, they are overreacting because they are being judgmental. Their attitude may come out of pride and vanity that needs to be rooted out.
We should strive to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). This may mean accepting them as they are, warts and all. Instead, we should be encouraging them (Romans 14:19) and set a good example for them to follow.
We should be focused on removing the spiritual plank out of our own eyes rather than trying to take the speck our of our neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). God can be trusted to deal with people who are out line. Only God knows their heart. We show love iwhen we can accept other people as they are instead of letting their differences and issues offend us.
Being oversensitive is harmful to our Christian walk. We misunderstand other people’s intentions and are needlessly hurt. We may even lash out at others or commit rash acts that can devastate other people.
Instead, we should show love to others by being patient with them and slow to anger (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). This means challenging misconceptions we may have that people are out to “get” us or deliberately trying to harm us.
Christians must examine themselves continually to expose and remove judgmental attitudes, arrogance, and vanity. People are who humble are not easily offended.
If we can recognize the times that we are being oversensitive, we can lead the joyous, peaceful lives God intends for us.
The Holy Bible, New International Version
Overcoming Sin through Christ: Hypersensitivity, Oversensitivity, Touchiness, Truediscipleship.com
Easily Offended: Here's How to Get Over It, Beyond Today, Becky Sweat