Dear Dr. Faizal,

I’m not particularly emotional, but when I’m nervous, embarrassed or anxious in professional settings, I turn bright red, my heart pounds, and I almost cry. Even over things I shouldn’t! The feelings just emerge and are hard to control. Why is this and how can I prevent it?

– Guy Who’s Too Sensitive

Dear Guy Who’s Too Sensitive,

The very fact that you’re referring to yourself as being “too sensitive” leads me to believe that people in your life (family, friends, teachers, etc.) label you as such. Today, it is believed that a person who ‘feels too much,’ ‘feels too deeply,’ and is ‘too shy’ or who, according to Google, has an “acute physical, mental and emotional response to external (social, environmental)” is given the title of being a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP.

According to Elaine Aron, the author of The Highly Sensitive Person, you may be an HSP if you:

  • Avoid violence and cruelty of any kind
  • Let other people’s emotions affect you
  • Are emotionally exhausted by absorbing others’ emotions
  • Are overwhelmed by time pressure and deadlines
  • Need personal space often
  • Startle easily
  • Are a deep thinker
  • Become bothered when people try to get you to do many things at the same time
  • Are unpleasantly aroused when much is going on around you

Being an HSP can be a blessing since HSPs feel deeply and can verbalize their emotions (an asset in romantic relationships), are empathic, creative and conscientious. However, the very qualities that are superlatives can also be a curse in the workplace.

The workplace can be a scary place sometimes, especially since you may become overwhelmed. This reaction could be misunderstood by your employer as you disliking the job or not ‘fitting into the work culture.’ I recommend having a private but open conversation with your boss about your personality trait so that he or she understands your needs.

Let your boss know that you are aware of subtleties in the work environment (which is a good thing), but are easily overstimulated. Thus, you would work best with a lower level of stimulation. You need a quiet and calm environment. Let your boss know that you are not antisocial but need time to privately process your experiences. This might make you less visible at parties or social gatherings.

You may not perform as well if you know that you are being observed for evaluation. Tell your boss that you tend to dislike self-promotion and stand out over others. You could ask your boss to notice and rate you on your honest and hard work. Perhaps you could even request your boss to use other ways of evaluating you (i.e. sending a survey to the customers of your work).

Finally, give your boss a copy of The Highly Sensitive Person as a gift, with a bookmark on page 236, on which Dr. Aron writes: “Typically, HSPs are highly conscientious, loyal, vigilant about quality, good with details. . . thoughtful about the needs of clients or customers, and good influences on the social climate of the workplace. In short, they are ideal employees.”

Your employer’s recognition of your personality traits and assistance in helping you adapt to your environment should result in you feeling less “nervous, embarrassed or anxious” at work.

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