Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a very sensitive person who is careful not to say things that hurt other people. Baruch Hashem I have a good marriage and wonderful children and grandchildren. We manage financially, although we are not rich. Although I try to be nice to others, I find that sometimes people say hurtful comments. I am going through a difficult issue and people are forever giving me unsolicited advice while I am looking for support. Sometimes they ask me private and inappropriate questions. How do I handle this situation without getting angry and upset? I know that some of these people really are trying to be helpful.
A Sensitive Soul
Dear Sensitive Soul,
Hurtful comments from friends, family and others even when meant to be helpful can sometimes trigger one’s anxiety. Research suggests that in order to move past such comments you should try to practice self-compassion. It is not healthy for you to sit with the comment and have it linger. Don’t personalize other peoples comments. Try to tune them out or distract yourself from them. Society does not teach people how to give effective emotional support. If you say to yourself “I feel hurt and I am angry,” you can acknowledge your specific emotions in the first step of self-compassion. While anger wants us to fight and hurt makes us cower in a corner, acknowledging these feelings actually helps to balance them. Don’t chastise yourself by saying “I should not be so sensitive,” as this will only make you feel worse. Acknowledge that you are allowed to feel bad when others hurt you, and then try to build yourself back up by telling yourself you are doing the best you can with the situation you were given.
When a person gives you unsolicited advice, you can say, “I appreciate your suggestion, but what I really need is a listening ear and support through my situation.” If it is not someone close, try to disengage with the person or change the subject, so you do not have to be hurt again. Disconnect from so called friends and acquaintances that are hurting you time and time again after you have asked them not to. These people are not good friends if they cannot hear that you do not appreciate their “advice.” Make an effort to tell your close family and friends to try to give you support and understanding. Once in a while someone close to you may actually have a good idea, so please be open to this, but in general, your close friends and family should understand how you feel and respect your wishes.
Self-acknowledgement will also help take the edge off the hurt and the anger. Another helpful idea is to try to make a plan to help yourself do more positive things like exercise, sleeping, and eating well. This sounds simple, but it actually will help you deal more effectively with these stressful situations.
It is hard not to worry when you are going through something difficult. However, when you look at the word da’aga, you see that the letters in Hebrew are daled-alef-gimel-hay. It is missing the bet for bitachon. If we can focus on our bitachon, it can help reduce the da’aga. Perhaps you can take upon yourself learning a sefer like Living Emunah to help you feel less scared and more connected to Hashem. I know this was not an issue you brought up, but it often goes hand-in-hand with facing life’s challenges. I wish you hatzlocha with whatever challenge you are dealing with and hope that you can find the inner strength to tune out unhelpful people and to surround yourself with loving and caring individuals!