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Why I Created 'The List' to Help Me Cope With Difficult People as a Highly Sensitive Person

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In highly-sensitive people, our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. Along with our endless empathy and kindness toward others, we tend to feel everything very intensely.

Too intensely.

For years, I was labeled “too sensitive,” and was told I needed thicker skin. I would feel physically ill if I was around too many people for too long, but would be crushed if I wasn’t invited to a party. I was at the mercy of everyone else’s attitude and behavior, and someone else’s bad mood would eclipse my happy one in a matter of minutes. Moreover, everyone’s opinion held equal weight in my mind — an offhanded hurtful remark from a casual acquaintance hurt just as much as if it came from my best friend.

As any fire marshall can tell you, occupancy limits are there for a reason, and this applies to our brains as well. We simply cannot allow every person and thought into our minds. For highly-sensitive people who struggle with anxiety and depression, negative people and thoughts overwhelm the love and encouragement of others. Our brains can become so full of insults and judgments that there is simply no room for anything else. The negative comments and behaviors of people I encountered were overwhelming, and without anything to control them, my mind began to burst at the seams.

“Just forget about them,” my therapist would advise. Easy to say, not easy to do.

Then I imagined my over-wrought mind like a nightclub. Every nightclub needs a bouncer to keep the numbers in line and the troublemakers out. And every bouncer needs a guest list. If you’re on “The List,” you get in. If you’re not, well, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait in line or find somewhere else to go.

Everyone’s list is different. Mine has 10 people on it. If those people are upset or critical, then I’ll pay attention to what they are saying. If they’re not on The List, well, their opinion doesn’t count for very much at all.

By curating our own lists and being our own bouncers — letting only a select few people and thoughts in — a tremendous sense of confidence is born. Now, in any situation that has a person threaten to upset my balance, I pause and check to see if they are on The List.

Avoiding difficult people is impossible, but that’s the beauty of The List. We acknowledge they are there, but every interaction is tolerable because, regardless of how they behave, The List reminds us they don’t have the power to upset us anymore.

The co-worker who is generally unpleasant and difficult to be around? I’m sorry, you’re not on The List. Family members who make callous comments and harsh judgements? I’m sorry, you’re not on The List.

Even the seemingly insignificant encounters that can threaten the peace in our lives: drivers who cut you off, parking spot stealers, judgy PTA members, nasty neighbors… I’m sorry, none of you are on The List.

A large part of mental health management is learning to control your thoughts before they control you. Difficult people become easier to deal with when you assume the power position. So become the bouncer of your brain. Be powerful, yet quiet, and check The List. If their name isn’t on it, they don’t get inside.

So stay sensitive — it’s truly a gift — but react to every situation from a place of peace and reason, not from a place of hurt.

Getty Images photo via Juliia Tochilina

Originally published: April 18, 2018
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