How to stop being so oversensitive

Paramahansa Yogananda was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. I’ve been reading one of his other books, Journey to Self-Realization. What a fantastic book this is; I recommend it to you. This post is based on a chapter from the book. 

Could you be accused of being oversensitive at times?

What is going on there? Why aren’t you able to stop yourself from taking things so personally?

Let’s be honest: most of us have spent at least a chunk of our lives being too invested in the words and actions of others. It kind of flows naturally from the way things are set up around here. You’re more weird and confusing for people when you are not oversensitive!

Go too much in the other direction however, and you’ll immunize yourself completely to the feelings of others. Maybe you will become like one of those people that claim not to give a fuck about anything. (Sorry, but yawn. So. Many. Yawns!)

It appears that there is a happy medium to be found, where we aren’t emotionally sensitive, but we remain keenly perceptive, and considerate of the feelings of others.

Here are some insights from the wisest yogi you’ll ever meet, Paramahansa Yogananda, on how we stop being so touchy.

You might want to keep your sense of humor close to hand. I’m not sure whether it was intended, but the yogi is quite the comedian.

1. ‘Over-sensitivity is thoughts run amok’

“An analysis of the psychology of touchiness shows that it is the result of a misunderstanding, inferiority complex, and an ungoverned ego,” says Paramahansa.

Feeling oversensitive is a sign that your ego, rather than your deeper, truer nature, has taken control of the helm. (If you’ve no idea what I am talking about, read this).

“To be touchy is to make oneself miserable, and to create a negative vibration that also adversely affects others. Even if there is good reason for being excited because of mistreatment, one who instead controls himself in such a situation is a master of himself”.

Being a master of yourself…I can get on board with that.

So how do you become the master of yourself? The key mental habits are practising mindfulness and responsibility. Mindfulness helps you to stop relating to your thoughts as the sole source of reality (they’re not) and responsibility helps you to take control of your happiness.

2. ‘Your over-sensitivity makes you like an opium addict’

“It is a common trait of human beings to be touchy. Many persons think that they should pity themselves when criticized, and that sensitiveness brings a little relief. But such people are like the opium addict; every time he takes the drug, he becomes more steeped in the habit.

Be as firm as steel against sensitiveness.”

Paramahansa suggests that being oversensitive provides us with an emotional pay-off – some kind of righteousness. Are you morally righteous at times (and does that make you feel good about yourself temporarily?) If so, then you might be addicted to feeling oversensitive. If that’s the case, then recognise it and start to break the habit.

3. ‘If you’re feeling oversensitive, take yourself off quietly’

“Nobody should catch you in a touchy mood. Quietly correct yourself. If necessary, hide yourself in a room away from others until the fever of sensitiveness is gone.”

This seems like pretty sage advice.

It isn’t good to bury your emotions, or conceal them excessively from those around you. But you should care enough not to want to affect other people with your low spirits too.

You’ll feel better afterwards knowing that you over-sensitivity was contained.

4. ‘Be sensitive, just don’t be oversensitive’

The yogi makes an interesting distinction between being oversensitive and being sensitive, which isn’t a negative thing.

“There is a difference between emotional sensitiveness and spiritual sensitivity. Those who are spiritually sensitive are discriminatingly watchful of their own feelings and keenly perceptive of the feelings of others, but they remain aloof from the disturbances of psychological impulses.”

Unfortunately he doesn’t give any advice about how to become more spiritually sensitive. I would suggest that it is just a matter of being kind, and trying to notice other people’s needs in amongst attending to your own.

5. ‘Over-sensitivity will stop you from benefiting from the wisdom of others’

By his own admission, Paramahansa was very sensitive in his youth. Consequently, he said he suffered a lot. “It was a process of self-torture”, he said. “Because I was so sensitive, others seemed to take delight in ‘getting my goat’. Let nobody take your peace”.

The sensitivity was apparently ironed out of him by his master, who freely corrected the young yogi.

“Persons with a well developed spirituality can clearly see the faults in others. When a clear sighted well-wisher tries sincerely to help you, that person should not be looked upon as one who wants to exercise lordship over you, but rather as one who is trying to give you understanding and strength to see and conquer your weaknesses. You should cooperate. Be courteous and kind; and if you start to sink into the mood of touchiness, immediately control yourself.”

Paramahansa makes an excellent point about how being oversensitive can stop you from self-development. It reminds me of Carol Dweck’s research on having a fixed versus a growth mindset.

Of course, you have to be selective about who you take advice from. But over-sensitivity might stop you from benefiting from any advice – and you probably don’t want that.

Summary

Maybe it was easy for Paramahansa to stamp out his over-sensitivity at an early age, given his upbringing. His advice definitely has a matter-of-fact quality to it.

Nonetheless, I have found his offerings helpful.

Hopefully you do too.