Anxiety and the Sensitive Person
Heather Stone, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 21112
The Sensitive Persons Level of
Suffering and Need to Present Well
Individuals suffering from anxiety are often highly
sensitive people whose acute awareness has
become an affliction rather than a gift. In
an effort to mask their psychological pain, anxious
individuals often present extremely well --
composed, attractive, competent, intelligent, or
Traits of perfectionism and attention to detail
likely add to a generally favorable impression, and
these same refined qualities may actually
contribute to the individuals legitimate degree of
competence or significant achievement in
life. While this presentation may reflect a high
level of functioning in
external world, it also belies a demoralizing
picture of a tortured internal reality.
Characteristically, anxious people also experience a
sense of poignant transparency, a feeling that
their anxieties might become visible and
provoke the negative scrutiny of others. This
contributes to a pervasive
concern that others might unmask a vulnerable and
imperfect self that is fraught with
inadequacies assumed to be of exaggerated
proportions. Moreover, their high level of insight
that anxious symptoms are
excessive or unreasonable creates a significant
degree of shame and a strong
motivation to keep anxieties undiscoverable
to others. In this way, anxious people learn to
present as unoffensive,
competent, and above reproach in an attempt to avoid
humiliation or rejection.
only are they uncomfortable in their own skin,
anxious individuals are acutely aware of all the
ways in which there is an imperfect fit
between themselves and their immediate world. The
specifics of their
discrepant experiences are unique to each
individual, and it is the therapists task to
understand just how they are so. The
following list comprises some of the inherent
disparities between the
anxious persons inner and outer worlds.
The Assets and Liabilities of the
These individuals must adapt to an extraverted
that doesnt always value this trait.
Alert and discerning.
To manage over-stimulation, anxious people
themselves from stressful situations,
creating a worsened
condition of increased sensitivity and
decreased habituation to stress.
Rich interior; reflective and
Often overwhelmed; criticized for thinking too
Intelligent; complicated wiring.
High maintenance, like an expensive car. Become
sick or exhausted.
Empathic and compassionate.
Poor boundaries; lack of assertiveness.
Responsible and conscientious.
Easily exploited by others, particularly bosses.
Accuracy; able to detect errors;
cognitive techniques such as
identifying automatic thoughts.
Hyper-vigilance; perfectionism; and rejection-
sensitivity. Difficulty controlling levels of
arousal. These may
negatively affect performance levels.
High level of functioning.
Relaxation, recreation, and self-care receive
My Message to the Sensitive
message to you
is that you can live and even thrive in a world that
doesnt quite match who
you are and how you feel inside. Even if you
cannot feel them around you, trust that there are
other like-minded people
such as yourself who are similar to you in nature
and are as sensitive and deep as
Regarding your feelings of transparency:
No one can see into you unless you want them to.
you may be able to intuit the feeling states of
others, most people do not possess this ability.
Even if it were true that others could sense
your feelings or discomfort, it doesnt mean they
really know who you are. A
good measure of determining whether someone truly
knows you is whether they
feel compassion, respect, or love for you. If you
dont get this feeling from others, then
perhaps they dont really know you.
Regarding your perfectionism:
I have some bad news and some good news. The bad
news is that you dont
have very much control. And the good news is that
you dont have very much
control. In other words, you are off the hook in
terms of trying to control everything and make it
all come out ok. I
encourage you to grieve over the fact that nothing
can be done perfectly, and that
you are not perfect. Grieving feels
uncomfortable too, but it feels better than anxiety.
Your need to be perfect is
not helping to reduce your anxiety, it is actually
increasing it. Learn to be ok with the
feeling of being good enough, and practice
doing things that are just good enough. Each one
of us is a work in
progress, and we are all beautifully, poetically
celebrate your sensitivity,
as it is a gift. Remember that as a result of your
sensitivity, you make a
great friend, a deep thinker, an original person,
and someone with substance. I invite you to
experience, with all your sensitivity, the
natural expressions of humanness and imperfections
that come with
authentically relating to life. Your unique presence
changes the world. Im glad that you
Heather Stone, Ph.D.
2010 Heather Stone, Ph.D.