Being Oversensitive Can Be Your Greatest Relationship Strength

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Crybaby. Too sensitive. Drama queen. These labels hardly paint a positive picture of oversensitivity. In fact, for years the trait has been seen in a negative light, and thought to be a character flaw … until recently.

First, you should know what oversensitivity looks like. In essence, it is defined as emotional fragility. From a psychology perspective, highly sensitive people are those deeply impacted by the environment and those around them. This vulnerability can be challenging to live with, mainly due to the labels listed above. People often see sensitive people as difficult or hard to manage as they never know what will trigger their emotions.

However, more and more research is showing that this “negative” trait can actually work for you, especially in relationships. “Highly sensitive people are more aware of their surroundings,” says Dr. Bianca Acevedo. “Both positive and negative ... This manifests itself in such a way that if your partner or friend is happy, the more sensitive you are, the more reward you personally feel out of that situation.”

In fact, in a 2014 study Dr. Acevedo found that highly sensitive people can literally feel what others are feeling. When presented with a happy image of a loved one, hypersensitive people showed “increased activation in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, which signals rewards.”

So what does this mean from a relationship perspective? “In terms of personal relationships, sensitive individuals can better read other people’s signals, pick up on subtle signs, console, and empathize,” says Dr. Acevedo. “They benefit from another’s happiness, as well … and are found to be better listeners.” This essentially makes emotionally vulnerable people amazing cheerleaders and sympathizers in relationships, which can make the receiving partner feel more loved, safe, and supported. Not a bad thing, right?

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“If you’re in a relationship with a [highly sensitive person], they are much more likely to 'get you,' be sensitive to your needs, and think deeply and complexly about you as a person,” said Dr. Acevedo in a 2016 article she wrote on her 2014 findings. “Indeed, HSPs consistently show greater activation in brain areas associated with elaborative and meaning-making processes, as well as inferring others’ goals and intentions.”

Another worthy relationship benefit of being sensitive involves memory. In her written article, Dr. Acevedo said studies found, “greater activation [in highly sensitive people] in areas related to memory, so they are much more likely to remember a story you have shared with them, what your favorite color is, or whether you like ice cream or not.” And while this can obviously be seen as a positive thing, it can have its drawbacks, too, as individuals with good memories are likely to remember negative things in the past as well.

Like with any character trait, there are going to be gains and hindrances with being an emotionally fragile person. But seeing it as a strength in your life and how it helps you connect with those around you is key in better loving yourself for who you inherently are.