How to Be Less Sensitive

Worried mature man standing at home, close to a window, with hand in the head

FG Trade/E+/Getty

Being sensitive means you sometimes overinterpret or overreact to perceived criticism or judgment. 

Sensitivity is not necessarily a bad thing. Having this quality means that you are observant, conscientious, and thoughtful. However, it can sometimes lead to overwhelming emotions when faced with social conflict, criticism, or rejection.

If you tend to be a highly sensitive person, you are more likely to sense social threats. But with this high sensitivity comes increased reactivity, which might cause you to misread signals from others.

You might look for ways to avoid feeling hurt if you are overly sensitive. This can prevent you from engaging in social situations, pursuing career opportunities, enjoying close relationships, or being authentic in your interactions with others.

It is important to remember that many people are sensitive, so it isn't something that has to define you as a person. Research suggests that around 20% of people tend to be highly sensitive.

Managing your sensitivity effectively can help you remain empathetic and attentive without taking things too personally. This article discusses how to be less sensitive and explores how being too sensitive might negatively affect your life. Some ways to be less sensitive include:

  • Building your emotional regulation skills
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Writing about your feelings in a journal
  • Not taking things personally
  • Accepting yourself for who you are
  • Becoming better at tolerating distress

6 Ways to Be Less Sensitive

While it is tempting to avoid situations that leave you feeling sensitive or overemotional, this coping tactic comes at a high cost. Avoiding social situations can leave you lonely and lacking in support. Turning down opportunities for advancement can hurt you professionally and damage your confidence. 

If you want to learn how to be less sensitive, the following steps are a good place to start:

Learn to Regulate Your Emotions

Emotional regulation is the ability to control your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Having this ability allows you to manage feelings of distress and disruptive emotions. Strengthening this ability can help you feel less sensitive and put feelings in perspective before acting on them.

One strategy for regulating emotions effectively is to utilize cognitive reframing to change how you think and feel about different situations. This process involves intentionally reinterpreting a situation to control your emotional reaction to it.

If someone offers feedback on a project at work, you might initially think something like, "I'm terrible at this!" or "Nobody appreciates my efforts!" You might use cognitive reappraisal to see the situation from a different perspective. For example, you might think, "My co-worker wants to help me do my best" or "Making those changes will really improve the project."

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves learning how to focus fully on the present moment without worrying about the past or future. Evidence has found that mindfulness can have a beneficial effect on conditions that are characterized by emotional dysregulation.

Research has also found that brief mindfulness meditation interventions have a positive effect on emotion processing.

If you want to become less sensitive, mindfulness can boost self-awareness and improve your ability to regulate your emotions. This process takes time and effort, so consider setting aside some time each day to practice.

Try Journaling

Journaling about your emotional experiences can be a great way to gain more insight into how you feel and respond to the events in your life. By writing down your feelings, you can better make sense of what you are experiencing. Some ways that journaling can help you become less sensitive include:

Journaling can give you greater distance from your emotions. By stepping back and looking at what you are feeling more objectively, you'll be better able to gauge whether your reaction is appropriate and realistic. 

Research has also shown that simply identifying and naming your emotions, a process known as affect labeling, can reduce the intensity of those feelings.

Don't Take Things Personally

Personalization is a cognitive bias that can often contribute to heightened sensitivity. This bias causes people to take everything personally, blaming themselves for things that are not their fault.  

One way to combat this tendency is to actively challenge negative thoughts. When you find yourself taking something too personally, ask yourself:

  • Are there other factors involved that are also to blame?
  • Are you jumping to conclusions or reading too much into what other people do or say?
  • What are some alternative ways of thinking about the situation?

You can combat a tendency to take things too personally by working to give people the benefit of the doubt. Remember that they might not mean things the way they sound or that you might have misunderstood. Positive self-talk and focusing on your strengths can also help you feel less sensitive to such comments.

Practice Self-Acceptance

Highly sensitive people are also sometimes highly self-critical. By learning to be more self-accepting, people can combat the inner fear that always has them looking for signs of criticism, judgment, or rejection.

To be more self-accepting, look for ways to:

  • Embrace yourself for who you are, including both your good quality and your negative ones.
  • Recognize your strengths and appreciate them, but don't try to compare yourself to others.
  • Set boundaries for what you are willing and not willing to accept. 
  • Keep a positive outlook and focus on using positive self-talk and affirmations to boost yourself up.
  • Forgive yourself for the mistakes you may have made in the past; acknowledge the mistake and move on.  

Learn to Tolerate Distress

Criticism hurts, even when it is constructive or comes from a trusted source. While you cannot eliminate all criticism, there are strategies you can use to improve your ability to tolerate the sting of it.

Distress tolerance refers to your ability to make it through an emotionally challenging situation without engaging in behaviors that worsen it.

For example, you might be upset if you ask a friend for a favor and they turn you down. If your distress tolerance is poor, you might get upset and tell yourself that your friend doesn't really care.

Good distress tolerance, on the other hand, would help you manage these feelings in the moment so that you can look at them with a greater perspective later on. Instead of getting upset, you might tell yourself that your friend is busy and that you'll ask again some other time.

Tactics that can improve your distress tolerance when you are feeling overly sensitive include:

  • Staying busy to distract yourself from distressing emotions.
  • Focusing your attention on someone else instead of ruminating on negative thoughts and emotions.
  • Participating in an activity you enjoy to help soothe and give yourself comfort.
  • Doing something to inspire opposing emotions, such as watching a funny movie or reading an exciting book.

Characteristics of Sensitive People

While being "too sensitive" is often viewed negatively, sensitive people have both strengths and challenges. They are good at sensing the emotions of others so they can be deeply empathetic. However, this emotional intelligence can sometimes cause them to feel overwhelmed by the feelings of others.

Sensitive People
  • Feel things deeply

  • Enjoy spending time alone

  • Think deeply about the world

  • Easily overwhelmed by loud noises or other strong stimuli

  • Pick up on the emotions of others

  • Withdraw when they feel overwhelmed

Insensitive People
  • Indifferent

  • Lack affection for others

  • Exclude others

  • Critical

  • Overly self-confident

  • Don't respect boundaries

  • Lack empathy

Potential Causes of Being Sensitive

It is normal to be attuned to the emotions and behaviors of others. Being too sensitive, however, can hinder your ability to function normally in your daily life. 

The exact causes of sensitivity are not fully understood, but genetics, biological factors, and experiences likely play a role.

Some research indicates that sensitivity serves an evolutionary purpose. Genetics also plays a part. Research has shown that sensitivity tends to run in families.

Some other potential causes of being sensitive include:

  • Fatigue: When you are tired, you are less able to manage your emotional responses. You might be more sensitive to other people's behavior and more likely to misinterpret what they are saying.
  • Low self-esteem: If you have low self-esteem, you may worry more about what others think about you. This can cause you to take things too personally and read to much into what others say and do.
  • Mental health conditions: Anxiety and depression may cause you to feel more susceptible to sensitivity. 
  • Negative self-talk: It's hard to stay positive if you are your own worst critic. Constantly belittling yourself might lead you to think that others see you in the same negative light.
  • Past trauma: Children who experience trauma are more likely to be highly sensitive as adults.
  • Perfectionism: Being a perfectionist can make you more sensitive to criticism.

Benefits of Being Less Sensitive

While being sensitive has advantages, being too sensitive can create challenges in different areas of your life. Sensitivity means your feelings are easily hurt, often unintentionally. Finding ways to be less sensitive, at least in some ways, can benefit you in a variety of ways:

  • You’re less likely to feel hurt: Emotional hurts can lead to shame, embarrassment, self-doubt, and low confidence. You might become anxious about interacting with others, even to the point that you avoid social situations to prevent having your feelings hurt. Being less sensitive can help minimize the risk of feeling hurt by social slights.
  • You’ll feel less anxious: If you’re always worried about feeling hurt, you might experience social anxiety. This can ultimately lead to poor self-esteem, loneliness, isolation, depression, and poor social support. Being less sensitive can help you to feel less anxious about social situations.
  • You’ll experience fewer conflicts: Another potential pitfall of being too sensitive is having conflicts with others. If you are easily hurt, you might misinterpret others’ words or overreact to minor slights. This can erode interpersonal relationships, leading to arguments and misunderstandings. Letting things go without feeling overly sensitive can minimize these conflicts.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I become emotionally tougher?

Building your confidence and practicing mindfulness can help you feel emotionally stronger if you are a sensitive person. When you feel good about yourself and confident in your abilities, you're less likely to take criticism personally.

Mindfulness can build self-awareness and help you recognize the thoughts contributing to excessive sensitivity. Once you recognize this happening, you can utilize different coping strategies to manage feelings of emotional distress.

Why am I so sensitive and cry so easily?

Emotionally empathetic people may cry more easily in response to emotional situations or stress. This tendency is sometimes stronger when you feel tired or stressed because your ability to regulate your emotions is often diminished.

Frequent crying can also be linked to personality traits such as neuroticism and emotional sensitivity or mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. High stress levels and past traumas can also play a role.

Is emotional sensitivity a disorder?

Being sensitive is not a disorder, but it can sometimes be a sign of difficulty or a mental health conditions. Events such as stress, trauma, bereavement, and major life changes can cause you to feel more sensitive. Anxiety disorders also often lead to increased emotional sensitivity.

A Word From Verywell

Being a sensitive person can have both benefits and drawbacks. If you feel you are being too sensitive, there are ways to improve your emotional regulation abilities. Once you recognize the thoughts and situations that tend to trigger these tendencies, you can utilize coping strategies to manage your emotions and improve your mental well-being.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Acevedo BP, Aron EN, Aron A, Sangster MD, Collins N, Brown LL. The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others' emotions. Brain Behav. 2014;4(4):580-594. doi:10.1002/brb3.242

  2. Moyal N, Henik A, Anholt GE. Cognitive strategies to regulate emotions-current evidence and future directions. Front Psychol. 2014;4:1019. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.01019

  3. Guendelman S, Medeiros S, Rampes H. Mindfulness and emotion regulation: Insights from neurobiological, psychological, and clinical studies. Front Psychol. 2017;8:220. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00220

  4. Wu R, Liu LL, Zhu H, et al. Brief mindfulness meditation improves emotion processing. Front Neurosci. 2019;13:1074. doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.01074

  5. Torre JB, Lieberman MD. Putting feelings into words: affect labeling as implicit emotion regulation. Emotion Review. 2018;10(2):116-124. doi:10.1177/1754073917742706

  6. Miedl SF, Blechert J, Klackl J, et al. Criticism hurts everybody, praise only some: Common and specific neural responses to approving and disapproving social-evaluative videos. Neuroimage. 2016;132:138-147. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.02.027

  7. Luberto CM, Crute S, Wang A, Yeh GY, Celano CM, Huffman JC, Park ER. Lower distress tolerance is associated with greater anxiety and depression symptoms among patients after acute coronary syndrome. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 202;70:143-144. doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2021.01.01

  8. Chen C, Chen C, Moyzis R, et al. Contributions of dopamine-related genes and environmental factors to highly sensitive personality: a multi-step neuronal system-level approach. PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21636. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021636

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."