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Highly Sensitive People and Emotional Contagion

Every time we enter a human space, consciously and unconsciously, we tune into and are influenced by the emotions of others around us, both positively and negatively. This innate tendency to be emotionally “in tune” with the other humans around us is what psychological researchers call emotional contagion.

We instinctively respond to the emotional tone of those around us, and all normal human beings are susceptible to emotional contagion to some degree.

Emotional contagion and Empathy

Emotional contagion in its most positive form is the basis of the human virtue of empathy. We need to be emotionally attuned to others in order to understand them, get along with them, and function effectively in the human social world.

Highly sensitive people’s finely detailed observation skills make them more receptive than most to the nuances of other people’s feelings. This sometimes leads them to shy away from crowds as the mass of emotional messages is too confusing. But even relating one-on-one can be an emotional challenge for a person who reads and responds strongly to subtle emotional cues from others.

Because HSPs’ own emotional responses are intense, come on quickly, and are hard to shake, they often find themselves uncomfortably caught up in other people’s feelings. Being attuned to the rawness of other people’s emotions and even accepting them through emotional contagion can be an unpleasant and aversive experience.

danger of codependency

Since vicariously experiencing others’ unhappiness, anger, or despair is so painful for a highly sensitive individual, it’s easy to understand why it would be tempting for them to collude or manage social situations to keep others in emotional balance. When the need to make sure those around them are never angry or upset becomes a concern, there is a danger of developing codependent relationships.

Psychologist Fatima Nabi describes codependent behavior:

“Codependents feel responsible for others. They feel anxious when they hear that others are experiencing difficulties and will do whatever it takes to ease their burdens. Codependents’ obsession with caring for others affects their personal lives. It’s easy for codependents to allow others to take advantage of them; however, this leads to feelings of resentment”.

Staying ahead of the other’s emotional curve.

Because a sensitive person is so capable of empathically intuiting what others are feeling, and because they are usually quite adept at recognizing and naming feelings, they are sometimes in the peculiar position of having a better idea of ​​what their feelings are. family member or partner is a feeling of what that person can be herself.

This foresight often leads to the temptation to handle situations preemptively.

Sometimes this is simple kindness and tact.

  • A sensitive conversation partner will gently deflect the conversation when the topic begins to approach an area the other might find painful, for example, one might not discuss babies with a woman who has just had a miscarriage.

Unfortunately, reluctance to discuss a painful subject may not always be in the best interest of the sensitive person.

A highly sensitive person’s unwillingness to risk arousing strong emotions in others may mean that they collude with partners or loved ones, or remain silent when potentially emotionally arousing topics need to be discussed.

  • It may be that the woman who had a miscarriage needs to talk about it to feel better, even at the risk of bursting into tears or raging against fate.
  • A partner who is embarrassed about a drinking problem can easily become angry when it is brought up, but needs help to stop self-destructive behavior.
  • An adult son who is not looking for a job and continues to live at home may need to confront his irresponsible and immature behavior in order to grow up.

In a codependency scenario, a highly sensitive person may tolerate bad or destructive behavior from their partner, family, or friends just to avoid

“a scene”. The normal and reasonable personal needs or projects of the sensitive person can be set aside forever to avoid conflict in a relationship.

“Forewarned is armed”… or “This is going to hurt as much as it hurts you… (really)!”

The willingness to engage in direct and frank discussion of painful topics is an important interpersonal skill and one worth cultivating as courage and discipline.

  • Understanding that some of the anxiety you feel may be an emotional contagion and that it originates from the other rather than from yourself makes it easier to tolerate.
  • hoping for arousal and providing strategies for calming down after the difficult encounter, such as listening to your favorite music or taking a brisk walk, can help reduce the overall impact of the arousing encounter

Although exposure to another person’s raw emotions is difficult and even literally painful for a sensitive person, this pain can be faced with courage and determination when the gain is recognized as worthwhile.

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