The pain of not being heard, or betrayed, lied to or criticized are examples of experiences from our past that become sensitivities we bring into our present relationships. We become vigilant to these behaviors in others, and it takes only a hint of the original betrayal to cause a reaction. Sensitivities are the fragile areas of our psyche that are like open wounds. Any slight touch stings with pain and intolerance. The emotional reactions that erupt out of this pain take on proportions that exceed the situation. Our response is justified with an internal logic that supports the perspective that our partner has purposefully hurt us. Our sensitivities tend to create more of what we don’t want because others will perceive our response as unreasonable. It is unreasonable because the recipient of such emotional outpouring is held responsible for more than their behavior. People don’t respond well to this. As a partner on the receiving end you are left confused by the distortion of your experience, which can lead to defensiveness. A defensive response denies the pain of the person with the sensitivity.

Relationships can be a minefield of sensitivities that we try to dodge, control, or disarm forming patterns of relating. Paradoxically these ways of relating will create more of what we are trying to avoid or will end up treating others in the same way. The more unconscious of our sensitivities, our relationships will tend to escalate into a series of reactions which are out of our control.

So lets examine an example to explore this further.

A common sensitivity is not being heard. Typically what can happen is that inattentiveness is a signal that triggers feelings of anger, hurt and frustration. The person will have thoughts like; here we go again, why can’t they just listen, they are doing this on purpose, how many times do I have to say something, they don’t want to hear me, they obviously think I have nothing important to say. These thoughts are informed by beliefs that originate in early experiences. Such beliefs might be that they have to behave in certain ways to be heard or that there is no point saying anything as they wont be heard. So behavior can range from intense emotionally demanding behavior to shutting down immediately. The result of both these habits is to not be heard and/or not hear the other person.

The person who is being accused of not listening at first may be bewildered by the accusation and strength of emotion coming at them. They may try to express what was going on for them in the situation but find the demanding behavior serves to silence them. The person who is accused develops patterns of responding that often reinforce the beliefs in their partner of not being heard. Demanding behaviour can produce a hostile interaction or withdrawal. In the case of their partner shutting down this can cause a lot of confusion, often not knowing there is a problem until both partners feel disconnected.

These interactions around sensitivities prevent you from dealing effectively with your responses to each other and understanding what is going on. In addition, as you can see from the above example you both will end up not hearing each other.

Ways to deal with your sensitivities.

Sensitivities are reactions of the nervous system and are based in the body even though there are beliefs and thoughts associated with it. Learning ways to be in your body and ‘regulate’ your system is important. Yoga, exercise, meditation are all ways that can help.

Counselling with a therapist who has a mind/body approach is helpful. Learning to reduce the activation is what is called regulation. Being able to process those feelings and reactions so that you can integrate and release the trauma in your body.
Once you have more awareness of what is going on for you – share that with your partner. Understanding will help when it comes up in your relationship.

Deal with what is happening in the moment. Resist thinking in terms of ‘always’ and ‘never’. Sensitivities tend to get generalized.

Take time to explore what is happening with your partner, ask questions before you come to your conclusions.

Look at how you might be setting things up to reinforce your sensitivity. E.g. in the above example I often find people ask for attention at the worst possible times, and then wonder why their partner is distracted.

Author's Bio: 

Delyse Ledgrd is a relationship counsellor and psychotherapist working in Vancouver BC. She has over 25 years experience in the counseliing field. You can visit her website at