What “You’re too sensitive” really means

What “You’re too sensitive” really means.

My mother used to tell me the version that goes, “You take everything too personally.”

What it really means is:

“You noticed something that I didn’t want you to notice.”

And, all too often for us, it means that what a narcissist is REALLY saying is: “I wanted to do (or say) something to make you feel bad, but I didn’t want you to notice what was really going on, because that makes it harder for me to innocently deny that I did what I did.”

My Allies

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, who is married to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is taking heat over an International Women’s Day post.

She asked people to “celebrate the boys and men in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are, who treat girls & women with respect” on 8 March.

Ms Gregoire Trudeau urged followers to post images with their “male ally”.

I for one greatly appreciate the original post. I had an uninvolved / neglectful mother, a parentified older sister who hates the fact that I was born (more work for her), and a MIL who resented me because we (mutually) chose not to have children.

The older women in my life, the ones who should have been my guides and role models, have not often supported me.

The people who DID support me unconditionally were my equality-minded father and my wonderful progressive husband. They are the ones who have helped me the most to get to where I am today.
So here’s to you two.  <3

My Dad’s Hands

I just met with a contractor to get a bid on installation of the deck railing (our deck builder bailed on the railing part).  He also does interiors, so I also talked to him a little bit about the Big Remodel project:  mostly the internal stairway to the “golden” crawl space, and the new studio.

When exchanging contact info at the end of the meeting, I suddenly noticed that he is missing half of the index finger on his right hand.

HOLY SHIT. MY DAD HAD THE SAME THING ON HIS LEFT HAND.

I don’t believe in “signs” or anything supernatural, but it would be a nice touch if my new studio — the one I have been saying my dad would have built for me, if he could — the one that I am going to use my dad’s money to build — it would be nice if it were built by a guy whose hands were a little bit like my Dad’s.

Not That It Matters

But the Pope seems to think a lot like I do.  He doesn’t like hypocrisy, for one — and he doesn’t seem to think atheists are all that bad, either, at least as long as they try to do good.

“There are those who say ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this and that association’… [but] my life is not Christian…’

“There are many Catholics who are like this and they cause scandal,” he said. “How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”

“‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Of course some excuse has already been concocted to ignore what he says (probably, in essence, taking the form of “because I don’t like it”).

Never mind that this absolutely, unequivocally, goes against Catholic doctrine.  I mean, he IS the Pope.

Of course, a lot of people have spilled a lot of virtual ink trying to find convoluted intellectual ways around that doctrine — especially with OMG THIS POPE.  Finally here’s a pope who sounds more like Jesus himself than any pope of my lifetime, and HOLY SHIT WE CAN’T HAVE THAT.

It would be funny if it weren’t sad.

Just google, “Catholics obey Pope” and you’ll find more against the idea than in favor of it on the first few pages of results.  Most of it is wordy, obfuscating, and difficult to read or decipher.  Sometimes you can’t even tell which side someone is on right away.

It’s always been my conviction that the more complicated your reasoning has to be to defend your position, the more likely it is that it’s faulty.  Going with the simple version usually gets you to a healthier, more honest position — even if it’s one you find unpalatable.

In this case, he’s the Pope, so that’s that.

Or it should be, if you’re honest.

And who is to say that god didn’t send this pope specifically at this time because he has a message that you need to hear?

“They complain,” Francis said, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” He explained that Jesus corrected them, “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.”

The disciples, Pope Francis explained, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.”


I know where my siblings learned that they can ignore the teachings of the Church when convenient.  That pesky detail never mattered to Mom, either.  Somehow she was able to square a solid belief in fortune tellers and astrology with her brand of Catholicism.

I didn’t think you were supposed to have other gods, according to that very first commandment.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2116

Mom also routinely claimed she had “had a feeling” about some occurrence or other, although this never quite extended to being able to figure things out ahead of time.

“God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2115

How many times did I hear the story about the fortune teller at the fair who told a teen-aged Mom that she would give up her supposed piano playing career, and when asked for more info the woman said, “Cross my palm with silver and I’ll tell you.”  But she and her sister didn’t have any more money that day, so the mysteries of the future remained unrevealed.

This poppycock stayed with my mother the rest of her life.  My guess is that it resonated with her feelings that somehow she had been cheated out of happiness or success — even if it was by her own life decisions.

She told this story to show how much she had given up, to induce guilt, to be a martyr, to get sympathy — as narcissists do.

What kind of a mom tells her kids a story like this, over and over?  Reminding them about how much she had given up and the implied regrets she had about it?  A selfish, unhappy mom.

Because it goes without saying that she didn’t wind it up with a big hug and something like, “But I have you instead and I love you, and that’s worth more than any stage career.”

Of course, her life decisions were mostly made with regard for Church doctrine:  keep having kids even if it (almost) kills you, don’t get divorced no matter how unhappy you are — because god will provide, he never sends you more than you can handle — well, that worked out great, didn’t it?

If “putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future” is so dependable, how come my mom had to have electroconvulsive therapy?  Because they don’t do that until things get really, REALLY BAD.

How come my sister became suicidal?

Where was god for them then?  How come he wasn’t helping, like all the promises said he would if you did what you were supposed to?

To which the answer given is usually some form of “it’s part of his mysterious plan.”  Completely contradicting all those previous promises is just part of the mysterious plan, I guess.  What a nasty trick to play.

I’ll raise a glass to Francis, but I’ll stick with atheism, because at least it’s never lied to me.

More from Dr. Cloud

The original article

When you need to execute an ending of some sort, there will be people in your circle who will try to fight it or slow it down… You have to be ready for that to occur, recognize it as inevitable and deal with it.

Self-Absorbed Resisters

People will put up a resistance because your decision is going to affect them in some way, and they do not want that to change… that person does not have the kind of character to put his self-interest aside and see what is good for [you]. Passively or actively, this person is on a sabotage mission and is not looking out for you.

This person can appear friendly, offering “advice” to “help” you… This situation I am referring to is one where this is not advice, but an attempt to keep you from going forward.

Threatened Resisters

Other times, resistance comes from someone who is threatened by you personally by what you are doing. Whether in business or personal life, when you do something difficult but worthy, it confronts people with their own lives. It activates all of their fears, and they quickly try to tell you the same things that they tell themselves. “It will never work. I know a lot of people who tried to do that, and they were sorry in the end.” The thing is that they are stuck, you are getting unstuck, and you cause them to look in the mirror and face themselves. Unconsciously, they realize if you can do it, they can do it. But to think about doing it scares them. They’ll talk you out of it so you both can be comfortable again.

The NoNos

NoNos are those who are highly skilled urgency killers. John Kotter says if they cannot undermine attempts at diminishing a contentment with the status quo, they create anxiety or anger and the flurry of useless activity associated with a fake sense of urgency. NoNos are motivated by many things, and as a psychologist, I can tell you that I’ve seen them in many instances. They can be pretty inflexible. They often are not open to what we call “assimilation and accommodation,” a process by which normal people take in new data, accommodate ourselves to it and change our minds.

Not so with NoNos. Instead of taking in new data, they have all sorts of reasons for rejecting it, devaluing it and undermining any accommodation that anyone would be close to making with it. The best way to handle NoNos is not to engage them. They’re trying to stall you, and they are not going to change, so to spend any time trying to convince them is to allow them to use their strategy of derailing. You talk to them, they win.

When you start to make your move down a new path, obstacles will come as a result. Getting things done is hard, or more people would be making changes. So accept the fact that endings are difficult and hard to implement. You will be going through new waters, and there will be waves. Big bumpy ones, and it takes courage and perseverance to keep going.

Honoring Sadness

One of several good articles from Dr. Cloud that I found today:

“Sadness… tells us about hurt and loss. We live in a world where we get hurt and lose things. We need it to help us grieve and let go. If we repress and deny sadness, there is inevitable depression. Unresolved sadness always leads to depression and often other symptoms.

“…sadness says that there is a hurt of some kind that needs to be processed, and usually it involves a loss.

“When people deny their sad feelings, they “harden” the heart, and that is to lose touch with tender grace-giving aspects of who they are. They become unable to love and be tender, and to feel grief over their wrongdoings. This state leads then to become insensitive persons. In addition, it leads to all sort of symptoms – depressions, physiological problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, and the inability to get close to others.

“Whenever trauma is not worked through, the development stage present at that age gets affected.

In particular, I think this speaks to the trauma of The Divorce — or in my case, the trauma of my parents’ adversarial relationship during my first few years.  For me, The Divorce was an end to THAT trauma, of living with a mother who didn’t give much of a shit about me, and of my parents fighting and yelling at each other all the time.

“When we lose our ability to feel sad, we lose our tenderness. It is a major aspect of ourselves that must be protected at all costs. If we can’t feel sad, we get coldhearted. Sadness does not equal weakness. Rather, processing sadness leads to strength.”

Yet Again, There’s A Name For It

Notes from here about “functional dependency” and “relational dependency”.

“Two kinds of dependency… Functional dependency relates to the child’s resistance to doing the tasks and jobs in life that are his responsibility. This means he wants others to take care of things he should… Don’t enable functional dependency.”

Relational dependency is our need for connectedness to others… when we are loved by others in this state of need, we are filled up inside. Because they need so much, children are especially relationally dependent. Over time, as they internalize important nurturing relationships, they need less; the love they have internalized from Mom and Dad and others sustains them. Yet, to our dying day we will always need regular and deep connection with emotionally healthy people who care about us.

“You need to promote and encourage relational dependency in your child to teach him that mature, healthy people need other people; they don’t isolate themselves… Help him see that needing love isn’t being immature. Rather, it gives us the energy we need to go out and slay our dragons.

Encourage him to express his wants, needs and opinions to those with whom he is close. This is true especially in his relationship with you. He didn’t choose to be in your family; that was your decision… don’t abandon him when he needs more intimacy…”


I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that my mother had functional dependency that was enabled by her use of her children, especially her oldest child, to take on her responsibilities.

“…resistance to doing the tasks and jobs in life that are his responsibility. This means he wants others to take care of things he should.”

I don’t know how her unhealthy functional dependency got started – maybe because she came from a large family of sisters and she didn’t have too much responsibility.  But that’s just a guess.

I certainly didn’t choose to be born — no one does.  My mom chose not to use birth control, instead putting faith in god and a lack of sex to prevent further children.  That failed, and she got saddled with yet another burden, a workload that she had no interest in.

As a child, I had normal relational dependency.  I didn’t get “filled up” by Mom.  I got some of this love from Dad, but it didn’t completely fill up the hole left by my mother’s neglect and rejection.

In fact, as children we generally learn… our first independent steps, and our first identity moves from none other than mom.

So I probably looked for it from the other adults in my life:  my older siblings.  One more of my mother’s jobs for them to assume, in fact.  No wonder my sister resents my very existence.  But that resentment is misdirected.

It’s normal for me to want or miss the connection with the people who once filled this need.  But they are no longer “emotionally healthy people who care about [me]”.

Parce que le cerveau suit le coeur

…Brady again summoned the sorcery of his right arm to stun the Atlanta Falcons in what is undoubtedly the greatest late surge in a Super Bowl. When James White sneaked into the end zone from 2 yards away, completing a 34-28 victory that defied the bounds of credulity and secured the Patriots’ fifth title, his teammates stormed onto the field, flung their helmets and hugged anyone who moved.

Across the field, the Falcons watched from their sideline as if fossilized in amber, too exhausted and dumbstruck to move.

The Patriots trailed by 25 points with 2 minutes 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter — and by 19 with 9:48 left in regulation — and they won.

…much less “happy birthday!”

But they know on what conditions they can resume contact, if they want to.

Where is My Anger Coming From?

Dr. Henry Cloud’s work has helped me out a lot in this whole process — especially his book, Necessary Endings. That book taught me about the three kinds of people: the wise, the foolish, and the evil.

Not only that, he’s Christian and backs all this up with biblical references.  There’s backup for my choice, right there in the bible.  Not that that matters to me, but it ought to matter to some people:

If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.

Titus 3:10-11

A brief recap:

A wise person

The wise person sees the light and adjusts
Diagnosis: Is this someone who listens?

The evil people

The evil people intend to destroy.  For this post I’m not going into detail about this category.

A fool

A fool shoots the messenger
The problem is never in the room, unless it’s you
When the light comes, the fool gets angry
A fool hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22) and takes no pleasure in understanding (18:2). They defend themselves (and their ideas) even when they aren’t attacked.

  • Not listening
  • Don’t talk
  • Hope doesn’t come from more talking

[Fools] may be very bright and gifted. This is why they’ve gotten as far as they have… But here’s the problem. With the wise person, when the light comes, they adjust themselves to the light. With a fool, when the light shows up, they adjust the light. It hurts their eyes. They’re allergic to it. They try to dim it and they try to adjust the truth. The wise man changes himself; the fool tries to change the truth. “This wasn’t a big deal.” “It’s not like that.” Or, they shoot the messenger.

Whenever you give feedback to someone, and the first reflective move is defensiveness, let that be a warning sign. They are squinting. They deny that it’s reality, they minimize it, they externalize it, they shoot the messenger. They aren’t happy to hear it, and a lot of times they get angry. You become the problem.

Not only is this the ongoing problem in this “family” who minimize and externalize the problem of their behavior like nobody’s business — this is also what happened in The Susan Incident that started the whole damned thingI gave feedback, and the reality of Susan’s bad behavior was denied, minimized, externalized.  Susan and Joe weren’t happy to hear what I had to say, and they got angry, and I became the problem.  Ta-da!

Every time you talk to a person like this, they do not own it.

When you get hopeless about that with them, that is one of the best things you can do… [A wise responsible person] initially has hope that the person will start listening. But this person just keeps not listening.
You gotta give up here.

Here’s what the Bible says, and all research validates: “With a wise person, talk to them. They will love you for it and listen and get better.” But then the Bible changes its tone. It says “do not correct a fool, lest you incur insults upon yourself. Do not confront a mocker, lest they hate you. Etc.” These verses describe reality like you’ve never seen it before. They say: “Here’s your strategy: Stop talking.” Why? They have stopped listening. Their allergy to reality is now in charge.

Here is the principle: Fools don’t change when truth comes to them, but only when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing.  (I remember having a conversation about exactly this idea with my oldest brother, at that last reunion, before I said to hell with this.  They are indeed bright enough to understand all this.  They just won’t own it.)

The challenge here is to limit your exposure, make it clear about the consequences, give them a choice, and follow through. Need to say “I need someone in this position that can hear reality. I hope that’s you. I want you to be in that chair. But that’s what that chair is going to require, and you get to make the choice.


So much of that was essential in helping me understand (after the fact) that I did make the right choices.  I went about it in an angry, upset way, and not the best way that I could have done it.  But the gist of what I did had the right, healthy instincts.

Anger is a normal response to what I experienced.  But now I find another reference from Dr. Cloud that helps explain the anger from a different perspective.  I’m just going to quote this one in its entirety:


“Many people conceal their negative feelings of anger, sadness, and fear. These people are unable to cope with good and bad because they have never processed these negative feelings, and they suffer from many problems, such as fear of relationships, depressions, and anxiety as a result. Negative feelings are valid, and they must be dealt with so they won’t cause problems.

“Anger, our most basic negative emotion, tells us that something is wrong. We tend to protect the good we don’t want to lose. Anger is a signal that we are in danger of losing something that matters to us. When people are taught to suppress their anger, they are taught to be out of touch with what matters to them. It is good to feel angry because anger warns us of danger and shows us what needs protecting. But, we are not to be mean or abusive in our attempt to solve a problem. This would mean to resolve it in some unloving way and would ultimately hurt us as well as each other.

I lost something important to me.  I lost my father, and then my whole family.  And I didn’t go about trying to solve this problem in a loving way.  I was angry and hurt and shamed to learn that people in my so-called FAMILY had LIED to others in my family about me, about what happened and about what they did.  That people had been told, and BELIEVED, that I was the one wholly responsible for the fight the day after Dad died — when I was responsible for none of it.

I had been betrayed, lied about, to people who ought to have given me some benefit of the doubt, if they loved me — who ought to have sought me out, who ought to have cared about, asked about, and believed my side of the story — who, when told my side of the story, doubled down on their original mistake — ignored it, and acted like it didn’t matter — one brother in fact told me I ought to have done things differently, when in fact the “differently” was EXACTLY WHAT I DID DO, and yet when apprised of that fact, that he had been lied to about what happened, that didn’t seem to change a thing.

These were people who beforehand claimed they WOULD do all these things — turns out all that bullshit talk about “cutting each other slack” was just so much hot air.  I had, and have, absolutely every justification for being angry.

What they don’t have is justification for being defensive about what they did, for saying they “did nothing wrong”, for not sincerely saying they were sorry, for saying that my feelings didn’t matter, were wrong, for always trying to make me the one at fault.  They don’t own what they did.  And the reason — going back to the beginning of this post — is that it isn’t painful enough for them to do so.

The loss of me as part of the family isn’t painful enough for them to change.

The other threats:  facing up to the truth of what really happened when Dad died, who really did what, facing up to having been wrong all these years, having to admit to their little sister that they were wrong and have treated her so badly, facing up to the lies that were told about me by Susan and Joe — facing up to all that is far too painful for them.

In other words, they fear that whatever loss of “family” or loss of face that will result from actually addressing this issue will be so painful to them, that it’s hugely preferable to let me experience that loss and pain instead
e.g. the pain of losing my whole family.

And I guess I can understand that, but it still makes me the scapegoat one final time.

It just doesn’t matter how painful it is for me.  They choose to save their own skins and leave me to drown.

I suspect the reason Susan got so very angry the next day was rooted in her own loss of her father at a very young age.  Fine, I can understand that, and even empathize with that.  But you know what?  You have a responsibility to work on your own shit, FOR THE VERY REASON THAT IT’S NOT COOL TO VOMIT IT ALL OVER SOMEONE ELSE TO MAKE YOURSELF FEEL BETTER.  And if you don’t work on it, and you do take it out on someone else, you need to own up to that and apologize.  And keep apologizing, sincerely and truthfully, until you have assuaged the hurt that you caused, and rebuilt the trust that you demolished.

“Major consequences for denying our angry feelings range all the way from psychophysiological disorders, such as headaches and ulcers, to character disorders, such as passive-aggressions, to the inability to work, to serious depression and panic.

Any way you look at it, denying anger keeps one from getting problems solved.

“Another problem with denying anger is that it turns into bitterness and leads to a critical and unforgiving spirit. Instead of denying anger, we must own it and find its source. As we examine our anger, we can find out what we are trying to protect. Anger may be protecting an injured vulnerability or a will that was controlled. We may be under condemnation from someone and need to get out from under perfectionism. Whatever the source, anger tells you there is a problem, and it should never be denied.

We may discover that our anger is protecting something bad, such as pride, omnipotence, control or perfectionism. Maybe we feel angry because we are losing control of another person. In either case, if we deny our anger, we can’t get to the source. Anger, then, is helpful because it is a sign something is being protected, either good or bad.”