Being Called Sensitive For Reacting To Disrespect Is Manipulation At Its Finest

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upset woman being called too sensitive

Not all forms of manipulation are obvious. In fact, many are downright subtle. Being called sensitive is one of these.

Far from being harmless, this accusation is an example of manipulation at its finest. Because it’s so commonplace, it’s worth taking the time to understand what’s going on.

When someone says you're being too sensitive, that's an example of a semantic stop sign. It’s used to masterfully dismiss dissent and end a conversation. They make you wonder to yourself, "Am I being too sensitive?"

Accusations such as being called sensitive often ride together with other semantic stop signs that blame and judge, including being accused of being difficult, not letting things go, or taking things personally.

All of these statements serve the purpose of shutting down further discussion while also covering up and rationalizing faulty reasoning.

RELATED: If Your Partner Does These 10 Things, You're Being Manipulated

Why is someone saying you're being too sensitive a form of abuse and manipulation?

It's abusive because they put the blame onto the person who feels disrespected. And they’re manipulative because they redirect the conversation away from the disrespect and onto whether or not you have a personality flaw. 

Is being too sensitive a bad thing? Not at all. In fact, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being either sensitive or difficult, nor with taking things personally.

Therefore, these statements rely on unprovable definitions of what is the right way of doing things and who gets to decide.

In this way, the accuser attempts to remain in control of both the topics open for conversation in addition to your acceptable responses. 

I specialize in eating behavior and body image so I often encounter the "You’re too sensitive" manipulation around weight.

It seems that many people, from partners to strangers, feel that it's their right to comment on other people’s bodies and eating choices.

When you tell them to keep to themselves, they will often follow up with something along the lines of, "Don’t be so sensitive, I’m just trying to help."

It’s not helping at all, of course. Not only is your eating and body no one else’s business, but these statements contain a veiled insult within their supposed good intention.

This is a form of concern trolling — pretending to care while actually executing a power play that puts someone down.

The deepest, most subtle level of this manipulation is found in your response.

When you turn away from your own emotional reactions and, instead, begin to question their legitimacy, the circle of manipulation is complete.

You’re left feeling both disrespected and flawed while the abuser has declared themselves to be the victim. That’s a lot of layers of manipulation within a few seemingly innocent words.

You have a right in any relationship to express yourself and ask for what you need. Whether or not you're sensitive, it doesn’t take away this right.

And furthermore, you have a right to be sensitive, upset, annoyed, frustrated, or even plain angry when you feel disrespected.

RELATED: 8 Sneaky Things Emotional Manipulators Always Use Against You

In fact, the ability to communicate your feelings, clarify what was meant, and allow for correction and repair is essential to a healthy, non-abusive, relationship. 

Amanda Montell, the author of "Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism" and "Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language" uses the term "thought terminating cliché" to describe semantic stop signs.

She says that once you become aware of them, you will start seeing them everywhere. 

According to her, these statements are a key tool of language abuse.

Common expressions like "Boys will be boys," "Everything happens for a reason," and "Don’t let yourself be ruled by fear" are further examples of manipulation disguised within wise truisms. 

These sayings aim to shut down your independent thinking in the same way as getting accused of being too sensitive does. It’s a form of hit-and-run word crime. 

You probably use them on occasion. But when you stay aware of the inherent manipulation, you can improve the quality of your communication.

Luckily, you're not powerless when confronted with this form of manipulation. Once you recognize it for what it is, you can respond rather than allowing the conversation to be shut down. 

You can either ignore the retort about being too sensitive and restate your original point or you can dismiss the dismissal with words like, "Perhaps I am, but I still need to discuss..." or "Even if that’s true, we still need to discuss …"

Other possible dismissals include "I’ll think about that, but…" and "I can’t help you with that, and..."

Whatever you do, don’t allow the conversation to be redirected onto your supposed flaw of being sensitive. Instead, keep returning to the original conversation where the disrespect occurred.

When you recognize a semantic stop sign or get a gut feeling that something feels yucky and dismissive even if you can’t exactly say why, don’t let that shut you down.

You might be experiencing major disrespect hidden within a subtle dig. Instead, start treating "You’re being too sensitive" and other semantic stop signs as the manipulation they are.

RELATED: The 6 Worst Types Of Manipulators (And How To Deal With Each Of 'Em)

Lisa Newman, MAPP, is a positive psychology practitioner and health coach specializing in eating behavior and body acceptance. She is a certified mind-body eating coach and certified intuitive eating counselor. You can find out more at Women Eat.