Is there an idiom for describing someone who is oversensitive (emotionally, not physically)?

I vaguely remember something along the lines of "he is all exposed nerves".


7 Answers 7


to be a bundle of nerves
to be wound too tight [sic]
too tense

Then there are loads of these types:

Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs
Nervous as a porcupine in a balloon factory


  • 3
    Nervous as a pregnant nun. May 21, 2012 at 3:27

You might say that you had to "walk on eggshells" around him, implying that the act of interacting with the person required delicacy and was difficult to accomplish without causing show sort of blow up.

The closest I can come your suggested idiom is "you've hit a raw nerve", which is sometimes said when something has been said to a person who is sensitive about a particular topic. This does not necessarily carry the implication of sensitivity in general, though.

  • 1
    Since the OP asked for an idiom describing a person I would expect the answer to be something I could insert into the sentence, 'He is <*idiom*>'. Neither of your answers may be used in that way.
    – Jim
    May 20, 2012 at 23:16
  • "He is a person that you need to walk on eggshells around" is a perfectly valid description.
    – Christi
    May 21, 2012 at 9:46

I remember getting together with some former coworkers years ago; we were catching up on old news. My friend asked:

What about Sam? Is he still a quivering mass of insecurity?

This isn't a common idiom, but it's wonderfully colorful language nonetheless. There aren't too many utterances that I remember so vividly, word-for-word, even more than 20 years after hearing them. But sometimes a fresh metaphor beats a well-worn idiom.


Though it somtimes means their feelings are easily read, people who wear their heart on their sleeve are said to have their feelings easily hurt.

Edit See Because she wears her heart on her sleeve, it's easy to hurt her feelings.

  • 3
    I'd suggest this does not necessarily imply over-sensitivity. One's emotions can be obvious to others without being excessive.
    – Christi
    May 20, 2012 at 20:13
  • 1
    -1. This is incorrect. As per the reference that you've quoted, it means that they display their feelings openly. It does not mean that their feelings are easily hurt.
    – user16269
    May 20, 2012 at 20:35
  • @DavidWallace There are lots of examples on that page, but did you see the one I am referring to? I copied it into my edit. May 20, 2012 at 20:58
  • @Fuhrmanator I am afraid David Wallace is still right. The subject of your example has to also be sensitive to emotional manipulation for the sentence to hold true. To give a similar example, it's possible to say "you can tell from his uniform that he's a police officer", but in actual fact it's not his uniform that makes him an officer, the uniform is merely evidence suggesting that he is.
    – Christi
    May 20, 2012 at 21:14

How about emotionally delicate or emotionally fragile?


You have to "handle him with kid gloves". Or her.


It's more a phrase than an idiom, but I think you're looking for "thin-skinned"

(adj.) easily hurt by criticism or easily made unhappy (Cambridge Dictionary)

  • I've heard thick-skinned, but this is the first time I've heard the opposite...
    – as4s4hetic
    Aug 24, 2017 at 3:58

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