I’ve always been considered sensitive. From my earliest collections of memories, I could always feel things deeply and react to them, usual with tears. Over the years, I have had to learn to be more tough-skinned, mostly through being shamed about it.
You need to grow some thick skin!
You’re so sensitive!
Stop that crying!
Your tears don’t move me!
You can’t do counseling because you’re so sensitive. You won’t be able to do your job effectively.
Here are some things that have gotten me called sensitive: I am highly perceptive to the dynamics of a place or group. I can tell rather quickly whether people like me, despite their outward affect. I can tell when people are simply tolerating me and it drives me insane. The littlest offense can have me out of sorts for awhile. The littlest compliment can set my world afire. I cry when people remember me unexpectedly. I cry when people forget about me…unexpectedly. The ups and downs of relationship dynamics wear me out…literally. I have no problem rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping (literally) with those who weep. It’s all natural.
Though I have tried and tried my best to not be sensitive, I have not mastered it. I know what I’ve been told…over and over again. I know how it comes off and I hate it. I know how people see me and it drives my introversion.
The thing is…
I hate how sensitive became one of those labels. Even while writing this, I am ever resisting the urge to add caveats to what brands of sensitivity I am not (i.e. – I am not the sensitive person who will cry at the sighting of something beautiful in nature.). In fact, that would defeat the purpose of this post, which is to provide solidarity for those who find themselves in the cross-hairs of this particular label. Or…whatever label that has been attached to you throughout life.
Just as with anything else, sensitivity is not a one-size-fits-all, concrete characteristic. There are, indeed, levels. But what I’ve found is that people are always OK with your label when they can come out shining. Human nature, I suppose.
But very few people want the label of sensitive. Being sensitive means constant emotional exposure. It means being left out of stuff because “you know him/her, he/she just can’t deal.” It means being told you can’t do certain things because you’ll get caught up in the smaller details. It means that you’re not equipped to deal with your world. It means you’re not man enough. It means you’re less than. Everyone wants to think of themselves as the alpha person who can sort out everything effortlessly and with little fanfare.
And I get it. I truly do. But that’s not how this works.
The funny thing is – the person who gets angry and lashes out is sensitive. The person who hides behind the tough exterior is sensitive. The person who constantly deflects is, in some way, sensitive. Being sensitive is a human thing, with varying degrees and varying expressions. Those of us on the softer side of the spectrum catch the grief though.
In undergrad, I remember complaining to a mentor about my limitless frustration with being unable to shake free from the grips of sensitivity. She looked me in my eyes and then hugged me and told me it was one of my biggest assets. She reasoned that it was likely deeply connected to what my purpose is. She knew because she was where I was about 20 years prior. Out of all the years I heard people throw around sensitivity in regard to me and how I process, no one ever told me it was a gift. No one. That was my first life-changing experience with reframing and it didn’t even happen in a therapist’s office.
I’d be lying if I said that I don’t still struggle with how my sensitivity effects me. But I’m clear on this – this is who I am and it will serve for who I am to be. I know the “in” thing now is for everyone to be emotionally unavailable and undisturbed, but somebody has to be willing to feel. Everyone can’t be telling everyone to suck it up; someone has to be there to listen and empathize. Everyone can’t be telling everyone to see just the big picture; someone has to be there to say “Have you appreciated this small step?” Everyone can’t be telling everyone to hurry up and get over; someone has to be there to give permission for people to sit where they are and process.
And while I’m clear on this, I can still work towards making sure my sensitivity is not overly utilized. Some situations require a moves beyond emotionality and too much of anything can be disastrous. But I’m OK with sitting with my thoughts and feelings and giving myself time to process. I’m OK for being more perceptive than most and yes, even with overthinking. It comes with the territory. And if people are to benefit from the fruit of my life, I’m OK with knowing that my sensitivity has shaped that fruit.
Your turn: What’s something you’ve been labeled as (negatively)? How can you think differently about it (reframing) and how might it be connected to your purpose?
I want to hear from you!
P.S. – For my fellow “feelers”, this article contains some great suggestions on how to practice self-care.