When I was in middle school, I felt humiliated by my sensitivity for what seemed like the millionth time in my life, during a friend’s sleepover. My friend put a new action movie, The Fugitive, into the VHS player, and no more than 10 minutes in, onscreen violence sent my anxiety through the roof.
The other girls looked calm, while I desperately wanted to run from the room. But leaving might mean embarrassing myself or worrying someone else, so I stayed for the uncomfortable 2 hours and 10 minutes, my eyes watering in the dark and my stomach tied in knots. I tried to think happy thoughts, take deep breaths, and look anywhere but the TV screen, and prayed no one noticed that I was being a giant baby.
Growing up, being sensitive often felt like a lonely liability. Most people around me seemed better equipped to handle what I struggled with. I was ashamed that big crowds, violent media and news, life changes, and busy-ness overwhelmed me. But there were so many valuable qualities to my sensitivity that I had yet to appreciate.
"You're just too sensitive!" is a criticism that some of us hear from the time we're little. We're told that we have to toughen up, grow thicker skin, and quit being a baby.
We're conditioned to resist, "fix," and feel ashamed of our sensitivity. But sensitivity can be an important part of who we are!
There are a few things I wish I’d realized sooner about being a sensitive person:
Being sensitive is normal. Even “high sensitivity” as a personality trait shows up in about 15-20% of the population.*
Sensitivity brings with it awesome qualities that the world needs.
Strong self care can help you stay open without feeling too tender.
Despite what you might have been told and come to believe, sensitivity is not a weakness. It's a complex trait that brings with it qualities that can make the world a better place.
To live resiliently as a highly sensitive person isn't necessarily about growing thicker skin; it's about stronger self care.
The world needs your sensitivity, and the empathy that comes with it. But your ability to feel empathy for others doesn't translate to service if you're too energy-depleted to take action.
Your sensitivity isn't a problem to be fixed. It's motivation to become fiercely loyal to your self care.