There are three words I have heard all my life, “You’re too sensitive.”
The implication? Stopping being sensitive. Why? Because being sensitive is seen as a weakness, as something to change and overcome. But can’t sensitivity have its perks? Can’t it be seen as something to both admire and seek out?
I have a friend who is very sensitive, even more so than I (and I know she would 100% admit it so I don’t feel bad about saying it). Since I have known her, she has wanted to be a doctor and is now currently in medical school. I always worried (you know because, us sensitive types, that’s what we do) that she wouldn’t survive as a doctor. My father is a doctor. I experienced, at least from the sidelines, how hard it is to lose a patient, how hard it is to see a person, a child, in extreme pain. I thought it would just completely wreck her.
But then I changed my perspective. When I have good news, I know she will be happy and celebrate with me. When I am feeling down, I know she will empathize, not sympathize, with me. When one of my good friends told her she was pregnant, she had the best reaction. I already knew about the pregnancy at the time, but experiencing her learning about it for the first time made me excited all over again.
Now imagine you or your loved one is sick or dying. Imagine that the doctor treating you actually cares about you, not just your diagnosis or illness. Imagine how that would change your experience, your outlook. I still worry about my friend (do I really need to explain why again?). But I also realize how fortunate my friend’s patients will be, how my friend’s sensitivity will make her a better doctor.
It is hard being sensitive. You get beaten up a lot. You take everything personally. Your emotions are all over the place. You question everything. You are constantly turning inwards and wondering, “Am I to blame? Did I do something wrong?” And you know what doesn’t help at all? People telling you to stop being so sensitive.
It took me decades of hearing that before I realized something. The people often telling you to stop being sensitive are uncomfortable. They don’t want to look inward and admit that maybe they were unkind, or just being plain mean. It is much easier for them to think you are just too sensitive.
I think––because I was constantly told the being sensitive was wrong, that I needed to change––it has taken me a long time to just accept that this is who I am. I had a situation recently that not only made me face my sensitivity head-on but made me proud to be called sensitive.
I experienced online bullying with my writing for the first time. I wrote a piece about living with a disability, feeling marginalized, and learning to find my own worth through it all. I had someone comment on Facebook saying, “I truly think you are the problem, not society. It is this attitude that is in your way.”
When I read this response, I felt sick to my stomach. I had tunnel vision. Immediately I thought, “Is she right? Is the reason I sometimes don’t feel welcomed and included is not because of my disability but because I really am a terrible person?”
The question I kept asking myself was why? Why am I so bothered by this comment? Why can’t I shake it and move on? Why can’t I focus on the 20+ positive comments I received instead of this one negative one?
I have studied oppression. I have experienced oppression. I have witnessed oppression. I have had extended conversations with all sorts of people about oppression. I know that one of the most common reactions people have when faced with oppression is to deny its existence, to blame the oppressed for the problem, to make the oppressed feel like they are just making it up in their head. Shoot, I just watched a freaking documentary on this last week. I’ve had people say things like this to my face. So why?
Then I realized it. I had just exposed myself to the masses more than I ever had. I chose to be more open and vulnerable than I have ever been before. I had done it. I had, as Brené Brown says, stepped into the arena. And someone from the crowd picked that exact moment to throw a knife. Damn did it hurt, it took my breath away.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.Theodore Roosevelt
So I took a chance. I stepped out. I had my face marred. And yes, I even fell for a bit. But I did not leave the arena. I am still here. I fell but I got back up again. I was well aware of the risks. I was terrified. I had self-doubt. But I did it anyway.
That is when I realized, because I saw my sensitivity as a weakness, in some ways I was not living my life. I avoided putting myself out there because I knew being sensitive would mean getting hurt, and I would then be seen as lacking for feeling hurt in the first place.
But the one thing that is often overlooked is that in falling, in getting hurt, you get the chance to learn, to grow, to do better than you did yesterday. You get the chance to prove to yourself that you can survive, and thrive, with the pain, that you are resilient after all not in spite of your sensitivity but because of it. Your emotions push you to do better and be better. And you also come to know your limits. You learn when you need to step away, to feel your emotions and figure out your thoughts, and come back if and when you are ready.
So I’m sensitive. Whenever I see a dead animal on the side of the road, I feel a punch to the gut. When I learn of violence or death, it just might keep me up at night. When someone is cruel or mean, I am always going to feel it.
It swings the other way, too. I get downright gitty at the end of a good book or movie. I am so in awe of my nieces’ curiosity and wonder about life. My beagle’s ears might literally be the cutest things to ever grace this world. There are moments where I laugh so hard that I snort and cry at the same time. I feel it all. And now I am going to live it all.
This is who I am. I am proud of who I am. And I’d like to stay that way.
I was thinking that I might fly todayJewel
Just to disprove all the things that you say
It doesn’t take a talent to be mean
Your words can crush things that are unseen
So please be careful with me, I’m sensitive
And I’d like to stay that way