I have always been a sensitive and emotional person.
This sensitivity has contributed to many of my personality traits—some valued by society, others not so much.
The positive aspects of my emotional nature are that I’m sympathetic to other people’s feelings, have high emotional intelligence and am strongly intuitive. I’m a good listener and skilled at offering emotional support.
I can usually tell if something is bothering someone, even when no one else seems to notice. I’m often drawn to the underdog or black sheep in a group, and can connect with the introvert or someone who needs extra attention or love.
I’m able to tune into my own feelings and communicate them quite well, which makes me a powerful and expressive singer and musician. My sensitivity has enhanced my creative and artistic tendencies.
However, there are downsides to being sensitive: I cry easily and am often affected by and take on other people’s moods and energy. I take criticism harshly. I’m tuned into other people’s feelings even when I don’t actually want to be.
My highs are high, but my lows are low. If I don’t sleep well, I am a wreck. But I have trouble sleeping when I get over-stimulated, which happens easily.
I’ve had many experiences where people have told me, “I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you.”
The painful thing is that when people say these things to me, it hurts my feelings deeply and I end up crying, running away or beating myself up about being so sensitive.
What’s funny is that I’m too sensitive about being told I’m too sensitive.
What amazes me is that many of the people who tell me I’m too sensitive are the same people who have benefited from my sensitivity. They are the ones who have received a great deal of my emotional support and deep understanding when they were in tears.
It is painful for me to give in this way, for someone to use my emotional support when they are in need, but then describe me as “too sensitive” when my emotions start to make them uncomfortable.
I spoke to a friend about this the other day. I explained my confusion about people who get angry at someone for crying or blame them for having emotional breakdowns. To me, it’s inconceivable to criticize someone while they are crying as this is the most vulnerable they can be.
It is the real-life version of “kicking someone while they are down.”
When I see someone crying, all I want to do is give them a hug. What my friend said next was simple, yet illuminating:
“If they knew any better, they wouldn’t behave this way. There would be understanding. And then there could be peace.”
I realized that the source of my pain all these years was that I believed people understood what it felt like to be so sensitive and blamed me for feeling too much. I believed they lacked sympathy, that they somehow felt it was okay for them to feel things, but not for me.
But my friend helped me see that people simply didn’t know what it felt like to be highly emotional—and this changed everything.
Coming from the only world I’ve ever known, as a highly sensitive person, his words made it possible for me to feel compassion for those who didn’t understand me. And now that I have this insight into the perspective of other people, I have a desire to share a few things about highly sensitive people that might help to clear up confusion and possibly offer some more understanding to those who don’t understand us.
Traits of the highly sensitive person:
1. Highly sensitive people do not have different emotions than the rest of the world. What’s different about us is how strongly we feel these feelings, our ability and need to express our feelings. This may mean tears instead of shutting down, getting angry or shrugging things off, the way those with thicker skin often can.
2. Our emotionality is often a result of highly sensitive people having more sensitive nervous systems than the average person. We constantly sense and process more data than the everyone else.
The metaphor used by Judith Orloff, author of Emotional Freedom is: “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10. You have more receptors to perceive things.”
As a result, more time is needed to process the “data” of life, be it emotional, informational, energetic or environmental. This is also why highly sensitive people may need more downtime than others and may find ourselves overwhelmed more frequently.
3. Highly sensitive people are not attempting to create drama for drama’s sake.
There are people who seek attention with their tears and are labeled as being “high drama.” Then there are those of us who need to metabolize and release the built up tension and energy from feeling so much all of the time. If we didn’t, we might lose our minds.
We aren’t interested in drama. We simply need to let out some of the extra emotion we feel, for our own mental health and well-being.
It’s a curse and blessing, this sensitivity.
The blessings for me are always having more growth and learning about myself and others. It has become a spiritual practice in self-acceptance, as well as accepting the emotional spectrum of others.
While I can find myself in the pit of despair over feeling misunderstood by the world, I can also lift myself up through self-examination, self-love, curiosity and a desire to learn more about myself and human behavior.
I often look to this quote as a way to center my emotions:
“If you want to others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama
Author: Rachel Leber
Editor: Nicole Cameron