Something that I feel has come up a lot over the last week or so, is this notion of being ‘too’ something. It was something that was mentioned in my writing on Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, something we discussed in therapy on Wednesday. Last weekend I found myself mentally compiling a list of everything I felt I was too…
- Too sensitive
- Too emotional
- Too caring
- Too tired
- Too disorganised
- Too big
- Too quiet
- Too open minded
I also felt that I do things too much, things like…
- Spending time mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Instagram…
When you look at them in a list, when your logical brain kicks in, it all seems rather ridiculous. How can any of us be too anything? We are who we are – I am a sensitive, caring, disorganised and open-minded person who spends a lot of time lost in my own thoughts. Is that bad? Not…really…
And yet, we tell ourselves these things, repeatedly. Something may have been said, at some point in our lives, a throwaway comment or something that was said a number of times on a number of different days. Sometimes by one person, sometimes by a few and it has stuck. I am going to try to make this into a bit of a series, questioning these beliefs that I have about myself and trying to look at them in a more positive light.
So, as it’s at the very start of the list, let’s kick off with… ‘Too sensitive’
Whenever I feel hurt, or pain. Anytime I cry at a movie or an advert or a book (yep). Anytime I feel any emotion bubbling up inside me and it comes out as tears instead of anger, or joy, anxiety, love or confusion. Anytime I spend too much time trying to help someone else, anytime I take something in a different way than it was intended or I feel overwhelmed… I hear ‘it’s because you are too sensitive’. It’s a criticism, a flaw, something to be fixed and solved and sorted and got rid of.
Unless we take away the ‘too’.
Then I am just sensitive.
I’m not going to sit here and say that there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with being sensitive. I have spent the majority of my life believing in it as something to work on and something to eradicate, so it would be a little hypocritical of me to say that being sensitive is great and wonderful and something to actually aspire to! But, I am learning that it isn’t all bad.
For those of us that are sensitive, everything is more intense. This can be sadness and pain, but it can also be joy. It can be that certain noises are unbearable (it’s no surprise to discover that people who identify as ‘highly sensitive people’ also usually identify as suffering from misophonia – an aversion to certain noise) but it can also be that certain sensations – touch, sight, smell and even other, different sounds can bring intense pleasure (ASMR anyone?).
However, I do understand why I was led to believe that being ‘too’ sensitive was not the greatest trait to bear. Because being sensitive is tiring and its hard, its sometimes feeling like you have no skin and therefore everything gets in. I have never told anyone that they are too sensitive – but I can understand where it comes from and that need to protect – to try and stamp out the one thing that may cause someone you love and care about immense emotional pain further down the line. Toughen up, sticks and stones, be brave, don’t let it get to you… these are all wonderful words of advice, but unfortunately they are as effective as throwing a pebble into the ocean. A sensitive person is a sensitive person, just like a person with blue eyes is a blue eyed person – it’s not something that you can change, but what you can do, is bolster.
You can validate emotions; you can recognise and empathise – even if you don’t share the intensity. You can talk about emotions with people – I shall let you into a little secret, deep conversations are like crack to a sensitive person! We want to get to know you, not the you that posts all the highlights on social media, but the real you. We want to tell you about the things we are passionate about and hear your stories and about your interests. If you have a sensitive child, then encourage them to talk, to write, to get all of these emotions out in a safe manner that they feel comfortable with and that will help them, so much, further down the line. Let them know that it’s ok to cry (and it’s really normal to not even understand why sometimes), help them to understand the more extreme emotions – love, fear, hate and anger, because they will feel them more than you know and sometimes they will even feel them all at once. Show them how to express themselves, teach them about boundaries and how to say no without the guilt that will come along and knock them off of their feet. Let them know that it is ok to feel everything so very deeply, that it is a gift, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
The thing about sensitive people is that they are fully aware of the fact that they have this trait, I know for example that sometimes my reactions to things can be a little off – I don’t want to say that I am ‘overreacting’, because that goes against my beliefs regarding the importance of validation and how we need to feel our emotions – any emotion that anyone feels is real and is important – but I can understand that perhaps my husband didn’t mean what he said in the way that I took it, he could have just been making an idle comment. We know that not everyone thinks the way we do; we have spent our entire lives coming to that realisation.
But sensitive people are not weak; they are not fragile or like little precious snowflakes. Life would be very, very hard indeed if as a sensitive person I expected everyone around me to tread on eggshells and never say anything at all that may upset me – that wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be fair and it wouldn’t be practical. I know other people who identify as sensitive, or ‘HSP’s’ and they are some of the bravest, most intuitive and compassionate people I know – they aren’t afraid of the tough stuff, at all. In fact, if anything they kind of go towards it at full pelt because they can fully understand the implications of things that are left unsaid or un-acted upon. They are empaths, dreamers and creators. People with wonderful imaginations and an innate understanding of things that aren’t always black and white and there in front of you.
The word needs logic; we need the practical and the people that see things in black and white. These people have their own gifts and their own strengths – they can be natural leaders and extroverts, they could be the life and the soul of the party or the ones that get in and get the job done without letting emotion or feeling get in the way. They help ground people who fall into the personality types at the other end of the spectrum.
My husband and I are completely different in many ways; we both took the Myers-Briggs personality test yesterday; I am an INFP-T – a dreamy idealist, a mediator and he, well, he is an ISTJ-A, a logistician. We are both Introverts, but that is our only similarity. We have been together for sixteen years this July – so, we are living and breathing proof that opposites do attract and can actually get along together very well indeed. There is no ‘wrong’ way to be, if he was as sensitive as I am then we wouldn’t have made it through the first six months and if I was as practical and grounded as he is, then we would live in a minimalist cube and eat food for sustenance, not for enjoyment. It is not that he isn’t sensitive to things, it is not that he is cold or withdrawn and it is not that I am a simmering ball of emotion at all times or am either laughing or weeping or nothing in-between – because neither of us are those things; we just have different things that drive us, that stir reactions within us and that make us individuals.
Because it would be rather dull if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?
Further reading: The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron
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