Do people often say things to you like, “You’re too sensitive!” or “You’re overreacting!” or “You can’t take a joke!” Do you believe them, and put yourself down for it?
Unfortunately our culture (and many other cultures as well) put a very high premium on toughness, and judge those who are less tough as inferior. In fact, people vary in their degree of sensitivity, both physically and emotionally, and there are plusses and minuses on both ends of the spectrum. Tougher people are not better, just different.
20 years ago a psychologist named Elaine Aron wrote about those who she called “highly sensitive people” – HSPs. If you are a highly sensitive person you instinctively feel it, but might not know that there is a name for it and that there are others like you. Many creative personalities fall into the HSP category.
If you are identifying with this right now, here are three things that are important for you to know, and to communicate to anyone who loves you.
- First, you are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you.
- Second, you have to take care of yourself – and figuring out how to do this will be specific to you. If you are physically sensitive you might be bothered by bright lights or noise, scratchy clothing or certain foods, and you will have to steer clear of them as best you can.
If you are emotionally sensitive you will need to try to avoid harsh or hostile types of people who can easily hurt your feelings (and who might even enjoy teasing you). You will need alone time and good sleep. Therapy can be very helpful for you in understanding your own emotions, and to help you navigate the world of other people’s emotions.
- Third, it is important for you to become your own advocate. If other people put you down, rather than agreeing with them, start standing up for yourself.
Yes, sensitivity does have a downside in that it demands extra effort, and that you can feel pain more easily than some. But, it is also an asset in that your sensitivity allows you to perceive beauty and depth in the world that others miss. It can make you a very loving person, and give you compassion that others lack.
Be on your own side!