Smart, Sensitive, and Overwhelmed

Three Recommendations for Managing Your Intensity and Empathy

Photo courtesy of Victoria Palacios, Unsplash

In times like these, you may wish that you weren’t so smart. That you had less sensitivity. Life as an empathetic, perceptive human is often overwhelming. Frightening. Paralyzing.

It can be easy to fall into despair or anxiety. And because you are capable in multiple ways, relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, animals, and plants may be clamoring for your assistance.

You may be happy to help. It could be your calling to serve others. But you might feel inadequate because you’re easily over-stimulated. You aren’t the one dragging people out of burning buildings. You aren’t the one rushing into war zones to cover the atrocities.

And the clamoring may make you want to stay in bed. On your good days. On your bad days, it may make you want to pulverize the clamorers, if you know what I mean.

Just because you’re smart and sensitive doesn’t mean that you’re never drawn to pulverizing. I don’t recommend doing it. I’m just saying.

You need to understand that your sensitivity is your strength. Being intelligent, empathetic, and compassionate are traits that the world needs. Desperately.

But because you’re a smart sensitive human, there are some things that you need to know.

First: Just because you can sense someone’s pain, doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for fixing it. Just because you can do something faster, better or more easily than other people, doesn’t mean that you have to do that something.

Think of it like this:

You’re very capable in many areas. There’s a lot that you’re able and willing to do. A lot. But it’s impossible and inappropriate for you to do everything.

Exhausting yourself? Not recommended.

I’m not saying that you should shirk your responsibilities. I’m not saying that you need to give up your ideals. Your desire to create a better world. I’m just suggesting that it’s healthy to set boundaries and limits. That even smart, sensitive people have limits.

Practice saying No some of the time. The world won’t end if you say, “No, thank you. I’d rather not.” You may worry that it makes you a lazy slacker ne’er-do-well. It doesn’t. You may think that you’re the only one who can get it done the right way. Let it go.

Instead: Look for the moments when you’re drawn to something because it’s energizing. Head in that direction. Imagine that you can serve the planet and nourish yourself at the same time. Because you can.

Second: Get toxic people out of your life. You heard me. They’ll get help elsewhere. You may be enabling them by letting them rely on you, and we all know that enabling is a no-no.

And, by the way, the toxic people might include family members. In that case, it’s more complicated. I’d recommend that you get the help of a psychotherapist. You might benefit from the support and guidance of a trained professional to help you sort through your family of origin escapades. It takes courage and persistence, but I’m here to tell you that it’s worth taking the dive. If I can do it, so can you.

Remind yourself that you’re healing the legacy of dysfunction in your family line. That even your dead ancestors are benefitting. Because they are. Trust me on that one.

Third: Self-care is your friend. You are not a wimp if you need to rest. You may feel pressure to stay busy and to achieve great things, because you’ve been told that you have so much potential. You may be afraid to disappoint others. To disappoint yourself. I hear you.

But what if you can contribute the most when you take time to sleep and to meditate? To meet with your psychotherapist, your acupuncturist, your tango teacher, your barista, and others in a support network of your own creation? Self-care will give you the strength to jump back into the fray.

Finally: Appreciate your sensitivity. It makes you powerful. Acknowledge your smartness. You’re going to need it in the days ahead.

Remember that your awareness and your capacity for compassion is vast. That’s good. And it also can make life hard. Make you want to hide under the bed. Make you want to shriek and write nasty Facebook messages.

Resist. Well, maybe shrieking would be a good idea.

But if you set healthy boundaries, banish the toxic people, and soothe that smart sensitive soul of yours, everyone will benefit.

Even relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, animals, and plants.

Even you.

Originally published at

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