From as early as I can remember, I heard, “Sandra, you’re too sensitive.”
And it never felt good.
My feelings were hurt, usually by something that was said, either a joke about something I did, or a response we now label as “passive aggressive.” Then, a big fat ball of emotion would hit my throat, turn the water on in my eyes, and the wound sat painfully stifled in my heart.
You know what sensitivity is? It’s emotion. It feels good or feels bad, but most of the time when people tell you “you’re too sensitive,” it’s because they said something that hurt you. It leaves you feeling unsettled and vulnerable, often changing the way you see yourself.
I thought there was something wrong with me. Maybe I really was “too sensitive.”
Then I discovered there were others out there like me.
Dr. Elaine Aron is a psychotherapist and researcher who estimates 15 to 20% of the population are sensitive people. She says they think more deeply, feel more deeply, and are emotionally more intense.
Some notable people who felt this way were Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, and Alanis Morissette.
Singer Alanis Morissette said she was relieved when she first heard about Dr. Aron’s work because “It normalized a part of me that I have felt both ashamed and proud of my whole life.”
She always felt different, and as her father said, “Alanis, we just never knew what to do with you.”
But the emotional and physical response tells the true story. You are deeply affected by your sensitive nature and your feelings are very real.
I grew up feeling I needed to hide my vulnerability. Sometimes I even over compensated by allowing no feelings to show at all. I’d quietly cry when no one was watching. But, midway through my life, I discovered that sensitivity and vulnerability served another purpose. It forced me to do something that is, today, one of my greatest accomplishments.
The night I gave birth to my daughter, I struggled with feelings I could barely contain. Exhausted, I didn’t think I had one push left. My husband stroked my brow, urged me to breathe, and try pushing again. The doctor and nurses cheered me on. I gathered my strength for one last push and cried out as I felt her come through me and into her new life.
But the joy in the room stopped abruptly. Even the doctor was silent as he handed her to the nurse who quietly wrapped her in a warm blanket. The nurse showed no emotion on her face.
I looked to my husband, clearly in shock from what he had seen.
The doctor finally broke the silence. “There’s a problem with her mouth.”
My husband walked over to the nurse and took the baby in his arms. I watched as he gazed at her and murmured “I love you, I’ll always protect you.”
Confused, terrified, my body shook as the doctor sat at the end of the bed, my feet still in stirrups.
My husband gently placed our daughter in my arms.
I remember the hum of the doctor talking about the birth defect and surgeries she’d need, but none of it made sense because I was about to see the face of my baby girl for the very first time.
She had a severe bilateral cleft. Her gum twisted outside of her face, she had no upper lip, her nostril wasn’t fully attached, and she was missing the cartilage, the columella between the nostrils.
Immediately, I blamed myself. Was it something I did during the pregnancy?
On the outside, I looked collected, calm, and ready to face whatever was necessary. On the inside, I wanted to sob more deeply than I ever had in my whole life.
And I did just that when I was finally alone in the hospital room holding my tiny baby girl with a face quite different than I expected.
People don’t always associate grief with something like this, but I discovered it’s very much like a loss. It was the loss of my hope of having my daughter born healthy and ready to begin a beautiful life.
She needed many surgeries over the next several years. But until then, I wondered how people would treat her. My thoughts jumped into the future, her future, worrying about her being taunted and teased when she started school.
As a little girl, I experienced teasing for just having red hair. On my first day of fifth grade at a new school a boy came up to me on my first day, spit in my face and screamed, “I’d rather be dead than red!’
I could see other students watching for my reaction. I stoically turned around and headed straight for the girls’ bathroom. I looked in the mirror at the spit dripping down my cheek and I hated the reflection I saw.
That incident changed me. Until that moment, I always believed I was pretty; at least that’s what my father told me. On that day I turned ugly in my young mind, and yes, I carried the shame of it all through school and never told anyone.
What Julianne was about to face was far greater than the color of her hair. I was ready to fight for her life, and I would never, ever tell her she was too sensitive. This sweet baby girl had a right to her feelings, and I vowed to support her emotions from day one.
I looked for a way to shape the story of her life, to arm her, make her proud and strong.
For years I had worked with my husband who was a television writer and producer. I loved helping him with characters and ideas for storylines, but I’d never written a story on my own.
My daughter’s birth nudged me to look to my creative, sensitive side and write a story for a little girl with a very different face … I wrote a fairytale that made my daughter the hero of her own story. Her fairy tale, “Rosey the Imperfect Angel,” was published by the time Julianne entered school. (It went beyond my original vision as my daughter and I toured schools and hospitals, raising awareness about facial defects: Los Angeles Times Article)
The book is out of print now, but to this day, Julianne credits a strong sense of self-esteem to being armed early on with her very own story of triumph.
Everyone faces struggles. Everyone, everywhere. You are not alone. And when you’re a sensitive person, people often judge you for how deeply something affects you.
I’m currently going through something unexpected, and I’m damn sensitive right now. I’m not going to apologize for it; I’m going to live every moment of emotion and feel it deeply because I’ve discovered pushing those feelings away makes me feel empty.
Celebrate sensitivity. It leads you to things you can do better than anyone else… like Alanis Morissette writing songs that make you cry, or Maya Angelou creating poetry that awakens you to see life in a new way, or Dr. Martin Luther King leading the way to change the way America saw itself.
Sensitivity makes me want to write more, love harder, and stay connected in a real and vulnerable way to those who matter.
Sensitivity might be the muse to your creativity. Many artists, writers, and other creatives consider themselves to be sensitive. Psychologist Aron says, “I know ALL HSPs (highly sensitive people) are creative, by definition. Many have squashed their creativity because of their low self-esteem; many more had it squashed for them, before they could ever know about.”
If you’ve ever been held back by something someone said or did, it’s time to make your sensitivity work for you instead of against you. Imagine being so in tune with yourself that you don’t let your feelings hide or flutter away. Use them for creativity, compassion, and connection with others. It transforms you into being more aware, mindful, and present every single day.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
Don’t waste time worrying what people say about you… worry that if you don’t speak your truth now, you’ll leave this planet without saying what you were meant to say all along. It’s our ability to be vulnerable that establishes the true human connection.
There is nothing wrong with feeling more deeply than others, or being emotional, or loving harder than you ever thought possible. It’s an important part of being real and present in this life.
It can also leave you open to doing things you didn’t want to do. How many times did you say “yes” to something in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?
I’ve done it for sure. I’m guilty of volunteering or attending a function when I knew all along I didn’t want to be there. Then, I’d feel bad about myself… like a fraud.
It’s a disconserting feeling and it comes from not setting healthy boundaries and the inability to say “no.” (consider reading my article on how to say “no” effectively: How I Learned to Stop Saying Sorry… the Wrong Way).
Next time you’re called to do something, consider asking yourself, is it something I feel good about or is it “people pleasing?”
Knowing and honoring your feelings could be the catalyst to greater things. I’m so grateful I was a sensitive person when my daughter was born. It allowed me to see and “feel” into the future and offer her tools for nurturing her self-esteem.
“If we can learn how to feel our way through these experiences and own our stories of struggle, we can write our own brave endings.” Brene Brown
Show yourself the same compassion you feel for others. Re-think your beliefs about yourself and make sensitivity an asset. You’re not alone, gather support from other sensitive people, especially those that are flourishing. Be sensitive together and shine.
Once you look at life through a different lens and stop smothering your sensitivity and vulnerability, I promise it will never be quite the same.
For a huge portion of my life I was told I was “too sensitive,” but the truth has shown me otherwise. I cried alone and deeply when my daughter was born, and those tears taught me that my sensitive feelings had a purpose greater than I ever imagined. I paved the way for my daughter, and I’ve never felt bad about being “too sensitive” since.
Can you make a change this week? Will you start celebrating your sensitivity and embrace it as an asset? Here’s how… make a safe place for your feelings by writing them down each night before bed. As a sensitive person, you’re perfect for journaling your thoughts. As you put words on the page, your mind gets to rest and face the next day with renewed strength and the ability to see things from a new perspective. Celebrate your sensitivity as unique, empowering, and motivating!
Originally published at medium.com