On Being A Highly Sensitive Person
For most of my life, I’ve been told that I’m too sensitive.
I’ve been called too sensitive when I’ve cried over something that someone else deemed not cry-worthy. I’ve been too sensitive when I withdraw from conversation if somebody is ribbing me too hard. Too sensitive if I’m offended by something that was “meant as a harmless joke.”
I remember when I was a kid, asking my mom about this. About why I seemed to react differently than other people to teasing, or to any hint of aggression.
“You’ve got to grow a thick skin,” she’d say. And I’d sit there, grunting desperately, trying to grow a thicker skin. Turns out that’s not how skin growth works.
And of course, it’s the sensitivity that creates a vicious cycle. Being highly sensitive means I react to situations in ways that others feel is unnecessary, which opens me up to more criticism around this quirk, which then pokes at my sensitivity.
I’ve been told that I’ve been bullied in my life because of my sensitivity. That it’s my fault, for being the person that I am, that people tend to pick on me more than others.
“If you’d just show that you didn’t care, it wouldn’t happens as much,” a million friends and family would tell me.
And still, try as I might, I care, and my face doesn’t take orders from my brain so easily.
As an interesting sidenote, sensitivity seems to be a coveted skill in the business world. While I’ve heard a lot of “stop being so sensitive” in my personal life, I’ve heard a lot “be sensitive to the needs of the customer” on the business end. Same skill, but in this context, being sensitive is a positive trait.
So as a result, most of my life has been spent as a highly sensitive person trying to navigate a world of people who don’t seem to really get it, or think it’s a flaw in my personality that I need to try and correct. But in my 30’s, I’ve learned that there’s a duality to all of our personality traits: while my sensitivity makes me vulnerable, it’s also helped me with most of my greatest achievements in life.
I write songs and make albums that move people because I am highly sensitive.
I am a caring educator because I am highly sensitive.
I have a healthy relationship with my spouse because I am highly sensitive.
I’m a good father because I’m highly sensitive to the needs of my child.
When I found that there was actually a name for people like me (Highly Sensitive Person) and that there was even a book about people like me, I was relieved. The book, The Highly Sensitive Person, talked about how sensitivity is just the result of a finely tuned nervous system. It made sense – things like bright lights and really loud sounds have always bothered me as well, because they stimulate my nervous system a little too vigorously.
On the other hand, I can often sense subtext in a person’s tone more quickly than other people can. I can recognize unfamiliar voice tones blindfolded. I can tell you what type of guitar someone is using on a recording.
I can feel people’s pain, joy, sadness, etc just by looking at their face. It’s why it’s so hard for me to give condolences to someone who is grieving. I take one look at their face and I’m grieving too.
It’s a little bit like a superpower sometimes, which feels weird to say considering that for most of my life I’ve thought of my sensitivity as a curse. Being an HSP allows me to connect to people on a human level that develops an almost immediate and mutual trust. A connection that is rooted deeply in emotion. The type of connection we all crave but is so hard to find.
And so, I’ve started to view my sensitivity as a strength, as an internal compass, an asset. The thing that has plagued me for so long is now becoming my greatest tool against adversity, and the thing that creates the most value in my relationships. I’ve started to be honest and upfront about it.
We all owe it to the world to embrace who we are as individuals. We owe it to ourselves to avoid shame-induced conformity.
Your faults are speckled with value, and they always have been.