Zia Hassan


Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to look at my sensitivity to all the stimuli in my life as a strength. I grew up with comments like “you’re too sensitive” and the too part of that sentence made me feel inadequate just for being who I am.

And so I’ve been thinking about better ways to describe this trait of mine to people when I meet them, especially those that I want to work with, or people to whom I’d like to provide value.

Some words I got from the book The Highly Sensitive People is that I have a “finely tuned nervous system.” This is a pretty good description, I think, because it goes beyond just being sensitive to mean comments. It actually covers quite a bit of ground: I’m sensitive to lights, sounds, strong smells and other such things, which I’ve written about in the past. My reaction to this intense stimuli is not always negative, but it is always strong.

As I was describing myself in this manner to someone recently, they interrupted and said: “Oh, so you’re a softie.”

“I guess so,” I replied.

But I started to wonder about what that means. What does it mean to be a “softie?”

Well, maybe it means that the core of me, my very soul, hasn’t hardened. That it’s easy to disrupt my general sense of well being because if I had a tougher or thicker coating around my heart and soul, I’d be more resilient.

But then, what’s the opposite of a softie? A hardie, I guess? Someone who is completely shielded? Someone who is undeterred by any stimulus whether it’s a person’s words or whether it’s sensory?

But who is that exactly? Do I even know anyone like that? There are people that can give the impression that they are “hardies” but I don’t buy it. No one is undeterred in that way. There are people that pretend to care less, and there are even people who have lawn mowed their mental patterns enough where their habit is to disregard negative comments and negative situations, or even see the positive in those situations. Some people are more naturally suited for this than others.

But to be dubbed a “softie” is quite a reductionist way to put it.

To be soft, like a cotton ball, means being absorbent. And absorption makes our lives richer and more fulfilling. It changes who we are, sometimes in a positive way and sometimes not.

But I’d rather be absorbent than repellant. There’s likely a middle ground, but if you can get there, you’re probably in the minority.