Why do so many of us think that being “sensitive” means you are “weak”?
Sensitive is supposed to mean “quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences.”
That doesn’t sound weak at all…it sounds observant! It sounds like someone I want to be friends with!
Equating sensitive with weak is what many of us were taught, what we grew up with–and it’s a shame.
Take this scenario.
A child grows up surrounded by family members who are closed-minded or “old-fashioned”. Maybe it was a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle. All throughout their childhood, this kid hears the parent (or whoever) making pejorative comments about people of a different race, religion, sexual orientation, or who are from a different country.
Kids are sponges. And they believe what their parents and older people say. So this kid grows up with the same closed-minded views as their family.
The kid hits high school or college, and due to being surrounded by more diverse people and more education, they gradually realize that everything they were taught about hating other races or gay people or putting down women or making fun of people with mental illness or physical impediments is bad and wrong.
(This is a convoluted story, but hear me out!)
Many of us grew up thinking sensitive = weak. Sensitive = sissy. People who are sensitive need to suck it up and get a thicker skin. Quit whining.
But just like the kid in my story–who grew up believing stereotypes and hateful behavior toward certain groups of people–that belief is wrong. It was something we learned from the people and culture around us that needs to be unlearned. We need to be open-minded and realize that maybe our beliefs were wrong. Maybe we didn’t have all the information we needed to be as informed as we thought we were.
Being sensitive means you are very aware of other people’s feelings and thoughts, your own feelings and thoughts, your environment, animals, art, music, and everything around you.
Why the hell did this become a bad thing?
Sensitive people are the artists, the musicians, the scientists, the engineers, the botanists, the teachers, the philanthropists, the counselors. Being sensitive is a wonderful quality.
The only downside, sometimes? Being the bearer of the weight of being sensitive.
I think there might be a shift in thinking going on, due to pop culture: songs like Bruno Mars’ “just the way you are, and “out” celebrities. My lifelong label is “sensitive.” As a confident adult, I’m proud to be so, even if it can be painful.
I’m glad you included botanists: there’s a lot of neat science/insight thanks to sensitivity!
Search for Fran Lefkowitz, who writes great articles available in .pdf, about the impotance of solitude.
Thank you for this inspiring post. I love the definition of sensitive. It is a powerful statement. This definition will help me re-frame my own belief that my sensitivity is weakness. You are totally spot-on – That’s how I was raised.
Now I can be proud of my sensitivity and realize that being sensitive is a positive form of emotional intelligence. It sounds conceited, but most people I encounter don’t possess enough emotional intelligence. Many friends and family members just seem so simple-minded to me. I actually envy them sometimes, since I wish I could be happy and carefree. Instead, I am a deep thinker who is not content with idle chatter & cruel gossip.
Writing this has reminded me of the need to set boundaries and take control of my social situations. I also need to remember to be tolerant of others. Everyone is not wired like me. Being more sensitive than most people I know, I think it is now up to me to monitor and adjust my behavior accordingly. My ah-ha moment for today is to seek out more like-minded individuals and groups that enhance my life and tolerate and forgive family members who just don’t understand my sensitive nature or even know about the term emotional intelligence. Live and let live. I always say that, but I need to start living it. Cheers!
Hi Ann. I enjoyed reading your comment as much as the article. You were able to put it all together since we seem so similar. Thanks for accepting who you are and sharing that. I am still working on it. This article made me think of ways that sensitive individuals try to dull their senses. Perhaps by using medicines or other things. It really can be painful, but just reading info from like-minded people helps me feel a part of the solution to make this world a more sensitive place. It needs more sensitivity since others wouldn’t be so quick to hurt others if they possessed some more sensitivity.
Your post reminds me of a Comfort Zone newsletter I read just a few days ago concerning our persona. Here is the link if you are interested in reading:
Thanks for writing about this. Keep up the good work.
Sensitivity equals weakness for some because.. they THINK they’ve got the right definition of it …and they don’t. “oh she/he is sooooo sensitive..she/he’s going to begin to cry now…” sort of thing… well ..let me tell you.. i have heard this comment a lot of times… but the thing is.. WHAT is sensitivity all about? For me.. it happens.. that even people that i don’t know.. in the bus.. start to tell me their life time story.. because they also “sense” that we listen.. when a friend .. is feeling overwhelmed.. comes running to me.. because i will have an insight on the problem..and will render a counsel that will go beyond her expectations.. while she is melting.. i am THINKING with the mind and heart.. because “we know people we love beyond what color are their shoes today.. or what kind of sweater they are wearing”… we know when and why they are moved to smile.. or when are they triggered to giggle.. or grin.. and when they grieve.. we feel it. THAT kind of sensitivity.. is what we are wired for.. to understand beyond compare human intellect and emotions… which sometimes NOT EVEN THEM CAN UNDERSTAND.
A friend of mine told me a fact about my type of sensitivity…: YOU EXPLAIN MYSELF. How do i do that? i am WIRED to do so.. and if people just listen.. they CAN get a hint of what we are.. for all of us have a measure of empathy. Now, thing is that also gets a toll on us… we give out our energy. The person moves on with relief..and we feel exhausted. Do we want it to be that way? NO, we are just like that. Next thing we need to do.. is downtime.. because if not everload comes.. and it’s a chain.. then anxiety.. then stress.. etc. THIS is sensitivity.. i do not mind at ALL to help… BUT i needed to know HOW not to get “burned out”. So if we are free to listen and free to help.. we should be able to be free to balance ourselves.
Thanks for the comment, Catalina. I have found that when people email me about this website, they often pour out their hearts. I am honored that they are willing to share with me and they probably see me as someone who understands and who they can trust. I do think it is a positive thing that I am willing to listen and help/comfort people when they need it–I guess that’s one good thing about being sensitive, huh?? 🙂
People who are sensitive are easily made mentally unstable
That may be the case for you, but it’s rather impudent and conceited of you to generalize to everyone else.
Its true, ive strugged with mental health issues sincei was a kid. This is a curse not some gift, hyper sensitivity as a male curbs your life ALOT inj my own experience, good luck dealing with this crushing load on your own.
That’s because you don’t seem to understand how to manage your sensitivity. As an analogy, it’s like a fire; a fire can be a blessing to people stranded in the wilderness but a curse to people whose homes have caught fire from it. We don’t need luck when we understand ourselves. Don’t project your inability to handle your sensitivity issues onto others, for that only makes you look weak, insecure, and pathetic; we all pity you for that. 😛
Yeah, the heavy load is no fun AND as you age it gets harder and harder to bear.
Yet, when you look back as an HSP you realize how heightened the fun fun times were, too.
Dual-edge sword. YIKES!
Perhaps for you it gets more difficult to endure as you grow older, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone else, especially when you know how to deal with your sensitivity. XD
When you live in a society and culture that gives you reason to feel badly about it or highlights the negative results, then yes, it becomes viewed as a curse. But, in the right environment, it’s highly beneficial.
This is something I desperately hope more people come to understand.