I recently confronted someone and was accused of being sensitive. I denied it a little too vehemently and then pointed out that that’s a shitty thing to call someone who’s trying express that you’ve upset them. I felt like they were saying my feelings and perspective were irrelevant, due to this “sensitivity”.
This upset me due to valuing this relationship greatly, but it also upset me because having developed a much thicker skin is something that I’m proud of. I was 16 the day I decided to stop making excuses and to own my shit. A coach called me the weakest link, I cried and explained (excused), and she called me out right there in front of everyone.
I did listen that day, but I was 16. And not a super mature 16 either.
Luckily when we don’t get the message, life tends to repeat the lesson. Over the years life just kept teaching me how to not take things so personally. I went to college and majored in fine art, where each piece was evaluated by a large group critique that you have to just listen to and be chill with. That was a learning experience, to say the least…
I’ve been in marketing for the last decade, a field where people really aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. I’m a writer, (now) happy to deal with critiques from editors because that means I’m being published. I temped for a couple years, which is repeatedly starting from scratch and constantly being the new person. (Always learning. Always fucking up because you’re learning.)
For the most part, I’ve learned to take a critique effectively and I’m down with constructive criticism––which just looks like good advice when done with style.
But I am (a) sensitive.
This topic is one of those that kinda have two meanings, there’s a science-based official definition; and there’s new-agey definition that’s not at all official but is used all over, it’s part of the culture’s vernacular.
The official definition: sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), a personality trait, a high measure of which defines a highly sensitive person (HSP), has been described as having hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity. But in the world of woo it also involves empath traits, basically being very sensitive to others’ energy and having great intuition.
Sensitives feel extremely deeply, both the good stuff and the bad stuff. We care. Immensely. Doing all of this takes a lot of energy. I’m learning to prioritize, to accept that spreading myself all over and being weaksauce with my boundaries makes me feel like poo. We’re highly affected by others. Though shielding helps worlds, I’ve learned that I’m happiest when I’m with people who make me feel understood.
Crowds can be miserable-making. Before shielding, I couldn’t go anywhere crowded without feeling like I might have a panic attack. My hands would get all sweaty, and I would feel like I was getting pulled a million directions at once, and I would then find the bar as fast as possible, haha. Watching violence is unpleasant for sensitives. Recharging is very necessary. (Sensitivity shares a lot of traits with introversion.)
Sensitives can be easily charmed. When we aren’t centered in ourselves, we tend to follow around people who are. (Dating in my 20’s, wheeeeeew!) Since we can strongly sense the energy of the person whose comfortable in their skin––it’s comforting. Especially when you don’t know about this stuff and have no clue it’s not yours.
Then they leave, taking their self-assured juju home with them, and the sensitive is left with their unprocessed emotions because they’ve been wandering around in someone else’s shit all day. Sheild up, friends!
Like many sensitives, I’m not super great at dealing with negative emotions. I spend the vast majority of my time being pretty darn happy-go-lucky, feeling all sparkly, and when negative emos come in I’m like, WTF am I supposed to do with you?! Bleeeerrrrrrg. I’m still pretty easily triggered, but I’m also dealing with a super not-fun homebound health sitch, so of course. (Learning opportunities, eh? I bet it will make it seem much easier once I’m better.)
A couple strategies for sensitives: I’m getting better at handling feeling pissed off, or frustrated, or slighted––due to a common lil’ strategy in the world of woo: if the emos are due to an interaction with someone else, or I’m in public, I take a minute and ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”, then “What would be so bad about that?”
If you ask yourself these questions, moving to the core of the issue, whilst focusing on your breath––you’ll probably find that the thing you’re afraid of really isn’t so horrible and find yourself much calmer. (And more rational.)
However, if you find yourself alone when the neg emos creep in, then I recommend leaning in. Process that shit. (If you feel ready, of course. If you’re dealing with serious trauma seek a pro.) Grab some tissues and feel those feels, find the still center of your inner tornado, let the emotions come up, and watch your thoughts with as much detachment as you can muster.
Emotions are a spectrum and properly feeling the low ends allows you to experience the really wonderful ones. We can’t numb only one end. (Goodbye pain, goodbye pleasure.) So lean in. Feel it, really feel it, but stay detached from your thoughts, remembering that they don’t define you. (Thoughts are often just a result of survival-oriented and environment created mental constructs, they aren’t “you”––you are really what watches those thoughts.)
So do it: cry, watch, cry, watch… And eventually, the emotion and thoughts will peter out. If you can manage to not hold onto the thoughts, if you don’t identify with them, let them go––the mind drops it. It starts to become a dying mental construct.
And you now feel a jillion gazillion pounds lighter, and understand yourself a bit more. Brilliant.
But I digress.
We were talking about highly sensitive homies, and how that means more than getting hurt feelings. In the world of woo, sensitivity often comes hand-in-hand with being intuitive. I’ve always been great at choosing people who I just vibe with, who are just perfect for me (in that moment), and I feel so lucky for that. I also get psychic presents from time-to-time, knowings and visions in my mind’s eye that come out of nowhere and then actually happen. So freaking cool.
But I also have some that haven’t happened, or that seemed symbolic and I haven’t figured out what they mean. And the majority of them aren’t particularly significant events, I’ll just be working, or looking out a window, or whatever––so I don’t really get the purpose there. (But it feels like magic and that’s not nothing!)
And while I pride myself on doing my best to not take things personally, staying solution-oriented, and owning my shit–I am sensitive.
And you can be both.
P.S. If you’ve wound up here researching the non-woo only definition of Highly Sensitive People, please don’t let my woo-ier opinions deter you from the science-based psychological approach.