If you’ve ever watched the news or read an article about the level of injustice in the world, and been overwhelmed by a deep sense of sadness and helplessness – you’re not ‘over-reacting’.
Maybe you’ve attended an event or party with friends, even had fun and enjoyed yourself, but your nerves were so jangled afterwards that you had to rest for a few hours to recover – that doesn’t make you ‘weak’.
If you’re exhausted being in the world, just dealing with normal things – there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just being different.
Your form of differentness is called sensitivity, and you don’t need to fix it or change it in order to be ‘normal’.
The world is telling us that our sensitivity is something we should be able to manage – but they’re missing the point.
Just like being blind or deaf, sensitivity just IS, and we should stop feeling ashamed or ‘less than’ for being sensitive.
Yet despite the challenges of sensitivity, you can learn how to own it as your superpower, and embrace the compassion, creativity and natural leadership that it brings you.
“You’re too sensitive” is an insult.
There are some things that are just accepted in our world:
- Being born blind or deaf
- Having a hereditary condition that limits what’s physically possible for you or your life expectancy
- Having low intellect.
In our society, it’s not ok to say “You’re too stupid”.
That would cause outrage (and rightly so).
Yet no-one bats an eyelid when someone says “You’re too sensitive”.
We need to educate people about sensitivity, so that it can become more accepted.
And as sensitive people, we must begin with educating ourselves; learning self-awareness, and accepting both the challenge and the gift that it brings to our lives.
What it means to be sensitive
In essence, being sensitive means you’re powerfully impacted by external sensory stimuli, which can result in physical and/or emotional response.
It’s the emotional response that is most widely recognised when we talk about sensitivity, specifically crying easily and often.
Underneath the tears (whether expressed or not), sensitive people are easily hurt by people’s words or actions that most others would just brush off.
You feel profoundly affected by the sight of injustice and pain in others such that you almost feel their pain along with them.
Sensitive people pick up on cues and energy in a room, either with or without people present, and this affects their emotional state.
In physical terms, external stimuli to one or all of our five senses can cause a strong response in the body: taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight.
The ingestion of foodstuffs or other substances can also have a strong impact once inside the body.
While it’s often assumed that sensitivity is a ‘bad’ thing, the response could be ‘bad’ or ‘good’ depending on each individual and the level of stimulation involved.
A certain odour could trigger nausea and vomiting,
or a perfume could evoke the tingling memories of your first kiss; being embraced by the warmth of the sun on your face as your lover’s soft lips brush against yours.
There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with being sensitive, it’s just that your brain and nervous system work differently.
Sensitivity is widely accepted to exist in certain people.
In someone who’s diagnosed with autism or ADHD we know that the sensitivity they display is a symptom of their diagnosis.
We accept that some adaptations may be necessary for them to live a ‘normal’ existence in our society.
- Some autistic people are highly sensitive to touch, and need to cut off clothing labels, or avoid certain fabrics.
- It’s widely understood that some autistic people have sensitive hearing, and so it’s ok for them to wear ear-defenders.
- Some autistic people wear glasses with blue or green coloured lenses because their eyes are sensitive to certain light conditions.
It’s ok for people who have a diagnosis of a ‘disorder’ or ‘condition’ to be sensitive; we accept that as a symptom of their particular variety of differentness.
Yet you don’t need to be autistic or have ADHD to be sensitive.
Some people are just naturally more sensitive; we don’t quite know why, it’s just something they’re born with.
Even if you have a particular sensory challenge, that doesn’t mean you’re autistic.
However, there are lots of people around, especially women, who are on the autistic spectrum but don’t know it, and they’re still functioning in society just fine.
It used to be assumed that autism was just confined to men.
Yet many studies have shown that there are just as many women on the autism spectrum as men, but they are less likely to be diagnosed because their symptoms present differently.
Sensitivity is not pathological, yet it’s been proven to exist.
You might already have come across the acronym HSP, which stands for Highly Sensitive Person.
HSP is a term first coined by the psychologist Dr Elaine Aron, as a result of her research into the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity.
Dr Aron has found this trait to be present in 15-20% of the population, so it’s not a disorder, but an innate characteristic of certain people.
HSP’s are more usually introverted but 30% of HSP’s are extraverts.
The trait is just as prevalent in men as women, though sadly for men it’s not culturally acceptable for them to be open about it.
Research has shown the brains of HSP’s work differently to others, as they take in and process more information from the world around them.
HSP’s are more aware of subtleties in their environment and they think and reflect more deeply about things. This can lead to overwhelm if their surroundings are chaotic, intense or complex for a long time.
It’s worth noting that Dr Aron regards this trait as
“a normal temperament variation…… which by itself, does not cause impairment or distress.”
In other words this trait is not, in itself, something that needs to be treated or suppressed, but a normal part of this particular human way of being.
The HSP trait can exist on its own or alongside other diagnosed conditions.
Being sensitive doesn’t mean you need to change who you are.
It doesn’t matter whether you have a formal diagnosis of a condition, or even whether you identify as HSP or not.
If you feel you’re more sensitive than the average person, then that’s your experience and that’s ok.
The reason you’re struggling is NOT because there’s something WRONG with you.
It’s just that the world that society deems is ‘normal’ is not ideal for you to exist in.
So what do we do about it?
First, you need to acknowledge that you’re different, and to understand that it’s not wrong, it just makes your life harder.
We can’t change the way the world works, and you don’t need to try to change who you are, but instead find ways of dealing with it.
The challenges of sensitivity
There’s no denying that being sensitive is a challenge.
Being bombarded by external stimuli that cause strong effects, both physically and emotionally, can be very tiring.
Feeling things deeply, and being attuned to nuances in all situations takes a lot of mental, and emotional energy, which can make daily living exhausting.
It can easily build up to adrenal fatigue and burn out, if we don’t take extra care of ourselves.
“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
If you feel you’re sensitive then you probably are, and that makes you different from most people.
And if someone is pointing it out to you, then they may be right, but it doesn’t mean that that’s a bad thing.
On the contrary, being sensitive means you have abilities that other people don’t have.
Sensitivity is a superpower.
Being sensitive means
You’re a natural leader:
Your deep empathy enables you to speak to others in a way that shows you understand them.
You instinctively know what they need to hear in order to connect with your big vision, which means you can inspire and empower people to bring positive change in the world.
You perceive things that other people don’t, and you naturally think outside the box.
This gives you an advantage in any arena and is especially useful as an entrepreneur or business leader.
It makes you someone that people want to follow.
You have huge creativity:
Your senses are fine-tuned to gather more information from your environment, which gives you a richer experience of life.
That’s a huge advantage if you’re a writer or creator of any kind; you can translate your inner world and enhance other people’s lives by sharing what you know.
You have deep compassion:
You can read people and situations without words ever being spoken, and your ability to respond with warmth and compassion makes you a great therapist, counsellor or coach.
“It’s the variation between the highs and the lows, sometimes within the same moment, that causes the biggest psychological distress in sensitive people”
Dealing with life as a sensitive person.
The impact of sensitivity can give rise to exhaustion and burn-out if not carefully managed.
When you’re sensitive, the main thing is to minimise the challenges so you can optimise and build upon all those advantages that sensitivity brings you.
1) Take time to reflect and process what’s happened in your day or week.
- Notice and celebrate what’s gone well.
Little wins add up to huge achievements, and they’ll increase your sense of well being and fulfilment.
- Notice what’s been challenging and why.
It’s important that you have something concrete to work with, rather than a vague feeling of anxiety or hurt.
2) Acknowledge that it’s not always about you.
In interactions with others, sometimes it will be challenging, and just because someone is ‘mean’ to you, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person (everyone has off days).
When someone hurts you, even if you think it was deliberate, give yourself permission to forgive them for the incident.
This allows you to take back control, and deal with ‘your stuff’, rather than hold a grudge against someone else that you can’t fix.
And give yourself what you need to feel ‘complete’, so you can let go and move on.
3) Be compassionate with yourself: learn self-soothing and nurturing practices.
- Take regular space and time for self-care.
- Do more of what makes you feel happy and nurtured.
- Take time to work on healing your past hurts.
I’ve written previously about how you can do that here.
How to harness your sensitivity for your benefit
The number one priority is to be in service of something higher than yourself.
This means you not only have a compelling reason to expose yourself to the harshness of this world, but the ordinary trauma and difficulties you experience will all be worthwhile.
Be honest and impartial in assessing yourself : acknowledge how your sensitivity impacts you.
Take steps to develop your strengths and minimise your weaknesses.
If you’re able to read emotion and thrive in people situations, then create opportunities where you can practice and develop that ability.
Maybe you’re not a social creature at all, and you prefer to sit behind a desk and pore over numbers and data that other people can’t get their head around; that’s ok.
It’s important to focus on what you’re good at and harness that.
Use your gift in a way that brings you fulfilment and allows you to make the difference in the world that only YOU can.
Despite what the world says or does, you can harness your sensitivity as a positive force for good, and despite all the challenges it brings, embrace it as your superpower.
If you recognise yourself in this, yet feel sad and uneasy that your sensitivity might be holding you back, then I can help.
If you’d like to learn how to find and hone your superpower, and use it to make an even bigger contribution in the world, then please get in touch and we can have a chat.
Contact me here.
[Photo by Isis FranÃ§a on Unsplash]
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