“To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness…Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate.”
Anthon St. Maarten, Author
Whether male or female, it’s time to reclaim and honor your sensitivity. Most of us were raised to repress, suppress and hide our sensitivity. As infants and children we cried, raged, trembled in fear, and laughed with total abandon. We were shameless in the best sense of the word. In the process of socialization, we needed to learn to reign in the expression of our feelings and modify our behavior because healthy social interest is a necessary skill and value to develop. But we were often taught this poorly, without clarity, and in a manner that compromised our dignity and sense of worthiness. Our sensitivity went underground, causing many negative side effects, diminishing our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
Consider the following, humorous but thought-provoking words written about the quality of socialization in childhood by Erma Bombeck in 1980 and their continued relevance:
A psychologist said parents should treat their children as they would treat friends….with dignity and diplomacy. “I have never treated my children any other way.” I told myself. But later that night, I thought about it. Did I really talk to my best friends like I talked to my children? Imagine our good friends, Fred and Eleanor, came to dinner one night and….
“Well, it’s about time you two got here. What on earth have you been doing? Dawdling? Leave those shoes on the porch, Fred. They’ve god mud on them. For heaven’s sake shut the door. Were you born in a barn?”
“So Eleanor, how have you been? Fred! Take it easy on the chip dip or you’ll ruin your dinner. I didn’t work over a hot stove all day long to have you nibble like some bird.”
“Heard from any of the gang lately? What’s the matter with you Fred? You’re fidgeting. Of course you have to go. It’s down the hall, first door on the left. And I don’t want to see a towel in the middle of the floor when you’re finished.
“Did you wash your face before you came, Eleanor? I see a dark spot around your mouth. Maybe it’s a shadow. Is everybody hungry? Then why don’t we go into dinner? You all wash up. Don’t tell me your hands are clean, Eleanor. I saw you playing with the dog.”
“Fred, you sit over there and Eleanor, you sit with the half glass of water. You know you’re all elbows when it comes to liquids at the table.”
“Fred, I don’t see any cauliflower on your plate. What do you mean you don’t like cauliflower? Have you ever tried it? Here try a spoonful. If you don’t like it I won’t make you finish it, but if you don’t try it you can just forget about dessert. And sit up straight. Your spine will grow that way.”
“Eleanor, don’t talk with food in your mouth. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. And for goodness sake, use your napkin….”
How did you feel as a child and how do you feel now, when people criticize or act impatient with your feelings? What happens when you hear (externally or internally), “Stop acting like a baby!” or “Get over it already!” Do you feel inspired and transformed for the better? When we fail to honor our sensitivity, most of us:
1. React, then deny our poor behavior.
2. Excuse poor behavior, then blame.
3. Get defensive, then counter-attack.
4. Become resentful, then rebel.
Why is our sensitivity so important? Without it, many of us remain reactive to our inner and outer authority figures. We then remain inept when in positions of authority ourselves, so we avoid them or repeat patterns that cost us and others authenticity and healthy functioning. Blocking our sensitivity blocks access to our wisdom, which blocks healthy community. So…here are a few suggestions for reclaiming your sensitivity:
- Pay attention to what you feel and affirm, “I’m a sensitive, fully alive person and that’s good.”
- Slow down and be with your feelings without reacting, avoiding or rushing them by escaping into thinking, problem solving, food, alcohol, over-working, etc.
- Embrace your feelings and use them in service to high purpose.
- Notice positive changes in your life when you honor your sensitivity.
Every part of you is important to the gift you are to the world. Your sensitive nature is the doorway to your greatest joy and contribution! For continued support in learning how to be a force for positive change, call me. I’m committed to your success!
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As published nationally in my column Emotional Intelligence in the Women’s Journal, February 2014