Calling someone “sensitive” can carry a heavy negative connotation. Growing up I was always the one who stormed off crying while playing cards with family, I cried at the dinner table debating with my brother, my feelings were hurt when my grandpa insulted my dog and if (god forbid) I wasn’t invited to a single sleepover or birthday party I assumed all of my friends didn’t like me. I have always been hypersensitive. It’s who I am.
For a long time I believed my sensitivity was a weakness (and in many ways it is). Even though my parents never discouraged crying I was always unsure about how I was supposed to feel about my emotions outside of my home. My extended family is much more cool-headed and collected than I tend to be. At many family gatherings I found myself feeling like I was over-emotional or immature because ordinary life things seemed to affect me more than anyone else around. “Don’t talk about dying children and nuclear war and food shortages at dinner” I found myself begging. I felt like a train wreck any time I was sad or angry or giddy. My emotions seemed big…too big for my body.
Though well meaning, my cool and collected family members encouraged me to be strong. In their eyes being strong meant not allowing sadness or disappoint into your life, it meant wiping away your tears as quickly as possible, it meant feeling the world but not so deeply that it shook your core. I understand their perspective and I appreciate the strength they encouraged but as I’ve looked into myself more I’ve realized that particular type of strength is not what I have to offer the world. The qualities that make us strong and the qualities that make us weak are often one in the same. My brand of strength stems from my sensitivity.
When life hands me lemons I need to allow the sour citrus to sting my tongue and make me cringe before I can make my lemonade. In every event I have the ability to feel every emotion on the spectrum. While hunting for an apartment I’ve jumped with excitement envisioning tulle curtains and a bright pink table with mismatched chairs in the dining room. I’ve sobbed on my closet floor feeling small and poor and disheartened. I’ve been angry and disappointed and gleeful and filled with hope. I’ve felt the whole range of emotions in just a couple of minutes. It’s not because I’m crazy. I think this acuteness to emotion and the ability to understand myself on an interpersonal level and to articulate it is my gift. I’m not afraid of sharing pieces of me that others claim make me vulnerable. I think this sense of rawness is natural to me because the introspective world within me is every bit as real to me as the tangible outside world all around. I don’t know how to live life without wearing my heart and all the emotions within on my sleeve.
It took me a long time to realize intra-personal intelligence (that is a knowledge of yourself) can be a strength. As an introvert my introspective world is every bit as real to me as the tangible world around me, which means that the way I feel about any occurrence is just as real as the inarguable facts surrounding an event. This scope of the world can generate insight and speculation and intellectually stimulating conversation however it is a skill that must be constantly refined and nurtured.
Aristotle proclaimed “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” and I can’t say I disagree. I’m a bit of a narcissist. I am constantly evaluating myself, dissecting myself, seeking to understand who I am and what I’m all about. Why did I make this mistake? What do these emotions say about me? How did my past cultivate my reaction to event “x”? Oh my being inside the head of an introspective introvert is exhausting!
In high school and first few years of college I had difficulty managing my “big emotions”. I didn’t understand how to compose the overwhelming emotions erupting inside me. I had no clue how I could possibly become a woman who could lead a presentation while simultaneously feeling sad over a fight with her Mother earlier that morning. Emotions were all encompassing and it was hindering me (which is why I say I understand my family’s push towards conventional strength). As I looked deeper into myself and became more self aware (primarily through writing) I learned to love my big emotions. Even though my feelings cause me to fluctuate through the highs and lows of life on a daily basis I like them, I think these feelings make me “me” and provide me with a unique skill set-the ability to understand, a level of intra-personal insight others may not pick up on.
Every day is a constant balancing act between allowing myself to fully feel all of my emotions and remaining composed and professional. Through my scope of the world suppressing emotion and refusing to feel is not an option. I view all emotion as critical components of an authentic human experience and it is important to me to give myself room to mentally process every emotion that comes my way (and analyze these feelings to death). As I mature and aim to process feelings like a “grown up” this means setting aside time for feelings (as silly as it sounds).
I give myself time to write in coffee shops, and showers designated for sitting on the bathtub floor crying. I give myself pockets of time to turn the lights off and sit in my closet in quiet introspection and time to make lists of all the beautiful pieces of the world. I write letters to allow my heart to release the overflow of love and gratitude in my heart and this blog is the outlet for all the thoughts and emotions I don’t really know what to do with. This blog is the “other” folder for my emotions (or something similar).
Sensitivity is not inherently bad and not inherently good but rather a personality trait that can be cultivated in both positive and negative manners like so many others. Some days my sensitive nature weakens me, other days it is my greatest strength. My advice (whatever it is worth) is to channel your sensitivity into an outlet. Take your sadness and create art! If you’re constantly one heartbreak away from a mini breakdown take those over the top feelings and use them to your advantage. I’ve never felt more fulfilled than when I am able to “bleed” out my interpretation of the feelings that bog me down and create something tangible and meaningful.
Are you sensitive? Do you view sensitivity in a positive or negative light? How do you handle “big” feelings?