Archive for March, 2012

Being Sensitive in an Insensitive World

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Do you sometimes think you get your feelings hurt too easily? Would you describe yourself as a little – or maybe a lot – sensitive? If so, I can relate! Well do I know the agony of having someone hit me with cruel words or reckless criticism, watching much-anticipated plans fall through, being let down by a friend, or not getting something I was hoping for or thought I deserved. Ouch! I want to back away, isolate myself, get angry, cry perhaps, and lick my wounds. Then I berate myself for taking things so hard, for being “so damn sensitive.” After all, sensitivity means weakness, right?

Being touchy like this certainly makes a person prone to getting hurt by others and the world, at high risk for suffering pain in all its excruciating extremes. And who wants that? I have learned from my experience as a fairly thin-skinned person, however, that I make things infinitely harder when I criticize myself for being that vulnerable in the first place. Wishing my eyes were blue instead of their actual hazel color doesn’t change the fact. And in the same way, wanting to be less sensitive than I am is nothing more than an avoidance of reality.

When I’m harsh and judgmental with myself about this personality trait – sensitivity – honestly looking at my reactions and feelings is nearly impossible. The brutal inner critic takes over… Why do I have to get so emotional about that? I shouldn’t care so much. I’m overreacting. I’m being childish. This doesn’t bother other people, so there must be something wrong with me because I’m upset. And on it goes, with my peace of mind spiraling downward.

It’s enough! These kinds of thoughts just sabotage me by pulling me away from acceptance and from taking responsibility for myself. Now when I sense myself going down this road, I pause and take a self-caring breath. What is bothering me, and why? If I do some self-examination about the source of my hurt feelings, I can learn a lot! Sometimes I am reacting to something in the present that subconsciously reminds me of a troubling situation from my past. Or perhaps I’m exploding over one issue, but my melt-down is just a “symptom” of difficulties I’m having in one or more other areas of my life. Sometimes I need to look at what my expectations were regarding whatever is bothering me – were they reasonable? In every instance where I find myself disturbed, I’m either losing something I have, or being deprived of something I want. Trying to identify what was or is at stake leads me more quickly to accepting my feelings.

Digging a bit to get to the root of my “hot buttons,” if you will, is a compassionate approach that gives me new information about myself. Not only that, it’s the first step to healing from the pain. Taking a close look at and becoming aware of why certain people or circumstances affect me so strongly can give me insight, help me notice patterns, and hopefully lead to talking about what I uncover with myself, God, and someone I trust. By being gentler with myself, I can lessen my distress immediately; and if I’m patient, it’s possible for me to stop reacting negatively altogether. It takes some work, but wholeness and calm will ultimately replace the angst.

Over my many years of being a sensitive person, I’ve come to see that my reactions – particularly the upsetting ones – present opportunities for personal growth. Obviously no one likes pain, but I’ve learned that until I’m able to really feel it and take an honest look at it, it keeps repeating itself in situation after situation, and with person after person.

Ironically, by acknowledging and being more tolerant of my vulnerable side, I’ve actually become less sensitive. But I know I’ll probably always have this tendency; it’s a part of my nature, after all. Changing my attitude towards this trait has helped tremendously, though. Stop and consider that sensitive people are some of the most loving and creative individuals in the world! With the ability to experience all of life with extra “intensity,” they perceive themselves and the world around them with greater depth and awareness. And because they have generally suffered more, sensitive people possess greater understanding and compassion towards others in pain.

My lesson from being sensitive is that the more comfortable I am with this part of myself, the less it presents problems in my life. I believe this generally holds true for most characteristics we wish we didn’t have. The more quickly I can accept myself right now – with my positive traits as well as my defects – the faster I can move past the issues that cause me misery.

Be cautioned, however, this kind of growth – which is really the process of developing a healthy love of self – takes courage and the willingness to feel some discomfort. In my own case, I’ve never been able to do it by myself. It’s way more than my ego can handle, I’m afraid. So I rely on a Source that has far more power, One whose strength and love are basically guaranteed every second – God. With help like that, things about me that once seemed like total liabilities turn into blessings of self-discovery and growth. After all my struggles in this area, I am rewarded by seeing miraculous improvement in my attitudes and behavior. Truly, I’m even beginning to think being sensitive is one of my best qualities!