I am one of those people who as a child, had fingers pointed at me and was told I was “too sensitive” for crying when someone called me names…or if they just glanced at me sideways. It’s probably true that sometimes it would seem that it wouldn’t take much to get me derailed and it took years for me to build up any sort of immunity to this. And many more years than that to consider the word sensitive as anything other than a personal affront. In case you haven’t seen them, there are some great articles out there that point to the reasons why sensitivity may actually be a good thing. This one in the Huffington Post redefines sensitive people as being more creative with increased awareness of surroundings and an “ability to embrace new concepts very deeply.” And this one from psychcentral states “The trait of high sensitivity also includes a strong tendency to be aware of nuances in meaning, and to be more cautious about taking action, and to more carefully consider options and possible outcomes.” I think all of the articles I’ve read point to a greater capacity for empathy.
I find it interesting to learn that Buddhist monks actually hone in on this type of sensitivity through meditation and take it exponentially further. This article in Lion’s Roar magazine tells the story of a monk who was scientifically able to demonstrate, among other things, an ability to accurately identify the emotion of others through micro-expressions when shown pictures of faces for one-fifth or even as little as one-thirtieth of a second. The researcher in the article, Paul Ekman, who is “one of the world’s most eminent experts on the science of emotion,” knows that “people who do better at recognizing these subtle emotions are more open to new experience, more interested and more curious about things in general. They are also conscientious—reliable and efficient.” I’m not trying to say that all people who are sensitive are equivalent to Buddhist monks and I’m pretty sure that many would reassure you that’s not the case at all. What this article says to me is that while sensitive people may already make great partners, healers and therapists 😉 there is also always room for improvement when you intentionally practice compassion, and actually lean into and learn from the things that might make us uncomfortable.
In light of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week coming up, it also seems like a good time to address the stigma that keeps so many people at bay from seeking help. For most of the population, it’s hard enough to allow for vulnerability in the face of judgment, but when you’ve already been labeled as “too sensitive” – a characteristic that is associated with eating disorders, I think it’s fair to say that the experience of judgment – and stigma – is that much greater for someone who may already feel like they’re living under a microscope. In one of my recent groups a wise woman pointed out that her personal character has been attacked and she has been blamed by people in her life who believe that the eating disorder is a result of her own doing and as she shared this, others nodded in agreement that this was their experience too. It’s amazing how much energy goes into helping loved ones understand that two people can participate in the same scenario and have two completely different – and valid – experiences. So aside from the idea that being described as sensitive no longer need be equated with a negative connotation, maybe we can also take a moment to recognize the courage and bravery it takes for those who do seek treatment.
For another take on sensitivity, and what you can do about it, check out this post by the folks over at Self Development Secrets.
Copyright 2017 , 2018 © Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.
Rachel Braun, ATR-BC Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA
Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.