The statement echoes in my mind, “because you’re sensitive.” I pause to reflect how I feel about the statement. Am I offended? Do I agree? Is it a compliment? Was it intended to be a putdown?
The pause in reflection continues.
I grew up in an environment where being sensitive meant something less than ideal. It meant you needed some special kind of care or tending to. It meant you required sensitivity in others’ approach. It meant you were high maintenance. It meant that you were a girl…and even worse the combo of being a high maintenance girl. The thing that no girl ever wants to be, but I believe that every girl, somewhere deep down, senses that they are.
I was told that I was high maintenance from a very young age. I was the youngest of two older brothers, 6 and 8 years older than me. I was isolated in the very nature of being me, by being the only girl, the sensitive one, and apparently, the worst kind of high maintenance where I thought I was low maintenance and everyone around me would say otherwise. Even in my larger family of cousins, I was the youngest, and seemingly the most needy of the bunch.
I spent a large portion of my growing up years trying to be tough, trying to grow thicker skin. I pretended some things didn’t bother me, that I didn’t feel a lot of the things I actually felt, and that I could handle anything that those around me could handle. Perhaps to my own detriment, I acted as if I was low maintenance and insensitive, in order to feel like I didn’t stand out or look odd.
I can still remember when I was in highschool, I first heard the song that artist Jewel recorded, “I’m Sensitive.” I couldn’t help but relate to its theme and repeated line, “I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.” I can remember playing it over and over again, and feeling a small sense of empowerment within the lyrics. Then I wondered how on earth I could own it and begin to actually like the fact that I was sensitive, enough that I could say “I’d like to stay that way.”
How do we really feel about other people’s sensitivities and their particular needs for careful tending? In my line of work I have come to find that all of us are delicate in our own unique ways, male or female, young or old, there is no discretion for vulnerability and our desire for safety. We are all sensitive, and desperately seeking to feel like we belong. Yet somehow we look around us and everyone we see, we assume they are strong, they are capable, they are untouchable and solid, no need for special treatment or gentle reposes. It stands out as ironic to me that we could all be walking around so oblivious to the realities around us, so consumed by ourselves and needs that we do not recognize those around us as the same.
I had a professor in graduate school who used the analogy of an ostrich egg, rather large in size and tough exterior in appearance, but incredibly fragile to the touch. Moas, the distant cousin to the ostrich found in New Zealand, actually had such tender shells that if held by human hands one had to use extreme caution and avoid any fingertip pressure that might puncture the egg. Often how something looks exteriorly is nowhere near the whole picture or reality.
This is how I have come to consider the human experience of emotion and soul. We all present so rough and tough and as though we can take on pretty much anything. But it’s total bullshit. We are fragile. We are sensitive. We are emotive. We are feeling-filled beings and we are desperate to connect in a meaningful and safe way with others. In fact we are so incredibly fragile that we actually push others away and go to great lengths to hold them at a safe distance in order to avoid the horrid pain of being hurt, neglected or even rejected.
So, how does one harness such intricate and beautiful fragility with strength, composure and grace for the infinite little gaps in between? If I could adequately answer that, I feel that there would be far less need for any kind of therapy…
The truth is that we are beautifully broken. We are all longing to belong, to feel known, to know someone on a deeper, heartfelt level. Yet we shrink back and we ache in the pain of feeling isolated and unable to really open up and be our sensitive, emotive selves for fear of being rejected and even more alone.
The irony? We have the potential for being alone either way…so why do we hold back? Why do we go to such effort to protect oneself from others, while painstakingly assuring our own isolation?
Is there potential to be hurt? Hell yes. Is there potential to feel misunderstood or alone? Absolutely, without a doubt.
But what is the alternative? Do we stay guarded, hidden, safe and tucked away in our caves of self protection? What do we gain through this arduous journey to stay safe and comfortable? I would argue that we gain nothing but heartache and an entry into an infinite circle of self-perpetuated grief and isolation, and self propelled disconnection from others who could otherwise share in our vulnerabilities and great longings.
So, I naturally come back to my ponderings of “because you’re sensitive” and how I really feel about that. I will be honest and say that it’s far easier for me to encourage others in their brokenness and to own their sensitive and vulnerabilities and then hide behind my professionalism as a way of easing my own discomfort with the subject. Cause truth be told, I still don’t like the fact that I am sensitive or that others might think that means that they need to handle me with care. Because I really want to say that I’m a big girl and I can take it and no kiddie gloves please. But here’s the deal; being a sensitive and emotive being that feels and becomes comfortable with owning those realities, can come with some perks.
The more aware and comfortable we become with our own emotions and our own intricate details of how we feel and and even exploring why we feel what we feel, the more naturally available we become for being aware of others emotional presence. The more available I am for someone else, to share my story and to listen to theirs, the more I realize that you and I, we are the same. We all have similar needs. We all have sensitivities. We all feel alone sometimes and we all seek connection and a way to feel less alone… But it is only through admitting that of myself that I can be open and share that with you, and then have a chance to hear from you and know that you are the same, and that we can connect in our shared humanity. If I walk around posing my strength and tenacity and reporting that I don’t have any needs or unmet longings or failed relationships or heartaches, then I a rob myself of a chance to connect with you.
So, from my heart to yours, I am coming out. I am ready to admit that I’m sensitive, that I feel, that I have needs, that I long for more, than I need others, and that I’m capable of love and hurt, joy and sorrow. I say this in hopes that you too will feel safe admitting the same, and that together, we might connect and foster authentic and genuine relationships.