I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation for the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness of other’s pain and my passion for it all.
Don’t be so emotional. Why are you so sensitive? On the way up to the microphone to give a speech at my sister’s wedding, a well meaning relative said don’t cry as I passed by. The message is clear and comes from a variety of sources: keep emotions to a minimum, don’t let things get too unwieldy or embarrassing. This is the message I have been receiving for most of my life, and of course, it is not just me. Loads of us are sensitive. This is simply how we are. Just as there is a spectrum of body sizes or IQ or athleticism, so too is there a spectrum of how people feel and choose to express their emotional selves. These soft hearted, on the expressive side of the spectrum people (which I count myself among), are artists and parents and therapists, teachers and philanthropists, scientists and administrators. They are world leaders and average and everything in between, but they are the heart, they process and make sense of this life in a very important way that deserves more respect than being told to stop because it makes moments less manageable. The incredible emotional work these people do is often for those around them, those who don’t have the same capacity, or won’t risk sacrificing appearances. It takes effort, it is a huge give and it is valuable. To my mind, it’s actually a superpower, to feel things acutely, in the deepest possible way, to carry the weight of what it all means, even if others can’t.
Almost as often as someone expresses a feeling, someone else is trying to avoid it. I get it, it can be terribly awkward to be around someone expressing big emotions. But here’s the thing, whatever someone else is feeling, chances are you’ve felt something like that before, too. So the next time you are tempted to indicate to someone that they stuff whatever they are experiencing, or at least keep it for a more “appropriate” space, look inside and see why you feel compelled to do so. It can be challenging to stay present with someone through their feelings, but the connection that comes from simply holding space for another is usually worth it. This isn’t to say that individuals are exempt from regulating themselves, boundaries are always good. But if we can encourage and nurture soft hearts in each other, the room for growth and connection is infinite.