Neener Neener

“You’re too sensitive!”

Of the four of my family members, I was labeled the sensitive one. That label, which I felt with shame, stayed with me and was referred to by my family from my childhood well through adulthood. Every time I cried or got frustrated and mad, someone was right there to point out what they labeled as my over-reaction to whatever was happening. I was made to feel less than because of this character flaw.

My mother, father and even slightly older sister would constantly warn me about being overly sensitive and therefore getting too worked up or upset or emotional about myriad situations that they dealt with much easier than I did. They feigned their concern for me by saying that I’d easily get burnt out and too stressed if I didn’t develop a tougher skin. They lauded their strong natures and resiliencies over my puff-soft weaknesses. I’d be crying about any situation only to receive their ‘buck up’ admonishments. They’d be sailing through any ‘adventure’ while I was in the back of the pack, slowing everyone down, worried about what might be up ahead.

Without any experience or information to the contrary, I accepted their description to be at the core of who I was. I thought being sensitive was a bad thing. I felt vulnerable at home and out in the world where I jostled for other descriptors that might allow me to shine in a brighter, more accepted light. For a very long time, I never thought being sensitive – or ‘overly sensitive’ as it was stated – was acceptable or anything other than something to work to change or get over.

The Power of Therapy

That changed when I became an adult, an older adult, in therapy, and I began working to improve my self-confidence and well-being.

Before therapy, the idea that being sensitive could be a good thing never occurred to me. I was thrilled eventually to learn that being sensitive could translate into being in touch or in tune with or connected on a deeper level than many people, including my sister and parents. The whole concept of being sensitive as a good thing smashed the negative attitude I easily wore and felt ashamed of. Being sensitive allowed me to connect at a deeper level to nature and to other aspects of life that others may miss or look right through. And, at the same time, being sensitive may mean that, on occasion, I get overwhelmed and have a need to shut down while others are going strong, and that is okay. While it may take less for me to experience joy and happiness, it might also take less for me to hang out in the depths of sorrow or sadness, fear or being vulnerable under certain circumstances. This isn’t a bad or good thing, it just is.

Oh, I’m still called sensitive to this day. The difference is I don’t back down or make excuses for it. Today being sensitive — some may say too sensitive — is just part of who I am.

In the End

As it turns out, this sensitive person didn’t burn out. My sensitivity or hyper-sensitivity didn’t stress me out and shorten my life span compared to my family. As of this past Sunday, May 12th, I have outlived both my parents and my sister; they had all passed before they reached my age. Did I outlive them because I was sensitive and they weren’t as much as I was? Probably not, but it is reassuring for me to think that something I was labeled and that I bought into turned out to be false.

If you’re like I was, you may feel the need to hide your sensitivity — or any other criticized part of your character — but resist that urge. It’s never too late to look at things we believe and see how those beliefs came about and how they affect out lives today.