Being sensitive is something I've been accused of my whole life, starting in grade school. At least once a week, a classmate would say to me, "oh jeez. I was just kidding. You're so sensitive."
I took it personally. I made it mean there was something wrong with me.
It continued into adulthood when friends, and sometimes even family, would throw that line my way to take me down a peg when I called them out on something. Sometimes I'd be defending myself and my feelings, sometimes I'd be advocating for others. I'm still on the fence about how much I really need to do that, which is another post for another time, but I want to address this thing about being "too sensitive".
Because it stopped me in my tracks so many times, I am all the more present to it when my clients (of all identities) ask me, "do you think I'm weird that I feel this way? I just worry about people...and I feel like I think about them more than they think about me".
There's an important distinction to be made, here. It IS one thing to be concerned about others and consider them when you're making decisions. We aren't islands unto ourselves so our actions do impact the lives of others, that's just a given. It's important to be aware of this; I call it not being self-absorbed. It's another thing entirely to live your life according to what other people may need or want or constantly wanting people to equally reciprocate the effort you invest. Expectations like that may come from another place worth exploring. You get it. A happy balance between the two is ideal, at least where I sit.
Many people don't agree with me. More than one person has teased me recently for "overthinking" things or "worrying too much". Since becoming a more intentional Buddhist, I confess I'm seeking my own definition of balance between constant mindfulness and paranoia. It's hard to find the middle ground. I'm glad I have many good teachers and mentors to support my search.
But being "too sensitive"? I take a leap here and say that these words are often spoken by people who don't know enough about their own needs, wants and boundaries and can't be bothered to worry about those of others. At first I thought it was a coincidence, but I've definitely seen a strong correlation between those who really do the work of knowing themselves well, and their awareness of the experiences of other people.
The more we prioritize knowing our inner-workings more deeply, the more we are curious about how those workings match, mirror or impact those of other people.
In my graduate work, I'm learning more about WHY this happens and differs so much among people and it begins with an understanding of independence versus interdependence. Whole countries differ in their approach to interpersonal relations, so it makes sense that it would show up between individuals.
I've only just begun this work, but it's inspiring the shit out of me and adds data and evidence to what I've been intuiting all these years.
Suffice it to say that some people are born to be concerned about what other people are feeling or experiencing. They wonder, they seek it out and they consider it important. They may actually feel it in their bodies, like I do. I've always been that way--I can actually physically feel in my body when other people experience fear, shame, doubt or joy, gratitude and confidence. It's sometimes really weird and I have more work to do to manage this because it's often overwhelming. Other people don't live this way, they don't experience the world like this. On more than one occasion, someone who isn't as sensitive as me has offered me valuable advice that I wasn't seeing because I was caught up "in the feelings".
I don't think one is wrong and the other is right, but it's crucial for everyone to understand, particularly when "sensitives" interact with others. It's been helpful for me to read up on this and learn more about it, so I can just breathe and smile when people tell me I'm too sensitive. It's possible I am, for some people. It doesn't make me, or them, wrong.
It's so good to remember the variety among human beings. Just like the song about different ways to say tomato, we all see things through the lenses we wear. After the seeing, comes the processing and the expression of what we experience. The results are as different and varied and unique as each individual person.
So, the next time you feel inclined to tell someone they are too sensitive, or react when someone calls you "too sensitive", consider your own perspective is just different from how that person experiences the world. Instead of expecting that person to be like you, get curious about what they know and see that could enrich your perspective in some way.
image courtesy of http://mycardboardlife.com/821