so you’re sensitive- it may be your greatest gift

Are you a sensitive person? Sensitivity is a trait that is often sidelined by society, don’t you think? Everything we do, from competitive education to pushing through and climbing the career ladder and even buying a home encourages us to be a little bit ruthless. It seems that empathy must be wiped from our agenda if we are to get ahead in life.

If we are a sensitive type, it tends to be pointed out to us often and somewhat derogatively. How often has someone impatiently huffed, “Oh, you’re just too sensitive” when you’ve been hurt or upset by something they said?

I used to feel incredibly ashamed of my sensitivity. As a child I was often told to “toughen up” or that I needed to “develop a thicker skin”. Now I recognise that many people who cared about me as a child worried about how I would fare in the world if I remained sensitive and prone to absorbing other people’s emotions. At the time however I felt as though I may as well have been told to change the colour of my eyes, because my sensitive nature was no less an inextricable part of me.

As I grew and learned about the many and varied ways we are destroying ourselves and the planet, I resented my sensitivity even more. My empathy for everyone and everything ran so deep that it would cause me visceral pain. Every time I turned on the news, my heart would feel tight and my gut would feel queasy. Every time someone around me was feeling upset, anxious, depressed or angry, I would pick up on their emotions and begin to feel that way myself.

My sensitivity left me feeling exhausted from the roller coaster of other people’s emotions and outside events that I had no control over and yet were dictating my mood. So I tried to get rid of my sensitivity. I tried to care less about what was going on around me. I stopped going to the several environmental campaign meetings I was committed to. I didn’t listen to the news. I pretended not to notice when someone near me was out of sorts.

As you may have already guessed, it didn’t work. Instead I became unhappier because I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. And when we put on a persona, we start attracting people into our lives who match that persona, rather than people who match our true personality. In essence, it is difficult to find and maintain true friendships if you’re faking it.

Then a little over a year ago, I was receiving acupuncture to help heal my shoulder that I’d broken from falling off my bicycle. At the beginning of the session my acupuncturist held my wrist briefly and then said, “You’re sensitive aren’t you? You take on the emotions of everyone around you and it weighs you down, but it also makes you incredibly perceptive and emotionally intelligent.”

I was dumbfounded. My heart started racing and my palms became clammy. How did he manage to see through me so quickly? I cleared my throat and asked him what I was thinking. He told me that in his work he had learned to read people and get to the root of their emotional blockages within a short space of time. He also said that he too is a sensitive person, and that whilst he appreciates the ability to have insight that others may not, he manages to avoid the roller coaster of taking on others’ emotions through a regular meditation practice.

It was an “aha” moment for me. For the first time that I could remember, someone had described my sensitivity as a gift, rather than only a burden. And in the subsequent months, I realised that my acupuncturist was right, sensitivity is one of the greatest gifts we can be given. This is because compassion and empathy, the emotions that sensitive people feel most acutely, are the compasses of human morality.

Sensitive types must shine their light and share their knowledge so that we all may find a kinder, more compassionate and environmentally sustainable path. Because our natural environment is in peril. Our collective health and wellbeing is in rapid decline. Societies the world over are feeling the increasing pressure of resource scarcity. And the longevity of the entire human race is under threat.

After I went home from that fateful acupuncture session, I set up a meditation space in my room and began to practice regularly. I fall off the meditation wagon frequently, however each time I climb back on I thank myself for it because it works! Meditation allows me to find peace and stability within, so that the emotions of others don’t cause turbulence in me.

At the root of my meditation is a guiding principle of self-love. I use affirmations, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), and small rituals such as brewing a cup of chai to show love for myself. I also practice gratitude by acknowledging the things I am appreciative of everyday. These things increase my happiness and make me more resilient to the whirlpool of attitudes, thoughts and events around me.

These tools are important, and I encourage you to try them because I believe with all my heart that people who learn to love and nurture themselves become willing and able to send that love outwards. Love, kindness and compassion are the crucial ingredients we need to make the changes necessary to turn the tide.

So keep doing what you do. Be proud of your sensitivity, because it’s the rope we’re all going to need to climb to get ourselves out of this mess.

Are you sensitive? Do you see it as a burden or a gift? Let me know by sharing your thoughts below…