It’s a pet peeve of mine when I hear someone call somebody else “too sensitive.” It is never meant is a compliment, which is ironic given that it is sensitivity that makes us the empathetic, warm, caring, compassionate people that we are. It’s even more ridiculous because the person calling the other person “too sensitive” is usually getting so many wonderful perks from being in a relationship with that sensitive person.
Maybe what they mean is that they just can’t handle too much of a great thing. You never see those same people complaining about the fact that someone is “too pretty” or “too smart.” They don’t throw those expressions around as insults because it would be ridiculous and laughable. I feel the same way now about sensitivity because being “too sensitive” is actually a gift. Being sensitive is really more fulfilling than physical beauty and it is actually a way of being smart. Those who are sensitive are usually high in emotional intelligence which is having the ability to understand, perceive, use and manage our emotions and the emotions of others, which can make for a deep and fulfilling relationships.
Elaine Aron, the psychologist who coined the expression “highly sensitive person,” wrote in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You that 15 to 20 percent of people meet the traditional criteria for being “highly sensitive.” Plus there are also those who don’t necessarily qualify as “highly” sensitive, but who still score pretty highly on the “sensitivity continuum.” Think about that: based on her finding, about every fifth person qualifies as being “too sensitive.” That’s a lot of sensitive people!
Which makes it especially interesting because high sensitivity isn’t valued in our culture. What is valued are the qualities that make people (and things) bigger, over-the-top, and larger than life — qualities in my experience that highly sensitive people tend not to enjoy or create in large doses. This is what leads to the name calling and denigration of sensitivity and sensitive people. Which then leads to us denigrating it in ourselves. So our work is to begin to honor it in ourselves and others. I am proud of my high sensitivity and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
While it may not be valued as much, what highly sensitive people bring to the table is just as important, even if it is a little more subtle. In my experience, highly sensitive people tend be especially good at seeing e bigger picture. They see a lot of things that other people may miss, and they have a very intuitive, very conscientious way of engaging with their world. Best of all we connect deeply, love deeply and people tend to seek us out because we listen deeply.
If you have heard the “you’re too sensitive” comment and some of these qualities sound like you, I recommend that you visit Elaine Aron’s website at www.hsperson.com where you can take the highly sensitive person assessment. There are two main reasons why it’s important to acknowledge your sensitivity. The first is so that you begin to understand yourself and appreciate it as a gift. The other is so that you can begin to understand how to manage it.
Sensitive people really do need to take care of themselves in a way non-sensitives don’t have too. We can get tired if there is ongoing stimulation such as loud noises, parties, football games, etc. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love those things, it just means that we should probably stop beating ourselves up for getting tired. Some of us have to limit the negativity and violence we see in the media. We also have to be careful that we protect ourselves from negative and/or toxic people and relationships. If you are sensitive and are in an unhealthy relationship now, you may notice that you might have to self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs or some other form of acting out to tolerate it. Not managing your sensitivity can also lead to anxiety and depression.
I hope you begin to own your sensitivity as one of your best features and if you feel that you don’t know how to manage it or if you need support on how to excel in a world that doesn’t value your gift, I urge you to find the resources to help such as reading Elaine Aron’s books and learning the coping skills and/or to seek our sensitive-friendly counseling or coaching. And if someone tells you that your are “too sensitive,” I hope you say, “thank you!”
Resource: Aron, Elaine. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.