In lieu of a New Year’s resolution this year, I’m thinking instead about what it is that I want people to hear me say. Rather than something I’m going to start or stop doing, do better or do differently, I’m wondering, if I could sum up the past year, how would I do that?
It’s been a year of lots of lessons so it seems like it might be hard to do, but it wasn’t; not really. In fact, one thing came right to the top; like a cartoon lightbulb shining above my head. Like a pink neon sign, bright and buzzing smack in my line of sight.
There is no such thing as too sensitive.
The headline came easily, though the lesson has not. Sensitivity means the capacity of being easily hurt and easily hurt is vulnerable indeed. It is not a comfortable state. It's a state of feeling exposed and unprotected. It does not feel strong. It does not feel safe.
But sensitivity also means awareness of the needs and emotions of others - what a lovely idea - and its synonyms are acuity, keenness, perceptiveness, sharpness - qualities I'd guess many of us would deem valuable.
When we accuse or are accused of being too sensitive, however, it’s usually not a lovely sentiment about something valued. It’s usually an admonition to hold in or control our emotions. It’s usually a dismissal, as in you’re being overly emotional and not thinking straight. As if thinking and logic have cornered the market on rationality and making good choices.
They have not.
All science, for instance, starts with a hypothesis - a gut feeling about something you’ve observed - which is then accepted or rejected based on evidence. In other words, exactly what we are wired to do with our emotions.
Emotions are innate; they happen as a response to stimuli and drive us to avoid, conform, or change. They come unbidden and happen before our thinking brain can even register the event. Once our thoughts catch up we're meant to stop and look around; to assess the level of threat and decide what to do from there.
To be too sensitive, then, is an absolute oxymoron; it is impossible. It’s like saying we’re too biological.
That we can think without emotion is a damaging and, unfortunately, pervasive idea that takes away our ability to utilize important information we have to assess our worlds. And simply put, it’s just wrong. It’s the emotion that comes first, which then informs our thinking. We cannot separate the two.
This is not to say we can’t be overreactive. After all, our emotions are going to have their say whether we like it or not; ignoring them for too long will just cause them to get louder, more insistent. But it is not because we’re too sensitive. It’s because we’re just sensitive enough to grab our attention so we can turn and look at what needs to be addressed.
Guys, I cannot emphasize enough, that our sensitivity is a gift. It’s who we are as humans; it’s how we make sense of the world and connect. And we cannot have wisdom without it.
Our emotions ARE our wisdom. They are our guides.
I will never again let someone tell me I’m too emotional or that I’m too sensitive - goodness gracious the amount of energy I have spent trying to hold things in and be “less” emotional. And all the while, holding back resulted in my being more emotional than I needed to be.
If I had learned at a much earlier age to listen to and trust my gut, I can only imagine where I’d be. And if I could go back to my younger self and tell her anything at all, that would be it: listen, pay attention, your emotions are much smarter than you give them credit for.
Anyway, that’s my message this year.
What is your message going to be? To yourself, to each other, to your children?
Whatever it is, let it be a positive one. Because, as a brilliant friend of mine once said, there is enough unbeautiful in this world, I choose to make something beautiful.