“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Have you ever been told that? And yet, words can hurt, in some ways even more than actual physical harm. Of all the times I was bullied, it’s not the physical harm that still hurts. It’s what they said to me, again and again and again that rolls around in my brain and sometimes affects the things I want to do.

I spent my entire life being very sensitive! From a very early age, I took things to heart, I tried to avoid anything that would make anyone upset, and worried if anyone was uncomfortable. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realised that other people’s discomfort actually causes me literal pain, and that’s been a challenge to handle! This in turn made me hypervigilant, because I’d do just about anything to avoid that. I feel everything dialled up to 11, and it can mean that I need to take time out to process things and allow myself to think things through in peace and quiet without distraction in order to make sure I don’t overwhelm.

I thought maybe I was an alien that had been dumped on this planet as some sort of test to see how well I’d cope in totally weird situations for many years. Nothing seemed to make sense, and I kept trying to change how I responded to things as a result! Not entirely surprisingly, that didn’t work very well, and I actually ended up with more issues from trying so hard to change than I’d had to start with!

Being sensitive, I ended up being bullied quite badly for a while in my teens. I couldn’t figure out how to be what they were expecting of me, and I was really soft and gentle, which meant that I was a prime target for a group that had been together since nursery, and who saw anyone different as a threat to their way of doing things.

I found all that very hard, and I tried everything I could to figure out how to be a good classmate, but once it had started, it was essentially impossible to stop. More like an avalanche than anything else. But what was interesting (looking back at it, not so much at the time) was the teacher’s reactions to it. One teacher LITERALLY told my mother (who was aware of some of the stuff going on), that if I was being bullied, it had to be something I was doing, as there hadn’t been ANY issues with the class until I arrived. Of course, I knew full well that that wasn’t true, as I was far from the only one having issues!

But those years left their mark and took a huge toll on my self esteem, and all of this of course just meant that I became even more hypervigilant and sensitive! And trying to figure that out led to about 20 years of depression. I didn’t LIKE feeling like shit, so I kept trying to figure out how to stop that, but it took a good long while to find the right method for me, which was Broadband Consciousness, developed by the inimitable Richard Wilkins and Liz Ivory. Now the underpinning principle of BC (as we call it because Broadband Consciousness is a bit of a mouthful) is that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH US AND WE DON’T NEED FIXING! That was a revolutionary concept for someone who’d been spending years trying to fix myself! BC says that we are all perfect exactly as we are, we just forget to put on our superhero cloaks sometimes. And most importantly…no one CHOOSES to feel shit (as some aspects of Personal Development tell us we do), because who’d choose that?? No, we are NOT choosing! We are falling back into what we call the “script”–the automatic reactions that are based on subconscious Stuff that is handed to us from society, friends, school, parents, etc. Some of it has been handed to them in turn, and to them again…so it can be generations of Stuff that is simply handed down without question that influences how we react today! Basically, any time you’re not feeling the way you WOULD choose if you COULD choose, you’re in the script. That’s okay…it happens to everyone, but spending a bit of time there doesn’t mean we have to move in and live there forever!

So what IS “sensitive”? The Oxford definition is “quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals or influences”, and “having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings”. Medicinenet looks at the different types of sensitivity—you can be sensitive to cold, which simply means you are more likely to feel fluctuations, and being sensitive to pollen means you have an allergic reaction to pollen. They say it’s the same with emotional sensitivity…it means being kind, caring, and able to pick up the feelings of others and aware of their needs and behaving in a way that helps them feel good. They identify this as a good thing as it helps us respond to changing environments and people. It’s also the basis for both sympathy and empathy. It is allowing ourselves to FEEL our emotions, while also understanding that others have similar emotions, and wanting everyone’s emotions to be mostly good. Everyone has emotions, even though many are taught not to show them, to hold them in. But the emotions don’t change from being held back…in the same way as a boil may need lancing, sometimes emotions can bubble under the surface and become really infected when not allowed out!

And yet…have you ever been told that you need to harden up, not be so sensitive, or told that you shouldn’t cry or show emotion? It can be seen as a weakness. It’s true that being very sensitive can cause stress when it doesn’t work well with the environment that the person is in. Becoming overwhelmed can definitely be a negative response to being sensitive. But in today’s society, any sign of sensitivity can be taken as weakness, and people who show such emotions are often bullied and put down, not taken seriously and held back. There’s a perception that sensitivity means being soft and weak, and needing someone else to be in charge. It can be linked to victimhood, when that doesn’t have to be remotely related.

This can seem to start in schools, where bullying policies might (at times) exist, but getting them to be followed can be a very different kettle of fish. Many children report being told to “toughen up” because it’s easier to somehow blame the one being bullied than the bullies. But those children are learning it from somewhere, and that somewhere is often home.

So where does this come from? It seems to have a lot to do with the “macho” world that is often touted as the thing to strive towards.

Many offices have cultures of “manning up”, of being seen as “driven” and “focused on work”. And despite many management and leadership books and theories recognising the need for balance, this culture can be seen to be taking over more and more. In conversations with people who work for many different companies, including ones that give off the impression of being more accepting of difference, many confirm that when you actually work there, it’s required again and again that you put away any feelings at all, and simply get the work done. This attitude can come from a position of great privilege, or from those who WANT that privilege and try to attain it by copying those in it. Workplaces are often reported as needing everyone to harden up or “man up”. There are even books encouraging women to behave more like men so that they can get ahead in the workplace, with careful “how to” lists.

I had this a lot when I was working in corporate, and it’s one of several reasons behind going self employed. I was criticised for taking things to heart, and allowing what people said around me to affect me. My manager even once left me in an impossible situation by going on holiday the day he KNEW we had a deliverable that we weren’t going to meet…I’d told him about this for weeks, and he kept saying he’d talk to the client. Then he disappeared on the day, having not spoken to the client, and leaving me to deal with the mess. Then he criticised me and wrote me up for being upset with being left with the consequences!

So how do we handle being sensitive in today’s society? Firstly, I think it’s really important to be REALLY proud of being who we are!

If the whole world was more sensitive, then we would have so many fewer issues in so many areas!

Try to imagine a world, where everyone was sensitive to how others feel and think…

Can you imagine wars happening, if the leaders of our countries were more sensitive?

Would famine, poverty, violence, be huge issues, if we were all more sensitive?

If the whole world was more sensitive, we wouldn’t necessarily have to lock our doors, even!

Now I’ve tried “toughening up” to be “the big boss” in situations, and all it does is cause me discomfort, and means I don’t react in a way that is natural to me. I’d far rather spend more time figuring out how I work, and how I can handle situations effectively WHILE BEING true to myself!

For me, this means being honest with the people I need to speak to. It means acknowledging that I’m really uncomfortable with some situations, and being okay with that. Sometimes, it means handling situations in totally different ways to how “society” might expect me to, and that’s completely okay.

When I’m not helping women with their mindsets, I also run a livery yard…that’s where people keep their horses. And we have some very common sense rules and things to make sure that the yard works for everyone who keeps their horses there, not just one or two. Sometimes, people do silly things that are against the rules, or would have been had I ever imagined that they would do such a thing and created a rule about it! They catch me by surprise sometimes!

 

I am really enjoying figuring out what is a good way for me to handle the situations that in the past I would have tried to “Boss” my way out of. And finding methods that work for us all, rather than just for the way society says it “ought” to work. I no longer try to “harden up”, because it doesn’t work for me. It just makes me miserable and uncomfortable and causes me pain. I now work with my sensitivity, and with other people’s too.

There are sensitive people out there whom I can use as inspiration, too! I grew up partly in the United States, and had Mr Roger’s Neighborhood on television as a child. Now I didn’t watch it that often then, but I am rewatching his programs as an adult and taking on board the way he did things. Without being afraid to tackle the hard things, he did it with a sensitivity and a gentleness that was essentially revolutionary for television!

Think of the artist Vincent van Gogh…a sensitive man in a time when sensitivity definitely wasn’t an accepted thing! He saw the world in a very different way to his peers, and really suffered for it. Ironically, he only gained recognition for his work after his death. “I want to reach so high that people say of my work ‘he feels deeply. He feels tenderly.’ It is true I am often in the depths of misery, but perhaps in part because of this, there is within me a calmness, pure harmony, and sweet music” Vincent van Gogh.

More and more, celebrities are allowing their real voices to be heard. They say when things are uncomfortable, or make them sad or worried. They share their fears. And I love that. I’m far more likely to follow someone like Pink, who shares a lot of her struggles both as a “non-standard” woman in showbusiness and as a mom, than someone who only shows the perfection out to the public. I read the very honest account of what it was like to be the First Lady by Michelle Obama, and appreciate her candour.

I’ve heard it said many times, that “perfection isn’t connection” and it’s so true. I’d far rather be real, and honest, and open about both my sensitivity and my struggles, than try to come across as some sort of perfect being.

Instead of encouraging others to harden up to meet the world…let’s help individuals be more sensitive, and make the world a better place for everyone!

Psychology Today says that being sensitive is a strength. That it gives us the ability to be strong, capable and thriving, even in the face of adversity. They say that the very traits that make us highly sensitive are the qualities that can give us enormous inner strength. Shutting down sensitivity means shutting down compassion, understanding, and even our sense of justice, because it becomes harder to understand and feel the injustices of the world!

Sometimes, if we shut down our emotions, we end up channeling all of them into anger, because somehow anger is still allowed to be a thing. This can be incredibly unhealthy, and can mean lashing out when that’s the last thing we really want to do, simply because we have nowhere else for our emotions to go! Today, depression and suicide are massively on the rise. In some age and gender categories, suicide is among the top three killers, statistically. If shutting down our emotions and forcing ourselves to be something we aren’t doesn’t stop, this may continue to grow. In an era when care for mental health issues is on the decline in many countries, this becomes even more important.

So let’s look at some potential superpowers that come from being sensitive!

Being more aware of our surroundings and feelings means we have a better understanding of when we are stressed, overwhelmed and what we need to do to feel better, allowing us to feel better and face difficult situations rather than pushing them away

Using our sensitivity to develop empathy means we can help others in a way that others cannot. Putting ourselves in other peoples’s shoes is something that comes far more naturally to someone with high sensitivity, and this gives others the feeling of recognition and develops our own understanding of a situation. It can also mean we have the drive to stand up against mistreatment of others because it affects us indirectly.

Sensitive people are far more likely to appreciate others and let them know that their efforts are appreciated! We also appreciate beauty around us, strength in situations, and other things that others may not notice!

Being sensitive often gives us a highly intuitive sense of understanding of people and situations, allowing us a clear vision of what is happening and what needs to be done.

Our sensitivity can also manifest itself in a great passion for projects, life, and connection! We feel strongly about our values and issues we believe in, and we can create a powerful energy that feeds our reslience.

Using all these aspects of our sensitivity can mean that we move through life with more vigour and passion than we might otherwise. If we can capture and channel our tendency to be sensitive, and take all the superpowers that it gives us, we can move mountains…even if it might be one stone at a time!

Being sensitive is a gift! No matter what people around us may say, we can use those gifts for lots of good!