On Being (“Too”) Sensitive

I am an emotional person.

I am romantic. I am sentimental. I am expressive.

I can cry at almost anything–from actual tragic films to sappy commercials. (Put twinkling piano music to a mother and her newborn, and I’m gone.) Though people like the lovely Mindy Kaling have made strong cases for the sci-fi quality of romantic comedies, a part of me still believes that love can be as sweet as Adam Sandler singing over an airplane loudspeaker to Drew Barrymore or as passionate as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet holding onto each other in the middle of the freezing ocean post-disaster.  

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I save remnants of the past, like ticket stubs and letters, because throwing them away feels like erasing paragraphs of a memory. And I cannot resist the incessant urge to put the melodies of my heart strings into words. Why else would I be a writer, an artist, and a musician, if not to find some way to  articulate…all of this?

Thus, it is no surprise that some people regard me as sensitive.

Upon Googling “sensitive”–and please do excuse the cliché of providing literal dictionary definitions–I found two relevant meanings. The first (and the more preferable) is as follows:

(of a person or a person’s behavior) having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.

Nice, right? I rather like that idea. The second, however…:

…easily offended or upset.

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You see, I encounter the word “sensitive” in the form of the second definition far more often than the first. It arrives as an accusation, sour and salty.

“You’re too sensitive.”

Usually, people say this when I confess that something that they’ve said or done has hurt me. After hearing these three words again and again–you’re too sensitive–I’ve come to understand that to many people, transparent emotion equals excess. And when I think of excess, I think of overwhelming heaviness, unwanted pressure…These three words tell me that my emotions are a burden to others.

I cannot deny that there is such a thing as overreacting and that we all have to pick our battles. Sometimes, we really do express our emotions in an unhealthy way that may be harmful to others. I understand that we must build a somewhat tough skin to prevail through the rubbish that life throws our way. Regardless, I believe that it is problematic to shame someone for their emotional sensitivity.

Sociologists would probably say that I’m just a typical millennial in the age of trigger warnings and political correctness who needs to be “coddled.” But let’s take a closer look.

A: What you said really hurt me.

B: You’re just being too sensitive.

“You’re too sensitive” creates a boomerang effect. B transforms A’s feelings into a weapon, which they then shoot back: what you feel has nothing to do with me; there’s something wrong with you.

It’s a completely invalidating statement, as well as a transference of blame. I believe that people accuse others of being “too sensitive” to relinquish themselves of the immense responsibility that comes with hurting someone. We all like to think that we have good intentions, that we are doing the right thing. When we discover that we’ve taken a wrong turn at someone else’s expense…Well, that feels horrible. So we try to wipe our fingerprints off of their pain.

So, isn’t calling someone “too sensitive” also an emotional reaction?

Sensitive people are typically depicted as weaklings. The world, people say, is a cruel and scary place, and we must not take it so personally. But if we insist that insensitivity and disaffection are normal and inevitable, the world will always be a cruel and scary place, because the thought of being numb to pain, happiness, and everything in between, is indeed terrifying.

I’ve never been ashamed of being an emotional person. Yes, I feel deeply; and to me, that is a gift.  That energy rising, falling, simmering, and glowing within my chest reminds me that I am here, participating and reacting to everything around me–present. Alive.

4 thoughts on “On Being (“Too”) Sensitive

  1. Alexia Mackey

    A rejection of expressing emotion is another way the patriarchy pervades our society, by excluding femininity altogether. Being feminine is perceived as weak and undesirable (even for females), whereas emotionless stoicism is more masculine, and therefore preferable.

    Liked by 1 person

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