Updated: Sep 28, 2022
Without any apology, I admit to being the "too much girl." My mom regularly told me I was too sensitive. My school teachers always told me I talked too much. My standards have always been too high for my relationships and my expectations too high for my kids, and my client outcomes.
My feelings have always been big. I am passionate when I speak and dramatic when people are unnecessarily harmed or dehumanized, matters of justice. I am picky about what I wear and what material my furniture is made from, as the sensation on my skin matters. My environment strongly impacts my mood, from the smell resonating in the air to the noise.
I've always been the highly sensitive individual. Goodness, when people are mean to me, it hurts to the core. A cruel facebook post could take me days to recover from and that mean mother-n-law, disastrous for my self-esteem. More often than I even appreciate, I need a good cry. There are times as well, where I've struggled with bouts of loneliness or a kind of sadness that I couldn't really explain.
Somewhere around the lovely ol' age of forty I took a step outside of myself and recognized, "Yes, I am sensitive. I am also exceptionally compassionate. I am the person people willing share dark secrets and fears with, things they are very shameful of and don't even tell their spouses. I help people see their worth, make them feel valuable. I am a healer... because I am so sensitive."
The best of me can be seen by some as the most irritating or maybe even appear to be a witness, but this depends on their perspective, right? Those in a relationship with me who have to raise to a higher standard, put in a little more work, may not appreciate this about me, but those in my care certainly do. Potentially then, those not willing to put in the work, just aren't my people, right? This really has nothing to do with me; it's more about finding my circle - the people I resonate with the best, those who when I am around them, make me love myself the most.
What I've since learned is these strengths, or to some, my weaknesses need to be protected. Because I am so #sensitive, I can overextend myself. I give more than I am capable while also remaining healthy myself. I can also have a dramatic change in my mood because the person who just came into my space is grouchy, angry, or manic. The national or international news reports can cause great suffering for me.
My connection with nature is intense though, as it is with plants and animals, even rocks and water. Music and art speak to my soul. This connection is true too of people. I am often able to articulate what someone is thinking or feeling, better than they have been able. Even my boyfriend at fifteen-years-of-age said it creeped him out that I knew him better than he knew himself. This causes me to anticipate the needs of others and then always working to make them comfortable to the point I can disconnect with own needs. However, it also means I can easily connect the dots for clients and help them identify their path.
When we give presence to our own sensitivities, we can better identify our greatest strengths, and weaknesses. We can better see the beauty around us and the beauty in others. Rather than judge ourselves or work to change, we can embrace these characteristics and hone them in, mature them, which honors who we are at our core.
No longer do I put forth any energy to rain myself in or make myself smaller. I appreciate that if I am upset, someone has violated a boundary of mine. This is my body showing up for me, to protect my rights. I appreciate that when I feel abandoned, belittled, or taken advantage of that my need to express this is not because I am needy or too sensitive, but because I matter and if these feelings don't matter with those I've shared them, then they aren't my people. This allows me better awareness of who I should surround myself and where I resonate... without apology.
How might you protect your own sensitivity?
Step into the Moment
Presence ignites sensitivity. Depression often lives in the past, as does grief. Anxiety lives in the future. Try stepping into the present moment. This is where we find richness and meaning. When we pull our attention back to right now, we better identify with where we feel most alive.
This requires managing your mind, recognizing your thoughts. As you sit in your chair at work, become aware of the chair on your backside. When you drive in your car, pay attention to the scenery. Notice the depth and rhythm of your breath. What does your posture do when you stand? Tune into the sensations of your body. Yoga owns this.
Turn Down the Noise
Sensitivity is nurtured by silence. Close your eyes and listen. What do you hear in your environment? What is your constant sensory stimulation, activating your nervous system? When there is a lot of noise, we have to down regulate our other sensations to manage our overall stimulation, which means you miss out on other experiences and information.
When you have peace and quiet, you'll feel more clear-headed and relaxed. Your body (and your nervous system) will shift to a healthier, more balanced state that allows the fight-or-flight system to rest. You'll find you have more energy because your body has less burden overall. Ever work all day at your computer, and just feel completely exhausted as if you walked a 3K? That mental energy and emotional work is taxing! Noise is the same.
Most of us thrive in silence or with a quiet rustling or background music. Try arriving to work early and see how much more productive or relaxed you are working in the silence. Enjoy a quiet house in the morning, before starting the washing machine and dishwasher. Turn the music off during your hike, and listen to nature. Stop falling asleep to the television. This may be a bit challenging at first, but stick with it. In no time, you will relish in the silence.
Stop the Violence
The news is very triggering to our nervous systems. There is always a threat within the sensational news stories and with enough exposure, your nervous system will begin to shut down to handle the emotional stress. Anything that desensitizes you to some aspect of life sets you up to tolerate less than what you deserve. This numbing can even be carried into the workplace and cause you to ignore a snide remark from a co-worker because you're shut down and missing important signals. We might even tune out our children, consistently complaining about how much they hate school, and failing to recognize they don't feel safe and really do need an intervention.
Control your news reports and social media, even marketing material. Opt for inspiring podcasts and videos, or well-informed talk radio shows. Ask yourself if these things create more sensitivity, or less so, and consider this too with your family and friends.
Put Limits on Toxic People
Take a minute and consider who might be venting all their frustrations onto you, spilling their anger, disappointment, old emotional wounds, and unfinished business in your lap. Who causes you anxiety when they are around you? Who do you put up a wall of protection when they are near? If your shoulders rise when they are near, shield yourself from allowing them to enter your "unsafe sensitivity zone."
Anyone who constantly puts you down, chronically complains about how miserable they are without doing anything about it, criticizes you, or sucks your energy in any way is affecting your ability to remain open hearted and sensitive. In fact, it's dangerous to be open and receptive in such a toxic environment; as they say, don't give your pearls to pigs.
A tough lesson for many of us is learning that some people hurt others as a sport, make a career out of complaining, or get off on putting others down. When your friend is always sharing what others have said about you, while they may look like loyalty, at some point you have to ask yourself, why these others felt they could safely speak poorly about you to your friend.
This is an easy way to max out your sensitivity. We really do have to be more vigilant about how we protect ourselves in this way. We want to be empowered, not reactive. When my phone rings, immediately I feel anxiety. Texts are less alarming for me, but they absolutely disrupt my peace. My partner has everything pinging on his phone - his facebook messages, his emails, texts, phone calls - and it is overwhelming to me.
These sounds can active our fight-or-flight response, and as a midwife having been on call for more than a decade, every phone call was a potential emergency and an immediate demand of my attention. Ready and on alert all the time, meant I was completely unable to relax. Even waking at night meant or every morning meant checking my phone to assure I didn't sleep through a missed call.
Today my ringer is off and all unknown contacts are silenced. I have no voice mail. My VIP contacts have their own sound and all other texts are observed when I am available. My emails and facebook notifications are all turned off. I will peek at them at my own convenience.
I've also had to better manage the expectations of others in how quickly I respond. While so many expect an immediate response, some will tolerate 24 hours; however, often I require a week. Scrambling to respond will not create more time to relax, as you've now set a new expectation for others. What I need to better address is limiting the emails I do receive (as my email inbox is currently at more than 45K) and archiving them appropriately.
Set the Mood
Knowing the environment that suits you - your element, is another aspect of protecting your sensitive side. When you have to be constantly aware of the messes, the kids, the animals, etc. it can be exceedingly draining. Tuning down some of the distractions and eliminating some of the pressure can relieve more anxiety than you can imagine.
Simple things though, like lighting can create a relaxed, peaceful mood. Fluorescent bulbs, need I say more? The colors and patterns in a room can resonate with you in a way that either create serenity or inspirational energy. Choosing the right restaurant can make your evening out with friends a complete delight, or the wrong one can be completely draining.
Where might you need to protect your sensitivity? Think through each of these areas above, where do you need to intervene and implement new boundaries? See if you can put these into place within the next thirty days. Come back at the end of those thirty days and write about how these steps have changed your life, and be sure to share with us in our Wellness Wednesday Gatherings.