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Sensitivity as a Super Power?

Being a sensitive human can sometimes feel like you have no skin. Like there is no buffer between you and the world. And let's face it, this world is not a womb. So, being a sensitive person can be a bit like embodying an antelope from the Serengeti, a doe-eyed, vigilant, and gentle creature somehow caught up in the wild, sprawling, urban landscape of a manic city. Do you ever feel like that? If so, read on, this article is dedicated wholeheartedly and lovingly to your sensitive souls. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, please read on as well, you might understand by the end of the article the blessings and the burdens of being a sensitive person in an insensitive world. And let's face it, we all have sensitivities around something.

So maybe we need a few clear definitions of who might qualify themselves as a sensitive person because, of course, we can all be sensitive people. We all bear some level of sensitivity. And we all have blind spots and can be staggeringly oblivious as well. Some of us are sensitive to criticism, and some of us are empathetic enough to feel other people’s emotions very close to the bone. Some of us are overly concerned with the emotional well-being of another, or the pain of the world. The Germans call this weltschmerz and Francis Weller refers to this as the third gateway to grief "the sorrow of the world".

Some of us are sensitive to coffee and drugs, sex, porn, loud noises, or scary films. We are not all made the same, thank goodness, and there are levels of sensitivity that can mean we do quite well in this hectic life, but equally, being sensitive can quickly lead to being overwhelmed and suddenly we need to escape into a fantasy land or lean into addictions.

Richelle Goodrich puts it nicely “It seems my heart is made of tissue paper; I wish the world would handle it more delicately.” For the sake of brevity, let's tackle the layers of sensitivity that manifest in empathy and overwhelm to stimulus. My rough definition of empathy is simply to experience a deep level of sensitivity and concern for other people’s emotions and well-being, sometimes so much so that this can become emotionally charged or depleting for the empathy-holder. Perhaps to the degree that you feel other people’s moods and needs can trump your own or that you struggle to set boundaries if you feel it could cause harm or upset. With a heart made of tissue paper in a world with many sorrows, how can we see sensitivity as a superpower and stay centered?

Living as we now live, we are quite possibly bombarded by marketing, technology, communication, gaps in privilege, racism ,sexism, ageism, poverty, mental health crisis, and ideas that divide us deeply, how can we stay in our center? Firstly, I just want to remind you of the title of this article…remember it is a gift.

It might be an expensive gift, one that you wish sometimes you could return, get a refund, or swap it for something else. But it is a gift to feel, to sense, to intuit. Let's have a think about this... Imagine all the times that you felt some intense emotions. Imagine having the worst day of your life, and then being met with an insensitive or oblivious or tactless or unfeeling or completely, ruthlessly unconcerned person at that moment, how would that have impacted you?

Maybe sometimes you’ve had a taste of that. Maybe you’ve been going through something brutally hard and you’ve walked into your kitchen or into your local shop, or gone to work and the people that fill up those pockets of your life have been utterly unconcerned, insensitive, or unaware, and maybe there was no safety for you to whisper “ I’m struggling right now, I just need a minute.” So you retreated, a husk of yourself, convinced the world was a tough and ungenerous place. Or you walled up, numbed out, decided no one cares. I think we’ve all experienced that at points. In those husk states, lots of us turn mute. Vocalizing needs can be beyond our triggered capacity and it is a blessing, a game-changer, a god-send...if someone just notices you and knows to show you a little tenderness.

This is what the sensitive folk know how to do. Sometimes they even know before you do, that you are struggling and on the verge of tears, or that you really need a hug, or that you’re pissed off. Yes, a sensitive person will see you. A mile off. A run-through of “the complete opposite scenario”… Having a rough day, too bewildered to dress properly- you’re wearing 4 day undies, you’d like to crawl back into the womb now, please, or just stop existing for a second its so bloody hard and your heart is breaking… life is like a very bleak movie…but on the other end of the phone is a soft familiar voice telling you they are there, giving you words of wisdom and support, you can feel their warmth down the crackling phone connection. Another example, you are in your kitchen and a housemate comes over to you and asks if you’re okay, its clear they know already you are not okay, and they give you doe-like eyes of love, they embrace you in a hug that lasts thirty minutes until you feel molten. Think of the times when someone has wordlessly, unprompted made you a cup of tea, did your shopping for you, covered for you at work, or listened to you even when they were tired and it was very late just because you were in need. Just because you matter, your feelings matter, your experience matters to them.

Sensitive people are needed. Think of how much better the world would be if there were more sensitive, empathetic loving humans taking up space in the world. Think of some inspiring sensitive people and their contributions to art, music, therapies, science, technology,and playfulness. Deep joy and deep vulnerability come from the same visceral place – the inner child. It is the inner child that stays in tune with sensitivity, play, and vulnerability. The inner child doesn’t give a shit about deadlines, rules, and scowls at jobsworths. It has a different set of priorities, which values compassion, care, and expression above all else. It is the inner child that creates art, music, characters, and stories. Existing sensitively and being connected to our inner kid is an imaginative and potent way of living and connecting with the world.

“But it’s so harrrrrrrd”, I can hear you sensy souls purring. Holy shit, yeah it is! Sometimes it really is -just fucking hard. I'm sorry if you thought this article was going to tell you how to make it easy, that I can't do. Being sensitive to the pain of the world and others will take up time, and space, change your plans, demand your attention... My advice? Find the stillness, find the solidness of you within the sensitivity. You might feel like you are made of tissue paper, but you’re not. And you’ve survived this long being sensitive in this ferocious world, so I’d wager you can hang on in some more. Pay attention to when and how your sensitivity is in service or in sabotage to yourself and others. Notice you’re not responsible for other people’s processes or emotions or life story. It’s nice that you give a shit, but try to stay mostly with you, and still give some of yourself to them. Someone once told me to be 70% with myself and the rest of my energy goes to the other person, so check in with yourself. Have you abandoned yourself? Are you a free give-away?

No one is asking you to get bogged down in the swamp with them, and you can't really do anything useful if you do, so- give them your support, your love, your presence, but keep most of your attention with yourself. Give yourself a task to refocus your energies if you need it. If your empathy is way high, take a second to pause, breathe into that sensitivity, and remind yourself that that’s not what you’re there for. Although it is a beautiful gift to notice how other people are feeling and to be available to them in a supportive way…it’s not your job to breathe for people. You might think that what I’m saying here is something along the lines of “it’s not safe to be sensitive and too involved, run! Hide! Turn away from your sensitivity -it will lead you into the bog!” Rest assured, I’m not. I think that would be a colossal shame. I’m saying, use it wisely and …if you got it, don’t flaunt it but…

Channel it

Let your gift have a purpose. Allow it to be in service to the world. Put it out there. Utilize it. Imagine your gift of sensitivity as a mansion. It’s a BEAUTIFUL PRISTINE PALACE, but if it’s just sat on some land rotting away, not being used, no one is benefiting from this marvelous gift that you have. So share your sensitivity like you have a bloody palace in a fairy wonderland that can host anyone who needs a place to safely land and take a beat. Share your alertness and generosity in ways that are useful. Bring the wisdom of your sensitivity, the empathy and allow it to be a superpower that benefits people. Be the one that instigates tricky conversations because you picked up on the vibe. Be the person who notices someone else’s emotional state and responds in a kind and loving way. Be the person that uses their sensitivity and their deep sense of feeling to create art that people can relate to. Use it. Give it a purpose. Otherwise, it’s just a gift collecting dust.

Develop self-care practices And do them regularly. Think of them as emotional hygiene. You don’t brush your teeth once a month and expect good oral health. A sensitive spirit needs a bit more time to regulate, and creating rituals that you enjoy and look forward to is a wonderful way to stay sane. Crystals Black Tourmaline and onxynx are very good for re-balancing. Smudging and asking for rejuvenation/protection from any support you have (this might include spiritual support, friends, therapies, nature). Doing Qigong and yoga, taking time out for yourself, meditation, journaling, going for a run, having a long, warm bath, eating nourishing food, having a good giggle, dancing, some healthy forms of escape…are all useful and healthy ways of being in good energetic health.

Finding things that you really enjoy that bring you back into your body are vital, and it’s likely that as a sensitive person, over-stimulation like coffee, sugar, late nights, lots of technology are more harmful than good when you lean into them for support too often. If you’re sensitive, you’re likely more absorbent and taking in a lot of energy around you and being quite impacted by what you consume. You might witness other people drinking five cups of coffee a day and being on Facebook for hours who seem to be doing kind of okay. But trust me, if you’re a deeply sensitive person who’s very impacted by their environment, it’s not going to work out the same for you. We’re not all the same. Partly, survival of sensitivity is about honoring that, accepting that, and working with it not against it.

Be discerning and create a strong support network. Try to monitor whether you’re always in the role of caregiver, because of your propensity to hold space or be alert to people’s needs. Make sure you also have friends who provide that role for you and respect your boundaries when you can’t be available for support. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all have micro-communities where everybody could be held and do the holding? If we could openly acknowledge that we all have wounding and medicine to bring each other, so there’s no shame in being in need, and there’s less pressure to be the sole vessel of need-meeting. If you are vehemently agreeing with this article so far, then you probably have the skills to help create that. You don’t need to carry the heavy weight of collective emotions on your shoulders. You don’t need to save the world and develop a messiah complex. Nobody’s shoulders are that big. The price of burn-out, resentment, or hiding away is too hefty a fee. Make sure you have nourishing people to keep you uplifted because sensitive people are also highly playful children inside. And share your sensitivity like a manual everyone is welcome to read. People that spend time with you might be inspired by your attunement and start paying more attention too.

How can you maximize the gift? Every quality we have can be a gift or a burden depending on how we use it. Take a minute to reflect now on some times in your life where your sensitivity has actually been incredibly helpful. Maybe it steered you away from danger or helped de-escalate a volatile situation, maybe it made someone feel safe, or nipped a rising conflict in the bud. Your superpower might be diffusing chaos wherever you go without you even knowing it! You have learned this or been given this for a reason. Or several. It is useful and no doubt it’s a strong survival skill. Many of us become highly sensitive because we grew up in environments that felt like an emotional land mine, full of hectic unspoken explosives, or had families that communicated like they were military spies. And we learned to read people’s moods, faces, vibrations, and sounds to understand which way the current was going, in order to respond and safeguard. Many sensitive people are great at meeting other people’s needs, are wonderful at responding empathetically, and are calm in a crisis because they read emotions like braille.

See the blessings alongside the burdens of this quality, because all qualities have a blessing and a burden. If you feel open and paper-thin to the pain, then you probably feel open and paper-thin to the joys of the world as well.

Where in your life does the positivity seep in? Where do you get caught up in a collective buzz of triumph, hope, and celebration? Your sensitivity could be a legal, feel-good drug with no side effects, given the right context. Where can you let in ecstasy?

Maximize the good stuff and monitor where you go out of balance, more importantly with whom. This is a token that you can use most often in the relational realms. It can buy you intimacy, but you can also gain debt if you overspend. Just don’t ever trade your magic beans for a cow, if you know what I’m sayin’… So don’t leave it there, unused. That’s a fine way to turn your gift into an expensive burden like a rotting mansion. Use it often, and use it safely, but don’t overuse it. Have friends like you so you don’t feel like such a total weirdo and set healthy boundaries. The people that get it will support you, and the people that push up against your boundaries ...well, maybe they are not helpful folks to be within your inner sanctum. Lastly, let’s think about this. Feeling like you have no skin can sometimes be a bummer. Like when it’s raining outside or if you get too close to open fire. But feeling like you have no buffer between you and the world when it is glorious, when life is loving and magical and fun and spectacular… is quite heavenly.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

Dominique Antonina February 24, 2022

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