Is being sensitive a blessing or a curse?

dandelionThere is the almost eye-roll and rather superior voice that announces to you, as if you were not aware, that you’re so-o-o-o sensitive. The implication is that this is not a good thing. You are somehow defective.

For years, I felt they were right. I was the one feeling all the bumps in the road, and they were cruising along in shock-absorbed comfort. What was wrong with me?

My thinking began to change in the ‘90s. I read an article in the now-defunct “Intuition” magazine that discussed this concept, which was launched by author, Elaine Arons in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person.

I immediately sent the article to my friend, Heidi. She’s definitely a highly sensitive person, and this article would make her feel better. I thought about some of my clients and other friends and realized, hey, they are very sensitive as well. And, then, belatedly, the light went on: surprise, I, too, am a highly sensitive person.

Not that I hadn’t been told repeatedly in my childhood that I was way too sensitive about almost everything. As a kid, my father announced that I should learn to play the mop since I was always crying.

And I was. I was the child crying in the bathroom during the commercial break of the television show, Lassie. Even at a young age, I knew, without a doubt, that Lassie would save the day, but I still wept inconsolably for the plight of the characters.

Then, there were the sheets to consider. My mother had matching sets. All of the sheets were striped, a respectable 1950’s quarter inch of stripe. There were sets of pastel blue, green, yellow, and pink.

Amidst this watercolor palette, there were sets of sheets striped in mud brown. These sheets were so intense that I would wake up in the middle of the night and stare in bewilderment at their noisy striations. Their color was too intense. I couldn’t sleep well. The sheets felt like a fog horn blaring in my sleepy haze.

That’s the way it is for a highly sensitive person. You feel things more intensely. And, needless to say, not every highly sensitive person feels and senses the world in identical ways. Like most things, it can be viewed along a spectrum.

Sensitivity is, essentially, a way of being in the world; it is a kind of wiring. It is not a flaw. If you are sensitive, you respond to sensory stimulation, be it color, sound, temperature, or emotion in a heightened way.

Some sensitive persons are able to read a mood by foot fall or tone of voice. They can sense the emotional temperature of a room. They are aware of the unspoken dialogue in a gathering; they can simultaneously understand assorted points of view. Many can feel the first wave of potential violence.

Heightened sensitivity is having a nervous system wired like a finely-tuned race horse. Your nerve endings are amplified antennae that pick up information and stimulation.

Given all that sensory bombardment, highly sensitive types require more downtime and quiet. They need unstructured time of nothingness; increased time for regrounding and rebalancing; and connecting time in nature to refuel and refind self.

Sensitive individuals are very reactive to sugar and caffeine consumption, too much jangle in their days, they disrupt their equilibrium and can become all spiky themselves.

Interestingly, if you are sensitive, you need time to process, reflect, and respond. You have what I call “tape delay.” For example, if you and a loved one have words, you may not understand what you really think and feel until the next day. As a sensitive person, it is important to step away from the other’s energy field so you can determine what it is that you actually think and feel.

If you are sensitive, you are acutely perceptive. You can read nuance and understand subtlety; you can feel the slight trim of course correction. You are sympathetic and empathetic.

In engineering, sensitivity refers to a responsiveness to signals. That would hold true here. Sensitive types are able to discern signals and read symbols.

In photography, sensitivity refers to a responsiveness to light. Again, that makes sense. If you are a super sensitive you can perceive the fluctuations of light and shadow, both literally and figuratively, in your daily interactions.

In earlier times, the term “sensitive” referred to individuals with psychic or clairvoyant abilities. These highly sensitive persons were at the far end of the spectrum; their empathetic natures allowed them to read the internal domain of others.

The curse of this highly developed sensitivity is that you intensely feel almost everything, the good, the anxious, and the angry. You unconsciously merge your energy field with another; you feel their everything. You do not realize that what you are feeling often belongs to someone else.

Your soul work calls for you not to lose yourself in a sea of sensory stimulation, but to be able to discern and define where you start and where you end.

For the more developed and conscious sensitive person, the blessing is, indeed, that you are able to walk in another person’s shoes. This sensitivity births compassion, understanding, and connection

In today’s uncertain and fractious world, think of the possibilities for peacemaking, bridge building and healing by a highly sensitive person. Isn’t that a blessing?

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11 Responses to Is being sensitive a blessing or a curse?

  1. Adele Ryan McDowell July 19, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Stefania, you are so fun! You nailed it!! Much love.

  2. Stefania Masoni July 17, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

    Hyper sensitivity: A bowl full of cherries.
    Sweet but there is a pit.

  3. Adele Ryan McDowell July 15, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Oh, yes! With you in love and resonance.

  4. Dianna July 15, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    Well, you hit me on every point, Adele. I hadn’t realized that these were all associated with sensitivity. I hate striped towels and sheets! I get it. And my parents tried to toughen me up (they failed) and they expect me to do this with my more sensitive son. No way! We are programmed this way. I wonder when it won’t be considered a burden to be around such sensitivity. It is a hard path, but here we are, and we can help more from that feeling place. Thanks for the post.

  5. Adele Ryan McDowell July 15, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    Thanks, Colleen. It is enough to make you both laugh and cry. Knew you’d resonate! Much love

  6. Adele Ryan McDowell July 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    You are most welcome, Jacquie. I know you feel the deep reverberations.

  7. Adele Ryan McDowell July 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    Thank you, Na’ama and love your words as well. Cuddle time…that’s a definite, especially with kids.

  8. Na'ama Yehuda July 15, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Well said, Adele!
    Like many other things, it is a trait–and it of itself neutral–it is how we use it, and how it impacts that makes the difference. 🙂
    Boundaries are a good thing … as is quiet time … thinking time … and nature time …

  9. jacqueline l. mosher July 15, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Thank you, Adele. 🙂

  10. Colleen July 15, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    Oooooh my! How true. How very true. And even being sensitive to the striation in written words?? And the way people put others down, on and on and on?? I am laughing but there have been many times when I winced and cried and carried on because of the domino effect of all this. Good one, girlfriend. Good one…


  1. Being sensitive? A blessing or a curse? | Na'ama Yehuda - July 15, 2014

    […] In her great blog Adele and the Penguin, Adele Ryan McDowell posts about all manner of lovelies (well worth peeking in!). Her recent post is about sensitivity, about those of us who may be labeled “too sensitive” or “highly sensitive people.” […]