Yes, you read that right, SUPERPOWER! Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘but Kathryn everyone tells me I’m too sensitive, that I’m too emotional, that I think too much – they definitely DON’T look at me in awe and tell me I have some kind of superpower!’ I’m totally with you on that my friend and I know how painful hearing those things can be. In a society that constantly views sensitivity as a weakness it can be all too easy to start feeling ashamed of it, to feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with us. After all, if society is telling us those things are weaknesses then they must be, right? With so few people expressing themselves like we do, that puts us in the minority, and if we’re in the minority then who we are must be wrong, right?
This is completely false and we need to stop believing these messages and start trusting in who we are. The pain we feel when someone tells us we’re too sensitive does not come from the words that they are speaking but rather from our belief that what they are telling us is true. From childhood through adolescence and in to adulthood many of us will have heard those words uttered by many different people many different times. We know from the use of the word ‘too’ and the tone of their voice that what they’re saying to us is not meant as praise or a compliment and because we hear that phrase, or variations of it, so often, we come to internalise it as a message from the world that who we are is not okay.
But what if it’s the beliefs held by society around emotions that is not okay? So many of us grow up believing that certain emotions are good and others are bad. We are openly encouraged to express the so called ‘good’ emotions while at the same time being taught to hide the so called ‘bad’ ones. If we’re sensitive and connected to our emotions we’re viewed by society as messy but what if, to paraphrase Glennon Doyle Melton, we’re simply deeply feeling people in a messy world?
Melton gives a beautiful analogy of the canary, sent down the coal mine to monitor the levels of toxins in the air. The miners were not able to detect toxins until it was too late but the canary’s system was so sensitive that it could feel the toxins and when those toxins became too strong it would stop singing, a warning sign to the miners that if they didn’t do something the canary would die, and they too would be at risk of dying. Just as the miners needed the canary’s sensitivity to ensure their survival, so too does the world need our sensitivity to ensure its survival.
When someone is verbally abusive to us, when we witness a society obsessed with production and consumption, when we see people sleeping on the streets, people going hungry, another war breaking out, people venting their anger as violence towards others, when our partner or friend or colleague is grumpy towards us or speaks unkindly, when we sense any or all of these things from the small scale to the large, what we as sensitive individuals are sensing are the toxins in the world. It’s not just that we see those things, think they’re wrong and express our dislike of them, we actually feel the pain of all of those toxins on a very deep level.
It’s this ability to deeply connect with our emotions, to allow ourselves to feel both our joy and our pain, that is the gift of sensitivity. In a world where we are taught to hide or numb our emotions, to sweep things under the carpet, to run from the things that are difficult, allowing ourselves to feel all of our beautiful and messy feelings is a superpower, not a weakness. It’s something the world needs more of, not less.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried on my own because I felt like I was broken, because I felt misunderstood, because I felt like there was something wrong with me. I’ve cried in private, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve also cried in front of others when they’ve told me I’m too sensitive, or that I’m over thinking things, or that I’m too emotional. I used to hate that I did that, that I couldn’t control my tears, that I let them see my pain. I was ashamed that I couldn’t keep it together. It is only now that I realise that it is not my shame to carry, that it is not me who is broken. It is society’s shame to carry and it is society that is broken.
I have spent the entire 35 years of my life thinking that I am somehow defective, that I was built wrong, that I’m just ‘too much’. In other cultures and parts of the world, the ability to think and feel deeply, is seen as a gift, a blessing and something to be held in high esteem. In many other parts of the world however, it is seen as something to be shunned, hidden, dismissed and that feeling of being different, of not being understood, can be so very lonely and isolating.
If you have felt any of these things in the past, or are feeling them now, know that you are not alone, I am right there beside you. Please do not live another moment of your life feeling ashamed of who you are. While it may not always feel like it, our sensitivity is a superpower. It’s what allows us to connect with others, to empathise, to have compassion, to feel what it is they are feeling, to feel the joy and the pain that exists in the world. Sensitivity gifts us with the ability to see past the hurt someone has inflicted on us, to the hurting person that lies beneath. It is what equips us with the ability to reflect on our own behaviour, to face our own shadow, to see how we too are hurting. It’s what makes us thoughtful, kind, generous, and loving.
These are things to be celebrated so please don’t run from who you are. Know that when others try to mute parts of us, they are trying to mute the parts that make them uncomfortable. Know that when they turn away from our sensitivity, they are turning away out of fear. That sounds hard to believe huh? But it’s true. Being so deeply connected to our emotions can be confronting for other people. Why? Because we’re holding up a mirror to emotions that they have perhaps long suppressed in themselves and to issues they don’t want to deal with. We fear the things we don’t understand and that fear can cause us to try to silence people who stir feelings of discomfort within us. Do not allow yourself to be silenced. Don’t play it small so other people, and the world, feel more comfortable in your presence. You are not too much of anything, you are just right, and you are exactly what the world needs.