My Therapist Says Being Too Sensitive Is a Superpower
In a time when we’re experiencing so much turmoil, divisiveness, and lack of empathy, sensitive people are necessary
I’ll never forget the moment my son received vaccinations as an infant. He held onto me and my eyes welled up with tears as my husband innocently chuckled as he watched my reaction. All I could see was the fear in my baby boy’s eyes as he braced himself for the unknown. It didn’t matter that I knew the vaccine was protecting him. In that moment, I was living vicariously through my adorable little man and I felt his pain.
When the story was retold to others, my husband said, “You know how she gets.”
I hear those words often. Rarely is “how she gets” referred to a good thing. I heard those words when college friends were teasing me for being “feisty.” I’ve heard it when having an exchange with in-laws in regards to parenting my kids. In each situation, I was overwhelmed with emotion and on the brink of tears. And honestly it’s the norm for me.
My sensitivity got me teased as a child, and sometimes my sensitivity gets me taken advantage of. Being sensitive often means that I’m viewed as dramatic, weak, overreacting, and too much to handle. So it should come as no surprise that I spent a majority of my life attempting to hide my emotions. Even when things rightfully bothered me, I tried my best to conceal how I truly felt. I didn’t cry. I didn’t show disdain. I’d just hide the feelings as best I knew how, which didn’t usually go all that well. But I tried.
By what barometer are our sensitivities being measured to determine if they’re too much, and who gets to decide that?
When I explained that I’m too sensitive to my therapist, she stopped me in my tracks.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Being too sensitive is a quality not many people have. It’s your superpower,” she said.
I wasn’t sold right away. Signs of sensitivity are often met with eye rolls and frustration — I’ve experienced them firsthand. There’s still a large percentage of Americans who believe women can’t hold leadership positions because they’re too sensitive and emotional. So why would I accept anything but the belief that being too sensitive is a nuisance?
As my therapist helped me realize, we have to ask ourselves: By what barometer are our sensitivities being measured to determine if they’re too much, and who gets to decide that? Is my view of sensitivity as a fault rooted in my being a Black woman — and the fact that time and again showing any emotion or vulnerability results in my generalization as the “angry Black woman”? Or does it have to do with the fact that I am a mom, a role society deems as akin to a superhero, making it hard to show any real feelings other than the desire to nag about chores? Perhaps it has to do with being born in mid-July, making me a Cancer, and by default overly emotional and a target for all the other zodiac signs. Or maybe those who labeled me as such were doing so to be manipulative as they attempted to silence me. Regardless of the roots of being too sensitive, it has always been made extremely clear to me that it is not a desirable trait.
Because I love hard, I hurt hard and deeply when someone wrongs me. Sometimes it’s frustrating and embarrassing. My therapist explained that it also means I experience joy for myself and others just as deeply. When I toured my good friend’s new house when they became first-time home owners, onlookers would have been convinced I had bought the house with them judging by my free-falling tears.
“Being able to feel positive experiences that strongly and genuinely is truly a gift,” she says.
Because I love hard, I hurt hard and deeply when someone wrongs me.
To my therapist’s point, being highly sensitive isn’t horrible if you recognize it in yourself and learn to manage your emotions in a way that feels healthy. There are many times when my sensitivity is a good thing.
My sensitivity makes it that much easier for me to relate to others when they struggle. Every experience, whether it’s happening to me or not, is decoded by my heart before it’s decoded by my brain. In a time when we’re experiencing so much turmoil, divisiveness, and lack of empathy, my therapist showed me that sensitive people are necessary. Being sensitive doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being rational. During a monumental election, my sensitivity allowed me to vote with my heart just as much as logic as I envisioned myself in the shoes of someone else as their lives were literally dependent on what was on the ballot, even if it didn’t benefit me. Being “too sensitive” has also been an asset in the past, as it allowed me to defuse contentious situations between family members.
Sure, I may take things a bit too personally at times, let strong feelings overwhelm me for days and sometimes cry, but I now know that strength, power, and a genuine heart are behind those tears. I’m choosing to believe that my ability to be sensitive is exactly what we need to make this world a little lighter. I am not too sensitive. I am just right.