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Being Too Sensitive

On New Year’s Eve Day, my sister in another life, her daughter, and I went to see the latest rendition of Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Women. Before I get into my hypersensitive response, I must say that Greta Gerwig did a superb job of bringing this majestic story to the large screen. I cannot say enough about this latest version based on the beloved book. Of course, being an overly sensitive person, I sobbed but further in the movie than I expected. Once I started crying around the death of a loved one, which I knew well from reading the book, I thought I would stop, but the entire movie evoked a great deal of emotion. I cried about the reality of life, which can be glorious but fickle and unfair. Sitting there with tears streaming down my face, I realized that my sensitivity was in high gear, and concluded that I must write about the woes and benefits of being too sensitive.

The Genes Are Involved

Over the years, I have and continue to feel the sting of hurt more than the average person at least outwardly. Sometimes I cry reading a good book, hearing a poignant story, or seeing someone else cry. Guess what? I believe it is in my genes.

My family was very emotional. I remember seeing my mother sob after the assassination of President Kennedy. My sweet Dad was a guy’s guy even though men and women adored him. Yet, ever so often, he would shed tears around something hurtful or sad. What can I say, I come from a sensitive, maybe too sensitive, family.

My parents loved children and animals and abhorred any cruelty to humans and their four-legged friends. I remember one instance when my mother told me about an episode on the show, 60 Minutes involving animal testing. She gave a few details which I try to forget. What I will not forget is the fact that she and my father could not tolerate watching the horrors inflicted on the voiceless. To this day, I, too, cannot view or listen to anything related to such cruelties.

A Thicker Skin But Not Too Thick

Going into adulthood, I developed somewhat of a thicker skin, but not one which shielded me from feeling strongly. During the late eighties, early nineties, as a private practice therapist, I treated many people who were victims of sexual abuse. At the time, this phenomenon was revealing itself to be less rare than previously thought, and the annual conference of the Group Psychotherapy Institute offered a two-day seminar on this topic. With my eagerness to learn as much as possible, I decided to attend. The first day was about techniques. On the second day, however, the group became a group itself. Most therapists understand that this often occurs when people are honing their group-therapy skills.

For the next few intense hours, people shared information about their backgrounds. I revealed that I had disabilities in my family, and consequently, expectations were pretty high for me. A couple of therapists dismissed these issues and made me cry until one kind soul came to my rescue. Compared to others whose lives were severely impacted by their abuse, however, my situation was relatively innocuous, which I gratefully and tearfully acknowledged. As some of these therapists talked about their broken childhoods, I noticed that most did not shed tears. When I later approached the presenter, I asked her about this. She gently reminded me that my colleagues were crying, but their tears remained inside. Yes, sensitivity and oversensitivity are not always outwardly expressed.

As I have grown personally and professionally, my sensitivity or, should I say, oversensitivity is occasionally a challenge to navigate. I tend to be an extremely loyal person with secure attachments.

Although psychologically healthier, this quality is not without ramifications. At times, the feeling can be excruciating. For those of you who share this characteristic, I am sure you can relate.

The Benefits Dominate

Are there times when oversensitivity can be beneficial? Without reservation, I say yes, more than not. To be a skillful and empathic therapist, I cannot imagine being anything less. Although you must shield yourself from vicarious traumatization, to be effective, a high level of sensitivity is in order. At times, knowing that you can authentically sit with another human being who expresses gratitude for your ear, can be a magnificent experience. To provide safety, trust, and service to others creates a feeling which is so immense that words cannot do it justice.

Many in my inner circle are very sensitive. Several of my clients also share this quality. I tell these lovely individuals that it is not always easy to be us. As my friends often remind me, I reinforce the fact that they are most sensitive to others, which is a noble quality. Frequently, I tell my over-sensitive clients and those within my inner circle that they make the world a better place, and their hearts are immense.

Being too sensitive is bittersweet. The attribute has its woes, but the advantages are enumerable. To feel for others renders a heart that dazzles like no other. Although the slightest prick can elicit pain, the heartbeat continues to vibrate loud and clear. How much more beautiful can that be?

What About You?

What are your thoughts about being too sensitive? Does it work in your favor? How does it influence your relationships? How does it shape you?

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Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbetthttps://darlenecorbett.com/
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. She is also referred to as the "Unstuck Expert" in her many roles. Why? Because for over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. Although she loves speaking, it is now secondary and done mainly through her podcast, "Get Unstuck Now. Because of her wealth of experience, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper.  Many of her blogs can also be found on Medium, Sixty and Me, and DarleneCorbett.com. Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, "Stop Depriving The World of You," traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Being a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene has tried her hand at fiction, hoping to have something completed in the no-so-distant future. Over the years, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book.

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11 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Love this Darlene. I would not say that I’m overly sensitive, but I’m much more sensitive than I was in the past and so thankful that’s the case! I was not raised in an environment that encouraged loving emotions; as a result, I left home at 17 emotionally handicapped. I didn’t realize just how much so until after I was married at age 25. Challenges continued well after my becoming a Christian at age 30…..the Bible talks about replacing our hearts of stone with a heart of flesh and that’s what I can attest to. Fast forward a number of years and I found myself in numerous counseling situtations (leader in a faith-based recovery program and chaplain in a county jail). I was given many opportunities to put my new-found heart to good use. Having experienced both extremes, I choose being sensitive – even if it means over sensitive – rather than the opposite. It’s risky business, but it’s worth it – every time. The stuff of real relationships. The world needs more of it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Mike, for your lovely response. Based on your writings, I have no doubt you make a wonderful counselor. The people who share with you are blessed to have someone sensitive to hear their secrets.💖

  2. I think that sensitivity also encompasses compassion. As long as there is a good balance and one knows the difference, being sensitive is good. If the sensitivity causes emotion that is not good, such as anger, resentment, jealousy, etc, then its not good. Great article Darlene. I always enjoy reading many of our familiar authors’ posts. I wish I could read them all. Blessings

    • Hi Lynn,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I always appreciate your thoughts, and you are so right. Balance is most important.💖

  3. Oh, I absolutely love this article, Darlene, as your words completely resonate with my experiences as a sensitive one. I don’t know how many times I was called a crybaby by so many people-family, teachers, peers, whoever but I’d probably be a millionaire if this exchange involved money. I adored the latest version of Little Women and I still love the Susan Sarandon/Winona Ryder version too. Like you, I wept through the second half of the movie. My heart filled with optimism and deep love for Jo, Beth, Meg, Amy, Marmie -the love, heartbreak, of this timeless story- I could see myself in all them!!

    As an adult I’ve been snapped at by others when I got tears in my eyes. In my experience it seems like many people have very little bandwidth for tears and yet I have not stopped crying when I feel profound gratitude, deep love, great joy, incredible heartbreak. I own my huge heart, my tears, and live unapologetically me in all my passionate, thoughtful, reflective, hilarious, and sensitive expressions. I found a lasting peace in being me with all my ways.

    I hold compassion for those who have blocked their hearts, are afraid to cry, stuff their feelings, simply cry inwardly, or only know how to be red hot angry, but seemingly unable to wail with grief. How others choose to process emotional content becomes their unique path. I know the benefits of processing emotional content through my wide-open heart continue to unfold. When the wave comes I let it flow and go until another one rises. Feeling emotional pain and joys along with shedding tears openly continues to be the price of and door to my freedom.

    With regards to how its impacted relationships-I believe I’ve been judged harshly and dismissed by some. With others I have found great acceptance, a safe haven. They feel safe to be themselves fully -to express however they express because I have a full range of emotional expression, non-judgment, and acceptance. I believe they can feel my empathy, compassion, and warm embrace-even if I’m not hugging them.

    I continue to hear and learn about emotional health-how important being regulated can be as we note the rise in fiery, raw, unfiltered anger. Living in dynamic equilibrium seems a healthy way-being able to return to a fluid centered place.

    I’m incredibly grateful to know I’m not alone in being sensitive, tender, and emotional.
    Thank you ever so much for this wonderful article, Darlene!

    • As always Laura, I appreciate your beautiful, honest comments. Your heart truly dazzles, and it shows in your gorgeous prose. Thank you for your gifts which reveals your enormous heart!💖

  4. Darlene, thank you for sharing your experiences and stories. I wonder at my sensitivity nearly daily. I can recall stories of feeling like an outsider for being sensitive at different ages in my life. Feeling deeply can feel debilitating. I have criticized myself for being “overly sensitive” and have to remind myself of the gift of it. I would rather feel than not, and appreciate that my “sensitivity to sensitivity” allows others to express themselves around me because they feel safe. Thank you for helping to normalize sensitivity, Darlene.

    • Thank you, Mary, for reading and commenting. I appreciate it. As much as it can be painful, I believe being sensitive is more of a strength. I am pleased you recognize that, and it is because of it you make it safe for others. Mary, I do not doubt that your heart dazzles as a result of your sensitivity.💖

  5. Nobody has told me I am sensitive or too sensitive. In my faith, we are taught to try to avoid saying or telling somebody that would hut them. I know myself to be overly sensitive and have been for some time now. When I feel hurt I internalize everything. Through music can let go or over time. Come March I will be 64 years of age. He died at the age of 64. An ominous sign for me perhaps. Somehow I do not feel like making changes in my life except for a couple of things. My father (of blessed memory) was the same way. My sister follows my mother (of blessed memory) in that she does not hold things in. Each can be good and each can be bad. Such is life. Thank you, Paula, for including me in this discussion. If I fail to get involved or seem like I have disappeared it is because this is the start of a busy time of the year for me. The demands of making money and wanting to make X amount of money overshadow my burning desire to write. I worked last night until around 1:00 am. This is how I have done things for years. Yes, it has cost me some health but I do what I feel I have to do and what feels right to do. Almost like a child, I am resistant to change.

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