Thursday, April 02, 2015

When Is Being Sensitive Good and When Is It Not?

I was and still am in some ways what I would call a sensitive person.  My sense of hearing, smell, touch and taste were all very sharp and I am grateful that it seems to me that my senses still are pretty sharp.  But I was also sensitive emotionally - if I was criticized I pretty much fell into despair.  This is one I still struggle with.

Over time I noticed that people in general are all sensitive in some ways and that this trait is not always helpful to our well-being.  I was troubled by all kinds of sounds because they were grating or too loud.  Certain kinds of odors felt hurtful and not just bad ones - those that I thought were too strong.  I especially had difficulty with hot weather.  I had trouble tolerating certain fabrics on my skin.  I spent a lot of time trying to arrange my environment so I would be physically comfortable.

I think I was lucky in that when I was in my late 30s I read a book that suggested using so much of my time and effort trying to arrange my environment to suit my sensitivities was pretty much a waste of time.  It's not actually possible to get everything around me to suit me.  Also, I think I was a terribly annoying person because I was always griping about something not being right.  I came in contact with other people who mirrored me and I saw how miserable they were if they couldn't get things right and how miserable they were making the people around them.

The book said that it was actually much more sensible to learn to accept rather than bitch, moan and try to control.  Of course, there are things that I need to do for my safety - sitting next to loud speakers wasn't good for my hearing, standing next to a fire wasn't just too hot - I also might get burned, and so on. 

But the book said I could just relax into whatever was irritating me and really increase my awareness of it and appreciate it.  One day I was standing on the corner downtown and a guy was using a jack hammer a few feet from me.  I immediately stiffened and mentally griped.  Then I remembered what I had learned and did my best to relax into the sound.  For the first time I noticed that sound was a vibration that I could feel in my bones and that it was actually a delightful experience in many ways.  I was convinced that acceptance was the answer.

Emotional sensitivity was another thing.  I have worked on this one for years.  I have learned that other people's opinions are just that - opinions rather than fact.  My husband used to say, "If I call you a whore, does that make you one?"  A little crude perhaps but definitely clear.  The answer is no.  It does not make me one.  I am an imperfect being with innate goodness who makes mistakes and cleans them up as I can.  No need to try to protect myself from other people's opinions.  I've noticed that my own opinions of others are usually (almost always) a reflection of my opinions of myself. 

Emotional sensitivity also helps me be sensitive to other people's emotions. That's a good thing.  However, taken too far, I become a slave to wanting to never hurt anyone's feelings - which is impossible no matter how hard I try.

I think all these sensitivities were given to us as tools to care for ourselves.  Our senses protect us from danger but we're not using them sensibly when we gripe about stuff in our environment that's not actually hurting us.  Our desire to be accepted and loved by others is healthy.  We are social creatures and need each other.  But being devastated by someone else's opinion is going way too far.  It's not in anyway helpful.

So, like a lot of other things, sensitivity is good when it's used in a way that is helpful

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