“You were born to be among the advisors and thinkers, the spiritual and moral leaders for your society. There is every reason for pride.” ~Elaine N. Aron
Stop being so sensitive. Lighten up. You’re oversensitive. Stop overthinking. You’re weird.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve had those words slung at you like rocks from a slingshot for as long as you can remember. The underlying message is clear: You’re too much. There’s something wrong with you.
Your heart strings have always been like finely tuned antennae, picking up on even the most subtle signals of other people’s heartache and embarrassment. Witnessing someone in intense pain can cause you inner turmoil for weeks on end. And when you feel pain, it’s always intense.
I get it. I can still remember clearly the first time I had my heart broken. We’d moved across the country, and my best friend mailed me a letter to formally let me know that, with me having moved away, we were no longer best friends. She had a new best friend and they had special nicknames for each other.
It’s the kind of playground politics that have been going on since time immemorial, but I didn’t know this. It probably wouldn’t have helped if I did. It was my first time being rejected, and it hurt like hell.
When I went back to that same school a few years later, no one would play with me. My friend was right: She’d moved on. So had everyone else in my class. At recess, I sat alone, eating my tomato sandwiches.
One of the new boys started picking on me, calling me horrible names, while my former friends simply stood by and watched.
My teacher picked up that something was wrong. She called us in and asked what was going on. When we’d shared our stories with her, I was stunned by her reaction.
Instead of using it as an opportunity for learning and healing, she brushed the whole thing off. In that one seemingly insignificant action, she was upholding the message society gives us from the minute we’re born: Being sensitive is wrong. Being vulnerable is even worse. Just harden up already and get on with things.
At the end of that year, when we went off to high school, the other kids voted for me to get the ‘loyalty’ award at prize giving. I wasn’t too young to get the irony.
By high school, I was ready. I’d learned my lesson. Like many people who’d been told all their life they were too sensitive, I’d developed impressive armor. I would go into my teenage years knowing how to keep people out.
By my twenties I’d perfected the art of keeping people at a distance.
Then, in my thirties, I dared to ask myself: What if sensitivity is a good thing? The mere idea felt transgressive. But then again… what if it was? What if, in fact, sensitivity was a gift?
I decided to do an experiment. At that point, I’d been to trillions of job interviews in two years, with no luck. Every time I’d got to one, I’d dress up in the stiff, corporate way I thought told interviewers you were capable. I was putting on my armor. Not this time. If sensitivity was a good thing, how would showing people that side of me be?
I decided to embrace who I was. I dressed in a way that felt authentic to me. Something more artistic, flowy that to me, clearly signalled: Here is a sensitive, creative person. These are the qualities you’ll get when you hire this person.
It worked! It was the best interview ever. We had an actual, meaningful conversation instead of the stilted kind of thing that usually goes on in interviews. They hired me.
Today I’m utterly convinced there are many, many advantages to being sensitive, and I keep finding more. Here are some of the more unexpected gems that I just adore and that make me excited about being a sensitive person. I hope you’ll be just as enthralled.
We’re super observant.
Sensitive people are keenly aware of what’s going on around us at all times. In fact, highly sensitive people should actually be called highly observant people, says psychologist Elaine Aron, who created the scientific model for what it is to be a person with the trait of high sensitivity.
We’re always scanning the environment and people around us in order to understand what’s going on and to make an emotional connection, usually at a speed that would send someone else reeling.
How to use your gift of being observant: It’s no wonder employers report being more satisfied with sensitive workers. Being aware of every single detail—the ones to expect and the ones to eliminate—is a big plus in just about any job, from surgeon to event planner to researcher. It also makes us great with people.
Highly sensitive athletes even report it being a plus on the sports field, where they don’t even have to see everything going on around them—it’s as if they can feel where the other players are, anticipating their next moves.
Whether it’s building a rapport with your neighbors, knowing what your clients need, or noticing the tiny detail that makes all the difference in the product you’re creating, your gift of being observant is a massive plus for your personal life and career success.
We’re deeply joyful people.
When you’re told all your life that you’re “too sensitive” and “too emotional,” it can feel like you’re some sort of mopey Eeyore-type character. I remember being told my personality type was “melancholic,” which even as a child I knew was an old-fashioned word for depressed. Way to make someone feel good about themselves!
Thing is, like me, you’ve probably always suspected that’s not the whole truth.
Like me, you’re likely to be the person who laughs loudest in the cinema. The one whose friends are able to locate them by following their laugh in a theatre. The ones who, when they return after being away for a while, overhear their friends saying, “Aaah—that laugh. I’ve missed that laugh.’
Truth is, sensitive people feel everything deeply—that includes happiness, joy, and exhilaration. We’re the kids who check out the environment thoroughly before using the flying fox or the water slide, and also the ones who feel the most exhilarated after finally taking that plunge.
How to use your gift of joy: Mindfulness is a bit of a buzz word these days and for good reason—in these busy times, it’s a great way to lower stress and increase your engagement with the physical world.
When you’re already someone who notices the tiny detail on a leaf or the vivid turquoise of the kingfisher flying over the lagoon, it’s much easier to tap into mindfulness—and joyfulness.
While I don’t like the term “overthinking,” as it feels very negative—seeing all the possible outcomes is a plus in many ways—we can sometimes get stuck in a rumination loop, feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed when faced with making a decision.
This is when our ability to appreciate beauty, art, and joy becomes such a wonderful gift. Take time to notice the beauty around you and to just be, and feel your mood lift. Enjoying that walk in nature often brings clarity, allowing the solution to appear as if out of nowhere.
We make superb leaders.
If you’ve felt beaten down for a long time, it can feel like you’re just not cut out for a leadership role. Truth is, you’re uniquely equipped for this role.
Not only do employers report more satisfaction with their sensitive employees, but studies show we make incredible leaders.
It makes sense really—people want to follow someone they can trust.
“Highly sensitive people miss nothing, while falling back to let team members shine and have the innate ability to say the right thing at just the right time,” says John Hughes, who trains corporate clients on how best to support their highly sensitive employees.
Now that sounds like someone I’d want to follow!
How to use your gift of leadership: We don’t often associate gentleness with leadership, so seeing yourself as a born leader might be hard right now.
In reality, anyone who inspires people by their actions to live a better life is a leader. Right now, you might be an inspiring leader to your friends or your children.
So ask yourself: Is this my season to take on a leadership role? Maybe you want to lead your volunteer group or apply for that management position at work. Maybe you’re in that stage of life when your career is drawing to a close and you want to pass on invaluable knowledge by mentoring younger people.
Don’t be afraid—step up to that leadership position. No one can do this better than you.
When you look inside a sensitive person’s brain, you’ll notice that areas for understanding subtle cues are more activated. So are the ones for depth of processing.
Noticing and thinking deeply about things allow us to combine ideas in novel ways. We’re born innovators.
How to use your gift of creativity: The world is absolutely crying out for creative thinkers right now. Everyone from established corporate firms to small start-ups is actively seeking out innovative minds.
The information era is most probably the very best time for a sensitive person to be alive. So, whether you use your creativity to contribute to a supportive workplace, to create your own business, or to raise one lucky family, you have it in you.
If you believe in yourself and work hard, always following your principles and looking after yourself, the sky’s the limit!
You can change the world.
As a sensitive person, you have unique talents and insights to offer the world.
You’ve come a long way, learning more about yourself and slowly accepting the fact that being a sensitive person is not something to be ashamed of.
In fact, you’re starting to see it as a gift—and you’re excited about the possibilities.
You’re a keen observer, a fantastic leader, a natural-born innovator, a deeply joyful person and someone who benefits enormously from having—and creating—a supportive environment for yourself and others.
With gifts like these, there’s no one better equipped to change the world. All you have to do is step out.
The world needs you right now.