tiistai 18. marraskuuta 2014

Day 411: Sensitivity


The Princess and the pea

Lately I have been thinking about the concept of sensitivity. The existence of “sensitive people”, an entity of its own kind, has been spoken of as a fact whereas I have rather been questioning the whole existence of such a fundamental trait. To me the ones I have thought to be included in “sensitive people” have appeared to be products of their environments and not so much inherently of a quality that others have less of.

During the past couple of months I have appeared in stark contrast to my partner. I have been going through some intense points that have required active work for me to walk through, and consequently I have been very emotional and worn out both physically and mentally, crying a lot and reacting strongly to the issues at hand. All the while I have been flipping out he has been quite stable, stoic even, to the point where his unemotionality becomes an issue for him, although that's another matter. The point here is, I now have empiric data that under these conditions I feel a whole fucking lot even though I've thought of myself as a relatively stable person, and that brings new light to the question of sensitivity.

I haven't really wanted to think of sensitivity – the ability to feel emotions oneself and to empathize with those of others – as a special trait. I've really more thought of it as something that others have practiced to enhance and others have practiced to extinguish. I'm thinking I might have been wrong about this. Maybe there are in fact inherent differences to people feeling things and picking up on messages around them; maybe our brains are wired differently. Every now and then when I share something I have felt or experienced I get confused responses, and I have interpreted them to mean that these people have not allowed themselves to feel those things in their lives in order to be able to empathize with me. What if they simply have never experienced that kind of a feeling at all? What if there are people who, as opposed to my anxiety-painted existence, have lived their lives mostly emotionally blank?

This came back to me today when I read a quote that spoke of “sensitive people” in an explaining way, as if how they experience life would be news to the ones reading it. I found myself empathizing with how the sensitive people were described because I recognized myself from the text. Only in reading the text and looking at the response it got from others I realized the possibility that not everyone experiences life through guilt, shame and pain. Even though I have known people who do not agonize over life, I have simplified them into a category of “self-denialists” or “those who suppress their emotions”. Boy, what a generalization.

This also brings perspective to how I have treated myself and the conflict I have faced with others throughout my life. In school I was easy to pick on because I reacted strongly to the smallest of insults or even constructively meant criticism. I have for a while now thought that this is because I haven't learned the right coping mechanisms or social skills or that I have learned to search for messages in my social environment for validation – that I have lacked a learnable skill – and I have whipped myself with the disappointment and self-blame that have followed my attempts to acquire these skills. But what if I should be focusing on mercy instead? It might be that I am physically constructed in such a primary way that my emotional sensitivity cannot be fully unlearned or switched off. If this is the case, I might as well stop battling the windmills, accept who I am at this point of time and space and learn to cope with it.

For example, I have hated having to cry all the time. I've been trying to stop the tears and cover up that I'm feeling bad and hide myself and cry in secret, because I have been afraid that my constant emotionality would burden others and make them leave me. In other words, I have not accepted myself as the emotional being I have been recently, which has of course made handling the issues themselves more difficult because a part of them is kept barred within me. (As a side note: this fear of being abandoned for being emotional has only become apparent now that I've spent much more time with people than I previously have. It's been easier to cry before when I've mostly spent time by myself.) So instead of blocking it up I could admit to myself that it is typical and natural for me to express myself and converse with myself through crying; that despite other people's reactions to crying it's not actually a “big thing” to cry; that I may cry even though nobody's dead and I'm just having a difficult time growing. “I don't know about you guys, but this is how I experience things.”