In Defense of the Sensitive Heart
Try scrolling through any form of social media without intersecting with a post or article that makes you sick to your stomach. I dare you. Nearly impossible, right? In a world where pain, turmoil, and violence come through loud and strong, nothing seems easier than to shrink back. Nothing seems safer than hiding--especially for those of us endowed with the particular grace of sensitivity. But is ignorance bliss, or are we somehow missing out on meaningful connection and growth opportunities when we crouch behind the walls we build in fear?
It is so easy to walk through life numbed out on “I don’t cares” and shoulder shrugs. We could afford ourselves the luxury of never tuning into the hearts of other people—never really seeing how deep their eyes go and how full of life they are. We could choose to never want to hear how people are really doing. We could be completely satisfied with people being “fine.” We could find comfort in only the quality of our own lives without concern for the neighbor abused by a spouse, the cousin without home, or the friend tripped out on drugs.
Some would call this strength—this apathetic immovability that locks down our hearts and demonizes everything inside of us that causes us to feel and causes us to be truly present with people. But is it strength, or is it escapism? Isn’t it hiding? Backing down from the fight? When someone talks about how sensitive their kid is, they are not bragging about how their kid will most definitely score some woopy in a fight. What they are really saying is that maybe their kid isn’t quite equipped with brute force, raw muscle and the emotions of a military tank. They are admitting that maybe their kid is a little shy. Maybe they cry a little more than other kids. Maybe they care about art or science or books or the feelings of other people a little bit more than what seems standard.
I was that sensitive kid, times one hundred. From the rejection of the kid who always peed on himself in kindergarten, to the rejections of every best friend I’d had up until middle school, I was the one who always felt it deep. I’ll admit that it was difficult to let go and find rest, but I managed, eventually. I was also that kid who was completely enamored with how blue the sky was, who loved the sound of rain, who felt actual pain when my friends were hurting, and who, at all times, carried some kind of journal or sketchbook from the age of four (the Blue’s Clues Handy Dandy Notebook) until now (a Moleskine), because I dislike missing things that make the small moments in life large. As four-year-olds, we may not have understood healthy ways to express our acute awareness of the world, but that doesn’t mean that our sensitivities made us weak.
I fully acknowledge the mild irony of the title of this article—how the reader might find it odd to defend sensitivity. It seems a little, well, sensitive. But these words are reclamatory. The word ‘sensitive’ has become like profanity to the ears that have heard it all their lives, though it is an adjective that can be full of hope, loving awareness, and hospitality. No one wants to be labeled as sensitive because the word is often used as a replacement for words like fragile, insecure, spineless, and emotionally incompetent; as if to say that strength and sensitivity are antonymous states of mind; as if to say that a person who is strong cannot be sensitive; as if to say that person who is sensitive is weak. Yet, sensitivity done well is none of these things. Sensitivity done well is bold and present strength.
Strength and sensitivity are the yin and yang of backbone. Our world is not wholly comprised of cold academia and logic. We each need sensitivity to be able to carefully navigate through experiences such as grief, joy, anger, forgiveness, and love with an empathetic lens. That is to say, our sensitivity serves us better when we turn it outward and use it to empty out hope into the world; to stand next to our brothers and sisters and friends and say, “Yes, I feel that, too.” Our sensitivities allow us to really see people through our actions, our words and our work so that we may offer them strength when they need it.
For the person who has ever been called “too sensitive,” listen. You carry a necessary, powerful, and desirable gift that must be shaped by gentleness and sharpened by truth. Here is a truth: there is nothing wrong with being a sensitive person. Sensitive people might be a bit more emotional, but we are not pushovers. We cry because we want to—because some people need people to cry with them, for them, and over them. We know joy like the creases in our skin--because life affords us few too many moments to really laugh from our stomachs. We’ve been given eyes to see the gold that has been buried in the dust, and we do what it takes to dig it out. We are truth seekers. We are storytellers. We are hosts of honesty and soul and presence. And that, my friend, is strength. Don’t let your bullies tell you otherwise.