What I Wish People Knew About Being "Too Sensitive"

Before we entered the theater, my friends used to bet whether or not I would cry by the end of the movie. Usually, I would. We all knew it was coming. My inability to hold back tears or a smile, to root for the ingénue and have faith in the scenarios that only exist in film or fiction is inevitable. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, or rather, had it tattooed on my forearm. I couldn’t wash it off if I tried… and I’ve tried.

As payment for putting up with emotions and my tendency to be ruled by them, I let my friends laugh. They don’t mean to demean me or my feelings and I know it.

More than likely, you have a friend like me. She cries too easy, falls too fast, opens her mouth too soon, and most of all she feels every detail deeply and fully. It can be exhausting to have us around, but have you ever thought about how she feels? I don’t mean her feelings—because you’ve spent hours listening to us talk about them—I mean, have you considered what the actual experience of a day in the life of the highly sensitive friend? While some friends are bighearted, obvious with emotions, introverted or over-excitable, it’s a whole other boat to be HSP. 

Highly Sensitive Persona/Personality. Yes, there is a word for your easy-crier friend.

Not every easy crier is HSP, but 15-20% of the human population is estimated to fall under the Highly Sensitive Personality category, so you probably know at least one person who is. If you know me, you already know one.

Some people don’t realize that emotions are chemical and physical responses produced by the body and mind immediately upon sensing stimulation. In other words, you can think your way out of an emotion only after it occurs. Individuals who are HSP are affected by others’ emotions as much as their own, are overwhelmed by external stimuli, are emotionally reactive, perceive criticism or wrongdoing as a fault of character, and sometimes they are considered fake because they strongly value courtesies and external approval. (See this article and this one for more detail.) 

As a young woman and as a highly sensitive person, my feelings are a constant roadblock. In friendships, the business world, families, and the classroom, modern society teaches young people that sensitivity is a weakness. In particular, girls who are emotional are labeled as “too emotional.” The presence of emotion fulfills a traditional, fragile female stereotype. From the inside, it seems like being emotional is equated with being female, a weak female.

The fact that it was a struggle to find any gifs of women being open with feelings without being mocked or portrayed in a satirical way proves my point.

The bottom line is that people, regardless of gender, should be allowed to be more sensitive than others without being considered a burden or delicate being. We should be allowed to be sensitive and at the same time be considered “level-headed, logical, confident and mature.” Whether I am discussing politics, fandoms, someone’s love life, or the latest pop culture debate, my opinion is undercut by the fact that people know my opinions come from my head, heart, and gut. People disregard my instincts as unimportant and uninformed. For most of my life, people implied that I would grow out of my softhearted personality. I didn’t.

Being soft-hearted isn’t a sign of immaturity or naiveté. 

There is nothing wrong with carrying my heart in my pocket, pulling it out a few times a day to check it’s still beating, and letting it grow in every moment. What I want the rest of the world to know is that I don’t put my feelings on display because I want them to be seen. They come out simply because I cannot prevent it. 

Even as I wrote this article, I feared about being written off as “whiney” or “too sensitive.” Too often, moments when I’m at my most vulnerable are when people tell me that I am being too vulnerable to fit the modern standards. When someone attacks sensitivity in this way, a paradox develops: If I am hurt, I only prove their point. If you weren’t “too sensitive,” their comment would not have affected you, right?

Wrong. To all of my friends who have stood by me and loved me and my emotions (and their repercussions), thank you.

Thank you for proving that I am allowed to be hurt. Thank you for proving every time I cry to you that sensitivity is my super power. Thank you for proving when I am as grateful for a cup of peppermint tea as any Christmas present that I am not an overdramatic burden. Thank you for proving to me that I am entitled to feel hurt when someone attacks my sensitivity. Thank you for proving when this happens it’s my character being called into question, not my soft heart.

It’s easy to forget how much of her attributes are grounded in her sensitive nature when her emotions run awry. Don’t overlook the generosity, empathy, and the ability to mediate conflicts. All of these traits come from an open and obvious heart. When you’ve had a rough day, she will be the first to notice. Her perception of others has probably helped you stop a fight before it started. When you need an ear, she’s the one you will go to. You never doubt that she is saying what she means, although it can be hard to interpret the meaning. Being highly sensitive is the super powered version of empathetic. 

What I want to remind the friends of the easy crier who haven’t learned about her super powers yet is that she is not a bad friend or a bad person for perceiving the world in the way she does. In fact, she frequently feels powerless because the whole world can see what she often wants to hold inside. Sometimes you might know what this friend feels even before she can make sense of it. Her emotions can feel controlled by those around her and she worries about the possibility of misread expressions and statements constantly. Those of us who feel deeply and visibly are more likely to be misinterpreted by those around us.

People assume they know what my thoughts are before I speak because they can “see it in my face.” Someone might assume I speak objectively when I’m too caught up in thoughts and feelings to slow down and clarify. When I try to explain that I spoke too soon or emotions got the best of me, the response will be “well, if it wasn’t true, you wouldn’t have felt that way in the first place.” 

Everything I say is colored by the shades of face and voice my too-expressive demeanor brings to conversations. It’s easy for a tone or expression to betray me or for others to assume that tone and voice indicate of universal meanings.

What I wish people would remember is that the feelings are temporary, but that my sensitivity isn’t. It doesn't go away.

I won’t “toughen up.” My emotions are part of who I am. Feelings come and go, but the need and ability to experience these things fully will not.

They are not every piece of me, but they are a part of me.

What people should remember about their “fragile” friends is that they do have some choice and influence over their emotions. It hurts when friends discount thoughts or opinion on account of their ‘idealistic, romantic, impulsive or sensitive’ nature. It hurts when friends assume they know how the feelings or thoughts or intentions based on a singular look or interaction. 

When “the crier” cries, don’t assume I’m being overdramatic. Please, just ask.

The best thing you can do for a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve is ask her what she is feeling. Even if she has already tried to explain her emotions, ask again, and again. Let her sort through it, because chances are that the number of feelings we are experiencing is too many for us to even unravel or we’re so mixed up in one feeling that we haven’t tried to fully understand it yet. Ask questions and be gentle with us. Criticize or question us privately and be forgiving.

We know that we are a handful. We know we are delicate and sometimes needy. We are grateful for you. Thank you. 

Image Credit: BuzzFeed, That Scoop, BDCwire, Photobucket, WichDN