When I was growing up, I heard the word “crybaby” tossed in my direction on more than one occasion. At least, I think I heard it. It was difficult to hear over the sound of my own sobs.
Other variations of “cry baby” have included phrases like: “too sensitive.” “Drama Queen.” “Over-Exaggerator.” “A weakling.” “A snowflake.”
To be sure, there were definitely times during my childhood and adolescence when my emotional outbursts warranted some kind of tough love. It’s one thing to get upset if someone compares your physical appearance to a Rottweiler (no names here); it’s another to lock yourself in your dad’s bedroom and cry stormy tears after he posited that John Travolta is gay. (What can I say? I’ve always been a huge fan of Grease.)
Even today, there are times when I can’t handle criticism like I should, or when I unexpectedly get upset and witnesses watch me warily. Not to mention the more mundane events, like having a hard time taking the scrutiny of others when I’m late or have to speak in a new class. Or sometimes fighting the urge to panic if I can’t find the person that I walked into the grocery store with. Or getting upset over prolonged trash talk during a game of cards.
The fact is, I’m sensitive. I have a hard time handling criticism. My feelings get hurt easily. I sometimes cry when I’m sad, and I often cry when I’m angry.
For so long, I’ve been embarrassed about being sensitive. If I’m being honest, I think that part of me has been ashamed. I’ve seen it as a weakness, a character flaw that suggests that I’m not as strong as others. I’ve judged myself by imagining how others are judging me.
I didn’t even realize it until recently.
Some comments were made to me that upset me, and I was telling my husband Daniel about them. That’s when I said something like, “And I’m probably being too sensitive,” and went off on a tangent about how my being sensitive might possibly negate how I was feeling or affect how I had misinterpreted the comments. That’s when my husband said: “Being sensitive isn’t a bad thing.”
It was a huge moment for me.
Over the years, I’ve spent some time considering how witnesses to my “sensitive” responses were judging me, assuming, of course, that they were. I didn’t spend any time at all considering that being sensitive might not be a bad thing. It could just be a “thing.” Or, wonder of wonders, it might be a good thing.
I have friends who are sensitive, and I don’t judge them for getting their feelings hurt on occasion or for crying when the mood strikes. So why do I judge myself? A more important question is: how can I reconceptualize my own sensitivity? Because, all things considered, I think that I’m far more judgmental of it than others are.
I could say that being sensitive makes me more empathetic. That it means that even when I’m a jerk (which still happens, Miss Sensitive or not), I apologize ardently and sincerely, because I hate the thought of hurting others.
I could say that diversity of all kinds—including emotional—is powerful and beautiful, and that there are strengths and weaknesses found in us all.
I could say that I think it makes me a better writer and reader, because I spend so much time ruminating over what others have said and what I might have said to them and what I might say to them in the future, should the occasion arise.
I could say that sometimes, people are mean, and an authentic response is to have my feelings hurt. When that happens, there’s absolutely no shame in acknowledging that I can be hurt, that I expect an apology, and that I’m upset if I don’t receive one.
Yeah, I’m going to try to avoid getting worked up over the little things that aren’t worth the time of day. Let’s be real, sometimes my sensitivity does not discriminate; it doesn’t always separate the wheat from the chaff. But I’m also going to remind myself that sensitivity does not equal weakness. I can accept that part of myself—and maybe even be proud of it—tears and sulks and all.
***Never Trust a Pirate Giveaway results***
Congrats to Tonni Coladilla, who would choose to live in the 70s, and who won a mass market paperback edition of Valerie Bowman's Never Trust a Pirate. Yay!
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.