I believe that sensitivity is a strength.
You’ve heard me say this before. So many, many times. But here’s the thing – if we lived in a culture that wasn’t quite so quick to to de-value certain (feminine) characteristics – things like sensitive, soft, flexible, submissive – then I wouldn’t even have to say it.
Let’s talk a little bit about how we value – both personally and culturally – characteristics that, on their own – aren’t necessarily good or bad, they just are. Let’s bring some awareness to how we’re taught what to value, and what this valuing system does to highly sensitive people and for sensitivity as a whole.
Let’s use the body as an example. Our culture and the media teaches us to value parts of our body that are strong, muscular, useful, active and pretty. It teaches us demonize, devalue and seek to destroy the parts of us that are weak, fat, soft, passive and ugly. It teaches us that parts of us are good, while other parts of us are bad.
Those valuations are completely arbitrary, and they were created by an archaic system that believed that women were second or “other” to men and which sought to de-value and disempower women through consistent devaluation of the characteristics associated with women.
But the truth is, as humans, we all have some of these characteristics. I have parts of me that are hard and muscular, and parts of me that are soft. So does my husband. We have these in different amounts because our bodies are designed to do different things. There are parts of my mind and my thinking process that are very linear, straight-forward and academic, while other parts are intuitive, gentle and flexible. And guess what – my husband does, too. So this value system that seeks to devalue the feminine actually devalues all of us – and hurts highly sensitive people acutely.
Sensitivity is considered a feminine trait, although all humans have sensitivity. We are all sensitive beings built to respond to our environment. This makes sensitivity innately important to the survival of our species. High sensitivity is found equally in men and women, which we could infer to mean that it is important independent of sex or gender. Sensitivity is important, period.
But we are taught so early and so often that things that are soft and feminine are weak, and that weakness is bad. And alternatively that things that are hard and masculine are strong, and strength is good. We need to change the way we place value on the characteristics that make us all more human, and we can start with ourselves.
I have weak glute muscles (the big muscles in the buttocks). I’m also weak at tennis and the breast stroke, to name a couple things. These weaknesses creates certain consequences in my life – I get back pain, I look ridiculous playing tennis and I move really slowly when I do the breast stroke.
But I do not have to label these things as bad unless they are giving me a consequence that isn’t working for me.
I’ve decided that it’s okay that I’m weak at tennis. The only time that causes a problem is when someone good at tennis wants to play with me, which happens about every 20 years. The only time being slow at the breast stroke matters is when someone faster than me is swimming behind me in the pool – and they can wait 10 yards to pass me at the wall. For the glutes – sometimes, this weakness causes low back pain, which I don’t like because it interferes with my life, so I work to reduce weakness by challenging my glute muscles. They’re stronger now; not as strong as my quadriceps muscles, but stronger than before.
You don’t have to link “weak” with “bad.” You can just choose to be okay with a weakness.
For me, this took a lot of deep digging into my psyche to figure out why weakness is so scary. Weakness just exists, sometimes. Naturally. Teaching ourselves that weakness is okay and is not inherently bad can help us make better choices about how we think and how we feel in our bodies. Changing this habit of linking “weak” with “bad” can really help us personally when we have a habit of self-punishment or beating ourselves up.
Some of the feminine traits related to weakness are just clearly and blatantly categorized incorrectly. Sensitivity is one of them. How on earth is our ability to respond to our environment a weakness? This trait ensures our survival, plain and simple.
Softness is another of these mislabeled traits. When softness is applied to things outside of us, it’s often good – a soft bed, a soft pillow, a soft fabric. But applied to the realm of the physical body or temperament, it’s considered weak – better for a woman (because she’s feminine and much worse for a man, since he’s supposed to be masculine). Consider this common saying: “He went soft,” meaning he was kinder than he used to be. Kinder! More compassionate. It is often much more difficult to be kind than to be hard, especially when your ego is at risk.
Similarly, softness on the body is considered a weakness and linked to being lazy. As a woman, I have many soft parts, the biological function of which is to provide nourishment for a child, prepare me for a harsh winter and protect my internal organs. Surely, you can have too much softness, but you can also have too much hardness – like when a muscle locks up or cramps or builds scar tissue and restricts movement.
And we have to mention ease. The story of our culture is that life should be hard, that we must suffer pain for beauty, that if it doesn’t feel hard it not’s worth doing. I’m sorry, but this is just a load of bullshit. The truth is that your approach to things can determine, in large part, to whether that things feels easy or is fraught with effort. Ease, while often linked again to being lazy, a weakness, can also be a state of mind or a belief system.
If I believe that I have to work 80 hours a week in order to be successful, then that’s what’s true for me. If instead, I believe I can follow what feels right, following the flow of life in order to create, then creating with ease is true for me. That’s not to say that some things won’t be challenging sometimes, but rather that I get to choose my approach and that ease can be just as fruitful as effort.
Valuing masculine or hard traits over those considered to be feminine creates problems for highly sensitive people, because it feels like a huge part of what defines us is a weakness – in other words, bad; a problem. But remember, that’s simply not the case.
Your high sensitivity comes with affects to your body and to your mind – it comes with certain consequences, just like someone without a highly sensitive nervous system. Some of these affects will feel good, others won’t. Some you will want to work on or change, others you won’t. Try to get out of the trap of grossly labeling your sensitivity as weak and associating that weakness with something that is bad. Instead, take a closer, more personal look at what it means to be you. See for yourself the affects of your sensitivity through new eyes and determine for yourself what weakness and strength mean.
And please, for all that’s holy, do yourself a great justice and stop linking bad with weakness and good with strength. Be all of the things without any of the judgment. And then allow yourself to extend the same courtesy to others.
Want to see more like this? Subscribe to my weekly Sensitive Missives and never miss another post.