I don’t think that’s the full story
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
“I just need so much support. I’m so sensitive, so much more than others. Is something wrong with me?”
You can listen to this essay as audio here
Also, I wrote and scheduled this Soother before the announcement of the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Friday night. All I can say is for now is to echo something I saw somewhere since: “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.” And she had a quote from a few years ago that I always tried to live by as a motto: “Fight for the things you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Grieve, honor, mourn, rest. Then we get back to it. Thank you, Justice Ginsberg. PS, I donated $250 to this fund to flip/protect some Senate seats and will match another $250 from Soother readers, just send me a screenshot of your donation.
In a recent newsletter from Amanda Yates Garcia, she wrote the following and I can’t stop thinking about it:
“All our lives we have been encouraged to think that the grief we experience over the brutality of our culture and its misplaced values is really grief and shame at our own inability to “make it” in this world. Even people who ARE “making it” feel like they’re not, or that what they do is never enough. And people who experience the most merciless state violence, such as Black and Indigenous people of color, the mentally and physically ill, unhoused people, etc. are treated as if there is something inherently wrong with them for experiencing systemic violence rather than something wrong with the culture that creates the violence in the first place.”
I work primarily with sensitive people who come to me because they think something is “wrong” with them — they’re too sensitive, too much, too lazy, not productive enough, too emotional. Instead, I ask them to consider: Why would you have been designed flawed? Is there any possibility that the systems are the problem, not you? Could it be that our 40, 50, 60 hour a workweek, hustle and grind culture, the emphasis of never being present, never feeling enough, buy buy buy, do do do, white supremacy and patriarchy above all is the thing that’s wrong — not you?
Even before the pandemic, the deeper unveiling of horrific systems, the growing awareness for some of us who had our eyes closed that the world has been going very, very badly, I had people coming to me fretting about this.
“I just need so much more support than other people.” “I cry so much more than other people.” “I just really need a lot of alone time.” “I can’t seem to handle this workload and I don’t know why not.” “I try to be so productive and I just don’t get all the things done I feel I need to get done.” “I never feel like enough.”
With a background echo of, “What is wrong with me? What is broken in me? Tell me how to tape it together so I can just fix myself and get on with this grind of life.”
So here’s what I want to say, and advise.
1. Yes, some of you (and us, and me), DO need more support. Some of us ARE more sensitive. Some of us have bigger emotions, or aren’t great at working through a crushing to-do list of 75 work items. And yet: none of this is “wrong”! Humans are as individual as snowflakes. Some of us are far more sensitive than others. Unfortunately, we’ve been raised in a monolithic culture where productivity is the altar we worship at and you get rewarded based on 1. how much you get done 2. how fast you can do it 3. how much and how fast you can do without the help of others. This is bonkers. Western culture is built on the idea of an endless robotic capability to produce. Many of us are not capable of this, nor should we try to be. It’s okay.
2. Many of us are Highly Sensitive People, and have very porous energetic systems. Take this HSP quiz, and this emotional/energetic boundaries quiz. If you qualify as HSP or having “thin” boundaries, take this as an affirmation of who you are, not what’s wrong with you and that you should try to be different.
3. Build self-trust in small steps. Many of us who have been steamrolled by this society into thinking we’re not “good” at getting things done, achieving goals, or sticking to routines or habits, have actually been gaslit to think we’re frail and faulty instead of taught how to work with our sensitive natures and create intention and meaning from there. Pick one thing you can do for 30 days that will literally take you no more than 3 minutes. Examples: drink a glass of water before looking at your phone in the morning. Meditate for 3 minutes. Stretch for 3 minutes. Sleep with your phone outside your bedroom. Pick anything like this for 30 days, commit to it, and start to realize you CAN do things.
4. Re-connect with your body. I have a theory (it could be bunnies! Anybody else a Buffy fan… just me…? Ok, moving on…) that sensitive people literally have more sensitive nervous systems and a deeper ability to feel emotions (actually this is not just a theory this has been proven) but, as kids, we’re not taught tools for processing and grounding these characteristics. So as kids we’re just told to grit out our emotional experiences or ignore them and are frequently gaslit about about how emotions feel in our body, and they feel VERY OVERWHELMING, which leads to us retreating to our heads to understand what’s going on and now we over-live in our heads as a result of this original disconnection. So, what to do? To me, you should cultivate a dance practice. Dance intuitively once a day to a favorite song and take it from there. Your body knows what to do and how to move; you just have to start trusting it.
5. Pick a flower, plant or tree that you identify with and use it as a totem or emblem of sorts. I often use the metaphors of plants, trees and flowers with my clients. The reality is, there are flowers out there that DO need more support than other, hardier plants. They’re delicate. They need gentle attention and specific amounts of sunlight and water. And that’s okay! For them, AND you. Because those delicate flowers are often some of the most beautiful. And some of our most sensitive people, are the gentle, compassionate, insightful emotional space holders for our society today, which we need more than ever. So pick your flower, or your tree — pick something that has characteristics that remind you of yourself. Then, also remind yourself, you too need to tend and nourish your roots, whatever that looks like for you individually.
You are unique. Needing things is okay. You are human. You are enough as you are.