“Never apologize for being sensitive or emotional. Let this be a sign that you’ve got a big heart and aren’t afraid to let others see it. Showing your emotions is a sign of strength.” -Brigitte Nicole
When I first met my husband, he told me that he felt like he had to ‘hold me with white gloves’ (meaning he felt that had to be gentle with me). At the time, I remember defensively retorting that I didn’t need to be handled delicately at all. I had equated needing to be handled gently with being fragile and weak and in general, I felt like a strong woman. So it didn’t fit. Now, 9 years later, I know that he was actually right. I do need to be held in a soft way. But this does NOT mean that I’m weak or fragile. Rather, it means that I feel things deeply.
I came across Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person several years ago and it was a game changer for me. If you’re not familiar with high sensitivity and are curious, you can take Elaine Aron’s test here. In reading her book, I began the process of unlearning many of the things I had learned about what it means to feel things deeply. I saw how I had internalized our culture’s values around being tough, pushing through, and not letting things get to you. I had certain (mistaken) ideas about what it meant to be a strong woman. The thing about being highly sensitive is that because we feel things deeply, empathy included, it is easy to take on others’ ideas, values, and beliefs. So it’s like a double whammy being sensitive in a culture that doesn’t value sensitivity.
As I looked back across my life I could see moments in time where I had learned it was better, normal, or safer not to feel as much. I remember feeling like I should be less bothered by things. I seemed to have less of a threshold for playful teasing with peers and of course, getting upset only made it worse. I love my parents very much and I think they did an amazing job raising me. But they are not highly sensitive. So I didn’t have a model for feeling deeply. And I imagine that there are times when my feelings were met with frustration or impatience, which I can appreciate too. It’s a lot to raise a highly sensitive child, especially if you cannot relate yourself (of even if you can!). And so I learned to either deny my sensitivity altogether or to apologize for or to dismiss it.
Certainly this was helpful and even necessary at some points in my life. But this practice of dismissing or not feeling my feelings eventually became a barrier, blocking me from feeling fully alive and from feeling deep connection with others. As I began to shift how I viewed myself and how I held myself in relationship to others, I started to feel a much deeper and more resonant form of power. That power that comes from welcoming and embracing all aspects of yourself. When I allow myself to feel whatever I feel without my own judgement, it matters less to me what others think. When I let go of the idea that I should feel any less than I do or be any different than I am, I know that others’ ideas and beliefs are just their ideas and beliefs. I am more present to my own experience. And I find there’s more ease in this place.
When we can start to accept and embrace our sensitivity, it becomes way easier to adjust our lifestyle accordingly so that we’re not in a constant state of overwhelm trying to live and act like someone who’s not sensitive. Once I started to shift how I related to being sensitive, I was also able to own it with others in a different way. Rather than apologizing for crying easily, now I just say something like, ‘It’s okay that I’m crying. I actually like being moved so easily–it makes me feel alive.’ With my husband, I’ve learned to give myself permission to feel my feelings rather than trying to pretend that I feel less than I do.
Of course, I’m still human and there are times I catch myself apologizing for tears or feeling embarrassed or holding back. But these are just old habits. They are no longer rooted in a mistaken belief I have about myself that I’m too emotional or fragile or that I should feel less than I do. I love that I feel things deeply. It’s not always easy, but I certainly wouldn’t trade it in.
If you’re interested in receiving a little extra support as a sensitive soul, I highly recommend the Support Bundle for the Highly Sensitive Person that I created with Elizabeth Gillette! It’s full of worksheets, journal prompts, and a guided meditation to support you in embracing your sensitivity and creating a self-care practice that allows you to feel calm, grounded, and emotionally regulated. You can hop over to the Embrace to Expand website to learn more and purchase the bundle–it’s just $12!
Challenge: Experiment with giving yourself permission today to feel whatever you feel. Turn towards your emotion, whether it’s sadness, boredom, fear, joy, anxiety, contentment. Just let it be here, without judgment or resistance. Notice what it’s like to allow yourself to feel what you feel. Does it create more ease? Is it scary or overwhelming? And let whatever you notice be here too.
Affirmation: All of my feelings are welcome in this moment.