I learned early that blushing, slow responses and tentative answers would always be out-shined and outgunned by the gregarious and confident. I learned to compensate for my lack of brashness by pleasing others and graciously cooperating. As a teen, I pretended to not be disappointed when the sleepover for two became a slumber party for six. I put on my, the more the merrier face. As an adult, I took on more and more responsibilities because strong people can juggle.
Daring and bright individuals handle lots of activities with aplomb and live for chances to immerse themselves in group interactions.
I buried the lumps in my throat, the sting of sibling comparisons (sister is a bold extrovert) and my over-sensitivity. I learned how to extrovert because being confident and outgoing is way cooler and more respected in our culture than being a sensitive soul.
Vulnerability = Easy Prey?
I spent the last five years honing my vulnerability and the previous 38 fighting it. It wasn’t safe to get upset or show my feelings for most of my life. I always felt there was someone waiting to take advantage of my weaknesses. I had to stay strong even if it meant denying my true nature. I never ever wanted to appear weak, dependent or indecisive. I hated myself when my voice cracked or when I couldn’t shake it off.
I moved as if I had it all under control. I worked hard to be strong. I multi-tasked and over-parented like a good solid extrovert.
I cried softly in the shower and silently into my pillow.
Magic of the Tribe
Then I found safe spaces and non-judgmental friends. I gathered a tribe of kindred softies who showed me a different kind of strength — internal strength. I started by meeting pivotal linchpin individuals in various forms of the arts (music and writing mostly). They changed my view of myself by introducing me to others who were also thinnish skinned and sensitive. Immersed in these relationships I was heard, valued and understood. Emotions were accepted. I was championed. It was glorious and nourishing to admit imperfection and doubt. It was freeing to embrace the real me — soft spoken, tender-hearted, slowly thoughtful and solitude craving.
Assertiveness is not natural for me but I do it. Chatting up strangers and mingling in groups is draining but expected. Sticking up for myself and asking for space is so damn hard but I won’t compromise (anymore). I act like I can handle anything even when my energy wanes and my feelings sting just below the surface. I perform so I don’t get overlooked or undervalued. Being strong is a struggle and I get tired but a few things sustain me.
What Is Sustaining?
Knowing that my sensitivity not only heightens my emotions, it gives me a keen sense of beauty and empathy. My inner world is sustaining. I am strongly affected by music, nature, the arts and other’s feelings. This is a gorgeous thing. A gift. A oneness. It draws out creativity in the form of universal ideas and sentiments which allow me to connect with others. My relationships always have the potential to be deeply meaningful. Not everyone can say that.
Safe spaces and nurturing relationships sustain me. In safe spaces I find strength to take off the mask and reveal tears and/or unrestrained joy.
Do you alternate between bravado and sensitivity? Introverting and extroverting? Do you get tired of playing strong?
I’ve always loved the line, All day long wearing a mask of false bravado, from Player’s1977 song, Baby Come Back. I’m excited I got to use it in my writing! See the video below and listen for the lyric.
If you are interesting in reading more about sensitivity start here:
The Highly Sensitive Person – Dr. Elaine Aron
The Highly Sensitive Person in Love – Dr. Elaine Aron
If this post spoke to you try these:
Go Lightly Even if You Feel Deeply – space2live