My sensitivity is more emotional than physical. Unfamiliar or disagreeable sounds, tastes and textures do not generally ruin my day. My husband may beg to differ. I do like it pitch dark and silent at night for sleeping, but my waking hours are not plagued by discomfort or high sensitivity to physical items. I used to be a picky eater, but now I eat everything (too bad for my waistline). I do not like wool sweaters directly touching my skin, but who does?
There may be some physical features that do trigger a reaction from me, but overall I am able to adjust and adapt to make my days tolerable.
Emotional sensitivity has been a harder beast to tame. There have been times when emotions flooded my nervous system and exhausted me of energy. I would do the everyday chores I had to do and then need to withdraw for a while to recharge. I am slowly figuring out how to regulate my emotions through meditation, exercise, creating a positive narrative of my life and talking with others (loved ones and professionals).
My amygdala (the brain’s alarm system) sits primed to react at a moment’s notice. The reason for this most likely lies in the attachment I did not fully receive from my first caregiver(s). My mom was a lovely consistent and loyal mother. She also had a failing marriage and 1970s perspective on parenting when I was an infant.
Self soothing was normal
Mom was preoccupied. As I said, her marriage to my dad was on thin ice and she worked outside the home. She did not breastfeed. That would have been too intimate for her. Dr. Spock told her (and millions of other parents) not to spoil the child by picking her up too much or responding to her every cry. Many children learned how to self-soothe. I also learned to read my mother and soothe her when I sensed her feeling down.
Sensitive to threats
This insecure attachment style, makes me very sensitive to abandonment. Small threats seem like big ones leading to me being on my own fending for myself. Even as an adult, my brain reacts quickly and strongly to perceived threats with a fight or flight response.
Hence my sensitivity. Besides being extra aware of others’ emotions and body language, I also pick up on patterns in behavior quickly.
Patterns all the time
My sensitive brain constantly looks for patterns that could be dangerous. For example, when I was dating after my divorce, I carefully noted how men talked about their mothers. I had experienced a negative relationship in the past where my partner treated his mother with disrespect and a lack of gratitude. A slight tone of voice change when talking with his mother on the phone could get my antennae up.
The empathy bonus
The sensitivity that led me to addiction is the same sensitivity that makes me a really good artist. The anxiety that makes it difficult to exist in my own skin also makes it difficult to exist in a world where so many people are in so much pain — and that makes me a relentless activist. — Glennon Doyle, Untamed
Although sensing the feelings of others sometimes feels draining, it also provides a private glimpse inside someone else’s head and heart. This kind of understanding is empathy. Feeling a lifetime of my own, at times, overwhelming emotions, makes it easier to put myself in someone else’s shoes. My nervous system resonates with other’s nervous systems.
I have always been drawn to helping careers: teaching, coaching, counseling and education.
Like Glennon Doyle in the above quote, the discomfort I feel from difficult emotions, makes it hard for me to sit by and let sad, terrible things happen to others. I have to help them feel better. In a way, I make myself feel better when I help them feel better. My sensitivity shows me where to aim my help.
Where does your sensitivity peak? How does your sensitivity help you?
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