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The sunset lighting came through the shades as I sat in (what would soon be short-lived) peace, sipping on peppermint tea.
Suddenly, my chest tightened, and I felt my lungs scream for more air.
I looked down to double-check my traditional medicinal tea bag, ensuring I didn’t grab an off-brand by mistake. My eyes took note of the familiar paper at the end of the string, but they quickly closed as I started coughing, huffing for air.
I couldn’t breathe, my heart started to race, and a rush of anxiety came over my entire body.
My eyes did a quick scan of the room, and from the cozy living couch where I sat, my vision zoomed in on a bottle of cleaner, which my nervous system recognized from my frequently ill childhood. I walked closer to the granite kitchen countertop, smelled the scent of the freshly sprayed product, and a violent cough took over me.
I wasn’t at my home, so I knew I would have to manage. As I reached for my emergency inhaler, I heard footsteps behind me, “Oh goodness, are you okay?”
“Yes, I will be fine,” I gasp as I spray my inhaler while simultaneously breathing in the medicine.
More inquiries come at me, “What just happened? Are you sure you are okay?”
I try to speak between inhaler puffs, “Yes, I think I may be reacting to the cleaner.”
“Oh goodness, you are just too sensitive.”
I hear those words, and my heart constricts just as much as my lungs. I almost feel rage in my stomach. I get so bored of using those words and frustrated having to take them in. Yet, it’s just another one of those times.
And there are so many of those times—walking into a cloud of scented pet fragrance at the vet, feeling a room full of strange eyes judging me, or having a nauseous response at the site of a doctor’s needle.
I become emotional watching the social media video of Norbert, the adorable high-fiving therapy dog whose mission is to bring people joy. Though it may look like a few teardrops, it feels like an uncontrollable cry stemming from the depths of my chest.
Yes, I am, in fact, sensitive. And it shows.
More often than I would like to think, I am told, “You’re just too sensitive.”
And it seems the more I cunningly plan my route to avoid the perfume counter at any major department store, the more likely it is I will receive a forced floral aromatized card tossed in my face.
No matter how well I intend to shield harsh words coming at me like a snake’s venom, sometimes I get caught off guard, get triggered, and am reminded how sensitive I am.
And it’s not just a reminder. It usually comes off as a judgment or criticism. When someone reminds me, and comments on how sensitive I am, it can feel like a big “f you, get over yourself,” which pairs well with “let it go.”
Call me an empath, a highly-sensitive person, HSP, or touchy; I am sensitive. And while I used to be self-conscious about getting my feelings hurt easily, being afraid of rejection, or being embarrassed by my over-obvious emotions, I have learned it’s a gift.
Every time I have experienced hurt feelings, I’ve been able to turn around and hold space for three times as many people to process their deep emotions.
Every bodily symptom I have had that some may perceive as over-the-top inspires me to help others get further in touch with the whispers of their bodies.
Feeling awkward in group situations, or fumbling to be myself, motivates me twice as much to encourage others to step into their unique being and be comfortable in their skin.
So from time to time, when people judge me for any of the above, I have learned to honor and celebrate the gift it is because it has been and is a gift that has driven me to a service-based life.
After several times of being reminded of how sensitive I am, I have also learned an adequate response that will nip any judgment in the bud. If this is something you struggle with, I invite you to try it.
Next time someone says to you, “Wow, you’re so sensitive,” in a judgmental way or in a way that attempts to shut your beautiful perceptiveness down, challenge it.
Respond with (in a gentle, soft, compassionate way):
“I am sensitive. You know that, and yet you keep doing (insert behavior or judgment). Why is that?”
The idea is to set a firm boundary, empower yourself with owning your sensitivity, and end the judgment. I have found that this conversation prompt also helps us highly sensitive peeps to widen our outlook and gain a different perspective. And given the gift of being highly sensitive, it ensures we’ll “get it” right away and have more understanding.
Here are a few examples:
“I am sensitive. You know that, and yet you keep choosing such powerful words. Why is that?”
“I am sensitive, yet you keep buying this harsh product to use in our home, knowing I will react. Why is that?”
“I am sensitive. You know that, yet you continue to turn the music volume way up. Why is that?”
Will it put an end to the trigger? Maybe, maybe not, or maybe not immediately. What the response has done for me is helped me to gain more insight and more information from the other person’s viewpoint, and I have found in time, it does help the comments subside.
If you try this, I would love to know how it goes. It’s uncomfortable to say, but miracles can happen when we are outside of our comfort zone.
If you are highly sensitive and can empathize with much of what I shared, please know you are not alone. There are Empathic and HSP communities, and I invite you to join me for more empowerment and unity. You can contact me, find me inside The Frequency Key, or join me Full Moon Fresh Start mid-April for a week of embodying and activating your sensitive gifts.
Sending you much love from my HSP heart to yours.