We speak about sensitivity in our society only when there’s not enough of it, or when there’s too much of it.
Either it was the missing piece in a story ending badly because of another’s cruelty. Or, it needs to be regulated because this is not the right place and the right moment for it.
It leaves highly sensitive people with two positions they can occupy in life:
2. A dysfunctional burden because they’re too emotional
And, of course, they can be both at the same time.
Sensitivity is almost never associated to power. Power goes to the ones who separate themselves from their emotions, keep them in check, and override them.
Stoic leadership is encouraged.
Sensitive people can become carers of all sorts, or be led by the stoic ones.
And despite the fact that we would all agree our world needs more empathy, our attention and fascination go to the people who go without it. They get the opportunities, the money, and the visibility. Because, you know, “they kill it.” Well, literally they do, if you look at how productivity is suffocating the planet.
A system where people with no feelings are praised thrives on the false assumption that sensitive people would be flooded by their emotions and therefore be unable to lead properly. In this system, a person who feels deeply won’t even consider taking the lead. Their high level of sensitivity will be experienced as a curse.
And that’s a problem.
The capacity of most leaders today is to compartmentalize their self and present their stoic facets to the world. This is exactly what fragments our humanity.
In our institutions.
In ourselves, even when we are at war with our strong emotions.
Until we expand the concept of sensitivity and look closer at its main gift: empathy.
Empathy has to do with this magical capacity: resonance.
Resonance is what makes musicians attune to each other in an orchestra, to play harmoniously a piece that requires numerous instruments. It’s this capacity to listen, to sense timing, and to feel what’s needed. It’s a whole-body experience, and it’s organic.
It’s an intuitive force that naturally takes care and turns up the volume of what’s alive, which is so needed.
In our institutions.
Burnout, depression, chronic fatigue, loneliness, and diseases like fibromyalgia (which is basically your nervous system bracing to cope) are the results of a society where empathy and the capacity for resonance are missing. All of us crave more of it. I would even argue that at this stage, it’s vital for our species.
So how come we didn’t reconsider our models when it came to power?
What would crumble if we would state that sensitivity, empathy, and the capacity for resonance are now the best leadership qualities?
Efficiency? I don’t think so.
To answer that question, I need to come back to my orchestra metaphor and to the moment when musicians switch from what they learned about the music to what they sense. The moment they use their capacity to attune and be in resonance with each other is the exact moment when rules are not needed anymore.
The more we sense, the less we use the rules. Less rules. That’s the scary bit. It means we have to let go of a concept born at the beginning of time: humans when they’re not controlled are bad, and even more so if they tune in to what they sense through their bodies.
As a European person, I think about the concept of sins, which is omnipresent in the Catholic tradition. I am not saying we should cancel all rules, but there’s a balance to be found. If we conduct negotiations by just following rules, then it becomes a competition where there will be a winner and a loser. The winner will be the one who knows how to play with the rules. The one who “kills it.” This may be how we increase productivity.
This isn’t how we create harmony.
Productivity might create more short-term money, but harmony creates more long-term sustainability, as well as more happiness and aliveness. And harmony requires the sensing component. It requires that we feel each other until we reach a win-win. It’s collaboration versus competition.
It’s exactly what sensitive people are good at.
Women have been given the role of carers even more than men, due to their gender. In France, for example, women couldn’t study to be a doctor for a long time but were allowed to be nurses or midwives. Because of their body’s capacity to carry and give life, it was seen as normal that they extend this “natural caring and nurturing capacity” in their professional lives. Until today, and despite the energy these jobs require, they are not well paid.
I coach women and most of them are highly sensitive. The first thing that holds them back in reaching for more attention, visibility, or any leadership position is the way they internalize the voice of society judging them as “too emotional” or “too sensitive.” The second is they developed an aversion to power, as they see the hurt coming from how power is handled.
What women don’t realize when they repress some intense emotions is the amount of energy it takes to keep them contained. This self-attack is what creates an internal pressure cooker, which might explode. This explosion is what will be perceived as out of proportion. But without this self-attack/pressure cooker phenomenon, these intense emotions are in fact precious guides.
I coach these women to stop judging what they feel and use it instead. And they do! They think, they work, and they feel their way up. And once they harness that process, can they use it to shift all types of interactions and relationships.
We reframe their aversion to power, as well—understanding that they hate it as it is but that there’s a possibility to create healthier power dynamics.
So, if you judge yourself as too sensitive and have developed an aversion to power, and it’s stopping you from being more visible or leading in your field know this:
>> This power without feeling that we witness today is a destructive form of power.
>> It’s urgent we create a new model of power, more generative.
>> This new model invites sensing and the capacity to tune into each other’s resonance during any negotiation.
>> It’s a model that invites empathy to create more harmony.
>> You’re the most gifted person to create it because you feel deeply.
So, from now on:
>> Stop judging yourself because you feel so much.
>> Learn to use what you feel to tune into other people’s resonance instead.
>> Build the capacity in your nervous system for more visibility and interactions coming your way.
>> And show up!
Each second you hide, aliveness is lost.