Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
― Philo of Alexandria
It’s not too difficult to hurt me; I’m a pretty easy target. I don’t have a proverbial thick skin. I let things get to me, as if they got right inside and into my heart. I wear my feelings on my sleeve.
I cry easily when I’m hurting, too. Many times it’s been quite cringe-worthy.
If being sensitive is a weakness, than I guess it might be said that I’m in big trouble. But I finally don’t believe that sensitivity is a weakness. It has taken me a lot of years to get to this thinking.
I’m actually a strong person. I think being sensitive has helped me. I’m a survivor.
If you’re still here, than by definition you’re survivors. Everyone has fought their battles in the past, and most people are fighting some kind of battle right at this moment.
Some battles we create…while others are thrown at us, and are beyond our control. It is how we handle them that define them. And they don’t have to define us.
Of course everybody’s battles are different. Just as everybody’s lives are different. Everybody has an at least slightly, if not completely different story than everyone around them.
Would we want it any other way? No, of course not.
Life is fascinating. People are fascinating. By its very nature, seeing and hearing about others doing well can make us feel happy and connected.
But…we can’t seem to stop there; even knowing how dissimilar we and our experiences are, we too often compare ourselves to others. Except, at times we compare things that are like night and day, and then things start to get really complicated because of the contrast.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
― Theodore Roosevelt
*(or possibly writer Dwight Edwards)
The more time I think about that quote, it just gets louder and louder in my head. Maybe because of the social media we have all around us, it’s never been easier to see what others have, or what others are doing.
And then to feel a sense of lack in our own lives, or to feel envious or inferior…forgetting what we ourselves have.
I’ve caught myself thinking, “Oh look at all they did today, so much accomplished and they’re so fulfilled”, but my perspective is skewed and I’m metaphorically misappropriating my own fears of being inferior. It’s an ingrained behavior, akin to the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses”.
I’m not taking into account that statistically a bunch of stuff has gone wrong with their day, too. It’s such a waste of energy, to say the least.
We even spend energy comparing ourselves at different times in our own lives. But once again, the differences can usually be too great to be juxtaposed or judged.
Our brains are programmed to remember the negatives with greater recall than the positives…it’s actually called the negativity bias. Researchers have found that one area of the brain, the amygdala, uses two-thirds of its neurons searching for negative experiences.
Not to mention, according to [Wikipedia]: Seventy-four percent of the total words in the English language describing personality traits are negative.
Literally, there’s so much descriptive negativity being spoken and written all around us. To find out there’s nearly seventy-five percent more ways to adversely depict things, experiences, events AND people, is staggering.
Imagine how that contributes to the emerging downsides of social media (cyberbullying, zero accountability for criticizing and bashing anything and everything).
But look back on your life and you most likely will be able to remember many of the times when you were ashamed, embarrassed or humiliated quite easily. I know that I can. And I’ve witnessed it for my own children or my husband, bless their hearts, over the years.
I used to get really easily embarrassed when I was younger (not that I’m much different now). I remember this one time in elementary school when I was just trying to fit in and be part of it all; it was winter and my teacher had just mentioned that she was going to the British Virgin Islands, so I piped in something like, “Won’t it be kind of cold there in winter?”
Well, I guess I’d mixed them up with the British Isles, so when a classmate busted a gut laughing at how dumb that question was, and he obviously knew exactly where she’d been talking about, I was extremely humiliated.
And when he kept teasing me about it later, shaking his head at me piteously, I felt like I just ached with mortification.
It was physical.
And thirty years later I remember it with clarity…that ache of my shame.
Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.
― Brené Brown
A fascinating study was done where the participants had experienced some kind of ‘social rejection’ and half were given acetaminophen, and half a placebo over a few weeks. The ones given the pain relievers reported less hurt feelings.
It sounds like it was done to promote taking medication like Tylenol, but no it was to prove that as we’ve evolved we have “economized” and we use the same part of the brain to detect and feel pain whether it is emotional or physical. The point being that emotional pain has a real and physical effect, as well as an affect on the body!
As I got older I went to great lengths to keep from being embarrassed. I’m sure it stressed my nervous system tremendously. But I projected this level of comfort and I guess ease that was by most accounts a fairly good act.
But that’s all it was, an act. And those who knew me well knew me as the sensitive-type, and they likely attributed it largely to being a teenaged girl.
However, I think this sensitive nature has helped me to be somewhat of an empath, and if the world could use more of something, I’m all for nominating empathy to be right there at the top of the list.
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors…American culture might be socializing people into becoming more individualistic rather than empathic… [Psychology Today]
It’s a vital time to teach our children to be empathetic [link]. All the many books and programs that are available so that we can lead more “purpose driven” lives are based on the ability to look past our own perspectives and be able to see and feel the needs and experiences of others.
People who are empathetic tend to be less self-absorbed and more caring towards others…and themselves. I’m working on that last part.
*Note: There’s a big difference between self-absorption and self-care!
Maybe those aforementioned “battles” might be alleviated if we all tried to be a little more understanding and supportive, ie empathetic.
Of course, whenever I look back to incidences like the classmate who I felt had mocked me, I try to remember that he too was just trying to be part of it all and fit in. He was no doubt trying to impress our lovely teacher, just as I had wanted to do.
We’re learning as we go. And yes, I wish more than anything that I could have laughed right then, and realized it was not dumb or I was not dumb. I wish that I could have taken into account that I was twelve with lots to learn still and then moved on unscathed.
There are a lot of things that I wish that I did differently. But I’m going to stop apologizing for being sensitive. And I’m going to look for the positive things about being the way that I am.
We all just want to be loved and belong.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
― Dalai Lama
― Raina K Morton July 1, 2014
**Lots of good reads on psychologytoday.com, much of my research was gleaned there.