This is a guest post contributed by a fellow sensitive soul, Leslie Ralph, who also writes and doodles. Stick Girl especially enjoys playing with her hens with pens characters. Since I’m on break, I invited Leslie to write something for my audience and this beautiful piece is what came out. Hope you enjoy! More about Leslie – and her free gift to you – at the bottom.
Photo by Kevin Young
“Oh, this bone structure,” she said.
This strange woman I’d only met moments before in my father’s office pinched my cheeks as she told me with a smile, “I hate you.”
She laughed and looked at me expectantly. Her mouth said, aren’t we having fun? But we weren’t, or at least I wasn’t.
Her eyes revealed pain. The hurting in her was palpable, and I hadn’t yet learned that her pain wasn’t mine or my fault.
I wanted to shrink into the folds of my new sunflower dress bought especially for bring your daughter to work day.
Honestly, I didn’t even want to go that day. It felt like such a big deal to get dressed up and drive all the way downtown to my dad’s skyscraper office. There’s a picture of me that morning holding my baby brother and wearing a mask that says, “I’m so excited!” I wonder if it fooled anyone.
I felt a familiar burn rising in my chest, crawling up my neck to my cheeks, and boiling behind my eyes. I held my breath wishing it would pass. I didn’t have a name then for this weight that lurked behind my heart every day.
I felt guilty, but I wasn’t sure what I’d done.
I felt like such an imposter. Couldn’t she see just how flawed and ugly I felt?
Despite my best efforts to be normal, the tears wriggled through.
My dad looked embarrassed.
He asked what was wrong. I didn’t know.
He said it was just a joke. I knew that.
“Ooh, she’s so sensitive,” she said turning to my father as if I wasn’t standing right there.
I don’t remember much more about what happened that day except that my dad took me to the mall and bought me an electric blue Gap t-shirt to make me feel better. I have a lot of shirts like that from him.
The shame of “doing it again” that day still hurts, 24 years later. I didn’t know what he expected from me, but I knew it couldn’t have been that.
She’s so sensitive.
I suppose it’s an apt description. I do experience all the feels at turbo level 10.
Yeah, that was me crying at the library story hour. Me again crying at the kids’ taekwondo lessons. Yup, there I am crying at the park, watching the soup commercial, thinking about my childhood, listening to the marching band warm up, telling my husband I love him, thinking of the state of the world.
Sensitive. It’s true, but somehow not enough.
To me, being highly sensitive means having a rich inner experience.
We have hearts as deep as the ocean and powerful as rockets. We experience our feelings, dreams, thoughts, and connections deeply.
It’s just that we don’t always know how to care for our sensitive spirit.
I’ve been called a lot of other things besides too sensitive, like touchy, timid, thin-skinned, hyper, high-strung, snobby, crazy, and the ever-popular too quiet.
For as long as I can remember, people found it perfectly acceptable to tell me I’m not a great conversationalist or not a team player. They always asked why I’m so quiet, and on the heels of telling me they don’t really know me, they laughed about “me and my ideas.”
And for as long as I can remember, I’d apologize.
I apologized for being something other than what they expected. I apologized when I sensed they were hurting. I apologized for my feelings being so large. I apologized for apologizing.
Along the way, I concluded that who I am is wrong. (Yeah, that’s me over there disappointing everyone again.)
I was a misfit and desperately longed to figure out how everyone else navigates this world that was so big and confusing.
No one else ever talked about the things I thought about. No one else ever cried in school. The gossip and crushes and small talk simply did not compute.
My heart was so far out there on my sleeve, you could practically snatch it out of my hands, and I wanted to stow my big, weird, raw emotions out of sight in a small, tidy box.
It breaks my heart to say it today, but I wanted to feel less and be ordinary.
The thing is, we’re not here to be ordinary. We’re here to know what it means to live on this magical, bewildering planet we call home.
We’re not here to be small and fine and like everyone else but rather to witness the majesty and misery of loving, grieving, fearing, wondering, aching, living, and dying.
We’re here to be moved. To laugh and cry and say, “Hey I see you, you fill me with awe. Hey, I see you, I feel that you’re hurting.”
What else is all this here for if not that?
As sensitive spirits, we are pioneers. We hold the keys to understanding the human condition. We bring love and light and color to the world.
Sensitive souls are the artists, philosophers, and healers. Even if our wisdom never leaves the pages of our journals, our love is so big, it can change the world.
But…with great power comes great responsibility.
Because we are special, we have to understand that not everyone gets it.
Many of us were taught to underthink, underfeel, and underexperience. (It’s the spiritual equivalent of sucking in your stomach.)
And we might not have learned how to properly care for a sensitive soul like ours.
Our inner experience is in a constant state of flux, and it requires a lot of energy to feel and process it. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with it all and hibernate, or we let it all hang out (all over innocent bystanders), and sometimes we take on the world and wind up feeling burned out and resentful.
A sensitive spirit needs to be seen, heard, and honored, not put away or overextended.
For years, I tried to save everyone. I tried to heal our rescued cat by playing her music, I counseled kids on the playground, I became my mother’s confidante, and as a therapist, I carried my client’s stories around in my heart as if they were my own. It all became too much.
For years, I also tried to make myself small and indistinguishable from everyone else. I literally starved myself trying to become invisible. In the end, I became most unrecognizable to myself. I felt sad and sick, as if my insides were dying trying to keep all this under wraps.
The most important thing to understand about your sensitive soul is that responding and caring for it is an investment of energy.
Whether you respect and nurture it, bottle it up and lock it away, or let it run wild, absorbing everyone else’s vibes, you are investing energy.
Some investments will fill your heart and spirit in the end, and some will bleed you dry.
Knowing the difference between the two is a matter of having the honesty with yourself to tell it like it is. I’m drained. I’m triggered. I’m resentful. I’m overjoyed. I’m overwhelmed. I’m isolating.
And the compassion with yourself to respond to whatever it is without judgment, only love.
It’s this combination of honesty and compassion that we learn to harness our superpowers. This is how we learn when we need a hug or a day alone, a good cry or a good laugh.
Compassionate honesty with ourselves is how we stand between the gap of what we see and what we know in our bones could be, see a hurting world and send out our love, and protect our own energy in the process.
I don’t know, maybe I am too sensitive, but I also know this:
I’m gentle and deep. I’m an old soul who’s young at heart. I am love and light and life embodied.
Just like you.
Getting quiet is simply a part of finding solid ground and coming home to ourselves.
And sensitivity is a natural part of being fully present and learning what it means to live in this human body. Inside and out, here and whole.
ABOUT LESLIE RALPH
Leslie is a psychologist, writer, and artist who hopes to leave the world a little brighter than she found it. Her people are creative spirits, soul-searchers, and big-hearted dreamers that crave love and peace, inside and out.
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