I Opened My Heart, it's All Over This Page.
“You’re too sensitive. You really need to toughen up and be more productive if you’re going to make it in this harsh world.” UGH, if I could count every time that has been said to me! Can you guys relate? I’ve been told this so many times, by so many people, for so long that I believed it to be true. But, I’ve been considering and pondering this recently…. And here’s what I think:
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that this perspective can be mis-intentioned at best and pathological at worst. Here’s why:
I think that, at the heart of the “toughen up” motto is the idea that life, and furthermore, how we feel about ourselves is based on how productive we are. Does this seem absolutely INSANE to anyone else? It seems to imply that we are not innately valuable, and that we have to work hard to increase or maintain our value. Otherwise…dun dun dun….we’re worthless. I do think each of us yearns to provide society with something meaningful and to lead a generally productive life. And, I think that can give some sense of value. BUT, we are worthy by our existence alone. We are good enough, just as we are.
I also find that the “toughen up” attitude is based on negativity, and I feel this can easily be internalized, making us very self-critical. Suddenly, the voices that were coming from other people externally become part of our internal dialogue, pushing us, telling us to do more, be more, work harder. This makes for a harsh and unforgiving inner climate. I don’t believe life has to be like that, and I certainly don’t think success comes from having a self-critical view towards one’s self. Sure, it’s great to push ourselves past our limits, but I think most of us are good enough at doing that! A little too good, in fact: we so often push ourselves past the point of exhaustion. How about a little self-care? If we could encourage ourselves positively and gently, we would be infinitely more successful in both our internal and external worlds, as well as more balanced and less exhausted!
Lastly, I find it so sad that sensitivity is associated with weakness and vulnerability. This is what really gets me, and I think what caused me to truly buy into the “toughen up” viewpoint in the first place. I hated thinking that others saw me as weak. But, think about this. REALLY think about it……One definition of sensitivity is being “quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences.” Another is: “having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.” Could this not actually, be a great strength? It is, folks. It really is! Being sensitive helps me as an aspiring healer, to be able to tune into other’s feelings. It helps me to be aware of the slight change when someone says something but really means something else. It helps me notice small things, like the beautiful blending of colors on a flower, that in turn inspires me artistically. Sensitivity, folks, is not a weakness! It is a strength that we should hold close and nurture. And, maybe it does make us vulnerable, but vulnerability doesn’t have be equated with weakness either! Being vulnerable, as I see it, is a great act of courage. It takes some serious GUTS to be real and vulnerable, either with yourself or with another. You reveal yourself, you feel naked, and you have nowhere to hide. But, it really brings you into the moment. And, in that moment, you are authentically YOU. And, that is a beautiful thing!
Let’s sing it, my fellow sensitive friends: Yes, we are sensitive. We feel things deeply. But, we never for one second forget that we are alive! Our sensitivity reminds us of that. Perhaps in a a way, it reminds us of the wonderful imperfectness of being human.
I think that instead of telling folks to “toughen up,” we could encourage them to “soften up.” We could encourage ourselves and others to take time to nurture and care for ourselves, to take time to just sit and BE, to enjoy a cup of tea, to take time alone, to sit and feel sad and be there for ourselves, to travel into the realms of our imagination, to do a creativity activity, or to simply just take a breath. These things soften us, and open us up—perhaps even making us more sensitive. But these moments, at least in my experience, are the moments where I’m inspired, where my ideas connect, where I get to know myself more, where I find meaning. These experiences have made me the person I am today.
So, next time someone tells you to “toughen up,” you can smile, look at them compassionately, and tell them they might consider to “soften up.” 🙂
definitions of “sensitive” courtesy of: google definitions
Photo: Author’s own.