Being sensitive is not just being emotionally more vulnerable. Being sensitive is a specific way of perceiving and interpreting the world through both the heart and the mind. It’s an overwhelming experience in this post-modern society as we have spent centuries in our mind and pretty much disconnected from our body. The result is an overgeneralised mind-body split and an incredible amount of human suffering. We don’t know anything about feelings and we spend most of our time terrified about them.
We have been capable of measuring how cognitively intelligent we are, but we haven’t done much to understand how feelings and emotions can dictate the difference between a prisoner who learns his/her lesson and a prisoner who returns to the streets of crime. We have built and developed wonderful pieces of technology, but we are still not able to understand how we can change our own hearts, because we have been disconnected from our human essence.
And that essence, I would say, is based on sensitivity. In order to be a fully functional human being you need to be aware of your own feelings, attitudes, and behaviours, and you also need to interplay those with other people’s. That requires sensitivity, a pre-disposition to be able to sense yourself and others. Some of us have been, however, reprogrammed by our family and country’s trauma to the extent that instead of a smooth human skin we developed a hard shell. That shell is great to protect us against feelings but it also makes us humanproof. It prevents us from understanding ourselves and others.
What can we do about it? Can we fix it? First of all we need to pay more attention to our children. I was a sensitive child but my parents didn’t know how to deal with me. They don’t know how to deal with my much younger sister either, who despite being extroverted is also sensitive. Instead of embracing our sensitivity, my parents unconsciously try to suppress it. When I was a kid, I would cry easily if my dad spoke more aggressively and that was welcomed with impatience, threats, or mockery. I learned that I had to be ‘tuff’ on the outside so I started bottling up my feelings and became an unhealthy high performer. As G. once said, I like to think that I’m a rock when I’m actually a fluffy pink pony. The result is a big mess inside your head and a scared heart.
The good thing about all my messy life experiences as a sensitive child and then adult is, nonetheless, that I have something that allows me to bond with sensitive kids. Before becoming an academic, I spent some good years working with kids. My classroom was a mix of discipline and playfulness, because discipline without playfulness and playfulness without discipline are methods that simply don’t work when the goal is to support a child’s human development.
Kids need love, presence, and guidance. They need to be seen and listened to. They need freedom and space to let feelings arise so they can try to understand and express them. And most importantly… they need us, adults, to be courageous enough to deal with our own sensitivity and emotions. They need us to break the hard shell and become vulnerable. They need examples to follow and incorporate, not empty and silly behavioural rules that you can easily find in modern books of child psychology.