Chances are, if you’re female and show one iota of emotion, you’ve been told that you’re too sensitive at some point in your life. But sensitivity goes beyond mere emotion. It’s a sad and undeniable fact that our society looks down on those who feel things deeply, often considering such displays of emotion as signs of weakness or inadequacy. For a long time, I was ashamed of my extreme sensitivity and attempted to mask it with a concrete stoicism. As you can imagine, this didn’t work well; in fact, my emotional responsiveness only intensified the more I tried to suppress it.
If you can identify with any of this, it’s not all bad. In fact, some of the best people I know have very sensitive personalities. Here are nine characteristics of sensitive people, and why it is totally okay to identify as such.
1. You avoid confrontation like the plague.
To a sensitive person, the notion of confronting others is about as painful as any number of dental procedures. It’s not that we’re afraid to speak up for ourselves: we’re averse to the possible outcome of the conversation, and we fear alienation. This may come across as awkwardness, even bordering hostility, but it’s actually just our way of processing a challenging situation.
2. You feel great empathy for others’ suffering.
One characteristic mark of a sensitive individual is our empathic nature. Unlike others, who can easily compartmentalize tragedy and suffering, we don’t have a choice but to feel emotionally tied to what’s happening around us. It’s challenging for us to go about our days with the knowledge that others don’t have such a privilege, and this affects us to the core.
3. Emotion rolls over you multiple times a day.
Along those same lines, our own capacity for emotion is expansive. And being emotional doesn’t simply mean we burst into tears at the drop of a pin: our feelings are as varied as they are deep, and that means we experience anger, sadness, regret, jealously, joy, etc. Moreover, these emotions come unbidden and without warning, making our presence a bit unpredictable.
4. You’re acutely aware of sounds, lights, and slight changes in temperature.
If you’ve ever notice that you’re easily perturbed by loud music or bright, fluorescent office lights, you’re not alone. Our environment is another aspect that shapes our perspective, and when everything around you seems to be skewed on one end of a spectrum, it’s easy to let it become irksome. For example, I’m bothered when people eat crunchy food because the noise makes me cringe!
5. Criticism, as well as praise, affect you profoundly.
Unlike some people who just can’t receive criticism, we’re equally uncomfortable with praise. There’s something about the acknowledgment of ourselves, whether good, bad, or neutral, that is hard to swallow. That doesn’t mean we’re not open to hearing this feedback (think performance review), it’s simply that we aren’t accustomed to hearing or talking about ourselves in this manner.
6. You think flaky people are the worst.
When you’re a sensitive person, you tend to establish expectations for others as well as yourself. Just as we want to avoid disappointing or hurting friends and family, we expect that they will reciprocate in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, this is rarely the outcome. People are flaky and unpredictable and inconsiderate, which is a hard pill to swallow for someone who takes almost everything personally.
7. You’re always careful with your words to avoid offending anyone.
Words carry a weight that’s especially significant to us. You probably remember the exact comment someone made about your dress in sixth grade, and you’re determined to never replicate such an offense. This means that we choose our words wisely. We’re cognizant to the fact that everyone perceives things differently, and try to respect the fact that not everyone is going to want to hear about how skinny or “healthy” they look.
8. You go out of your way to help others, even if it’s at the expense of your own comfort.
We hate inconveniencing others. If someone is hurt or upset or bothered, we will make every effort to rectify the situation–even if this means we lose out on something ourselves. Nothing means more to us than cultivating and maintaining relationships, so the prospect of damaging one is not something we take lightly.
9. You’re vegan or vegetarian.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that a lot of sensitive people are vegans or vegetarians (see #2). We simply refuse to be complicit in the murder of innocent beings, and so the least we can do is to boycott the act altogether. We like uniting with others with similar sensibilities.
As you can see, sensitivity is much more complex than saying someone cries easily. There are unique dimensions to a sensitive person that form their world view–a perspective that is often just and fair. To anyone who dismisses sensitivity as weakness, I’d ask: if we were all stoics, how would anything ever get done?
Are you a sensitive person? How has this informed your personality?
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Related: How to Create Healthy Emotional Boundaries
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