Last week I took my cat, Finn, to the vet for his yearly wellness appointment only to return early the next morning upon discovering he had an allergic reaction to his vaccination. Sitting in the waiting room while the vet administered a Benadryl shot, I made small talk with the receptionist. With a somewhat snarky tone she said, “well, sometimes pets can sense when their owner is sensitive and then they play into it…” Nodding along politely, I thought to myself, “First of all, no. That’s not the case. Second of all, why is sensitivity always viewed as a bad thing?”
Over the last five years, I’ve been struggling with a lot of weird things with my body. If I don’t have enough water my right eye will twitch. If I wear a cross body purse over my left shoulder for hours my pectorals clamp like a vice around my clavicle. If I keep my shoulders shrugged and type with my computer on my lap, the muscles in my forearm tighten around my ulnar nerve leaving me with a condition called golfer’s elbow. I have a sensitive body. It’s been an interesting and often frustrating (and painful) journey, but what I’ve discovered is, there are two ways of looking at sensitivity.
- Negatively - My body is sensitive – meaning I am weak, fragile and delicate.
- Positively - My body is sensitive – meaning I can become very aware of what my body needs
For who knows what reason, it seems that our culture heavily tends towards negative sensitivity like the first example. Even Merriam-Webster claims the simple definition of sensitive as, “easily upset by the things people think or say about you.” But is that really what it means? I don’t think it is. I believe that sensitivity is all about awareness – and the way we respond to it is what determines whether it is positive or negative.
If I know that working at my desk and improving my posture as I type reduces stress on my forearm and decreases the painful effects of golfer’s elbow– then I can either choose to respond negatively, “UGH stupid delicate body! Why can’t I work from my comfy couch like a ‘normal’ person!!!” - OR - I can respond positively and say, “okay- this is good to know. Now that I am aware of what my body needs, I will work at my desk so my arms may become comfortable and pain-free.”
Right now, I am clinging to positive sensitivity; partly because I don't want to be frustrated all the time, but mostly because I think it’s incredibly powerful. Being more aware of my body has given me a unique opportunity to learn how to strengthen it in the way that it needs. And the same goes in relation to others. The more sensitive I am to others’ feelings, the better I can decipher when my sister needs an extra hug, a glass of wine, or an appropriately timed gut-wrenching laugh.
I don't think the word "sensitive" deserves the negative vibe that follows it around. I'd love to free it from its shadow and shed some light on its power because whether we allow it to be a weakness or a strength is completely up to us. Instead of feeling judged by the vet tech, next time I want to respond with gratitude and say, “aww thank you – you are so right! I am sensitive! I am very aware of my sweet kitty and how he’s feeling. I know him so well that I knew he was sick and needed to come in.” Sensitivity isn't something to be ashamed of, it's an attribute to be proud of.
If you, like me, consider yourself sensitive – rock on. That means you are aware of yourself – you understand what makes you tick, you know what makes you happy – and my guess is, you’re pretty good at reading people. Own that and use it for good. Together, let’s transform sensitivity and use it to be better lovers of ourselves and others.