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Next Time They Tell You to Toughen Up, You Tell Them to F*ck Off

Updated: Nov 2

We do not use that kind of langue very often, but sometimes we just have to. I am talking about us sensitive people.

We live in a world reserved only for the “toughest”. A world designed for the ones “strong" enough to do anything it takes, the ones that only move forward no matter what… At least that’s what they think (because they are the ones designing it).

And they tell us we are too sensitive, we need to toughen up, focus, get our shit together… They make us feel like something is wrong with us. All our lives we hear the same things over and over again. And we try, we learn how to put a mask on, we hide our feelings behind it. Even we believe that that is the way we should be. It must be if everyone says so.

Well let me tell you something. They are wrong. They need to get their heads out of their own asses and look around. And just maybe, be quiet for a while?!

Around 20% of the world population¹ is highly sensitive, regardless of age, sex or cultural differences. Too many to be a disorder, too little to be understood. And that is a huge number of people that need to toughen up. So that just might not be the need..

While we are here, just one more thing: it is not a choice! It’s how we are born.

Highly sensitive – It means that we are biologically hypersensitive to a variety of stimuli, and we process that sensory data on a much larger scale. In English, it means that we “see” more and “feel” it deeper. And no, we don’t necessarily have better eyesight than others (or any other sense), but what we see we process differently² then the rest.

Highly sensitive people react more to both positive and negative emotional experiences. Because of that, we may seem like a little too emotional or “weird” to the rest. But weird is not wrong. The world is wrong. Weird can be beautiful.

We are easily overwhelmed

What others find normal we find overwhelming. What could be a (green) chair in an empty room for others, for us it’s "an extraordinary space, with just the perfect size and positioning of the windows (too bad the flower was left in the corner to dry), nice wooden floor (needs a little cleaning), a beautiful green chair set in the other corner. The seat and the armrests have lost a little color, probably they have a nice story to tell…" It just how we see stuff, how we find meaning in every little detail that we notice.

Many people at one place, many things happening at once, parties, open offices, strong smells, loud noses… After a while we need an escape from it. Having a brain that processes on that high level, we act introverted³, not because we want to (don’t get me wrong, we do, but that’s not the main reason), but because we have to. Things like that cause us stress. They tire us. Our brains are overwhelmed with information that pile for processing, and at one point we just need to retreat (possibly by just ourselves, in a quite and dark room), stop the stimuli and relax our minds.

We can be deeply moved by things “normal” for the rest

You may find us weeping in front of a beautiful picture, while listening to a song, watching a movie or just by ourselves in the park. Just thinking about a situation, seeing a happy child on a bicycle, smelling a flower can touch us so deeply we wanna cry (and we do). Happy makes us cry too, even more often than sad.

Strength has nothing to do with it

We are perceived as weak, not because it is wrong to feel and express your emotions (angry is an emotion too but noone calls an aggressor weak!). What is wrong, is the misconception of what strong means, the misconception that we are weak.

Being highly sensitive doesn’t mean that we are not tough. Toughness has nothing to do with it. Some of us can do more crying than other people can do cheering themselves with war songs. And it doesn’t mean that we are cry babies. We are, but it is only one part of us. There is so much more to us than that.

We are empathetic

We notice every little subtle detail, every facial expression and slight changes in the voice. We can not help ourselves but feel together with the people around us. We (strongly) feel the sadness and we feel the happiness of other people.

Moods of people around us also affect us strongly. They can literally change how we feel at the moment. We will absorb everything the other person expresses, willingly or not.

“As we are in a constant osmosis with everything around us.”⁴

We are careful and conscientious

We do have “stronger feelings” but because we have all that processed data (that sometimes we don’t need, but other times is a great asset) we do not let personal view or prejudice influence our actions or decisions. We are careful and well thought. We have every little detail and everyone affected thought through. Maybe because we know how it feels.

We know how everything feels. That is why we also have a strong need for justice (for ourselves and for others). We have a strong sense of right and wrong and we do not let people be mistreated. We are probably the ones that will take action towards helping anyone in need.

We are dreamers

Besides the colorful and vivid “real” life, we also have a rich, complex inner life. A whole life that only we know of (except when we write a blog about it). And we have so many conversations and scenarios played in our heads, and we feel strongly even about them. Maybe it’s because often we can not tell them out loud. But when we do, the stories are worth listening.

The list is long, but I have to end it somewhere. To wrap it up – We are not better than other people. But neither we are worse! We are just different. We are at the far end of the sensitivity scale that we are all on. But we are not wrong.

We don’t need to be told to change what we can not change. Personally, I don’t even want to! Even though it may seem like it’s harder for us to live in a world not designed for us. Yes, sometimes it may be a curse, but more often I find it a blessing.

Because with great sorrow comes great love. With great empathy comes great wisdom.

We don’t need to toughen up, we just need need some space. We need to be recognized and understood. We need a world that can and will accept us (and everyone else!) as we are. A world that will accept our gifts and together we can make it a lot better place – a world for everyone.

¹ This and other findings presented here are from researches sublimated by Elaine Aron in her book The Highly Sensitive Person

² In that manner, we are more similar to autistic than to “normal” people. (It’s not the same thing!) Many more different areas of our brains are activated, on a different (much larger) scale with the same amount of stimuli.

³ Again not the same thing, at least not completely. Being an introvert is often a characteristic that highly sensitive people have, but not necessarily.

⁴ Elena Herdieckerhoff – The gentle power of highly sensitive people TED talk

Stockholm, Sweden

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