I’m Sensitive. What’s YOUR Super Power?
There has been a lot of superhero talk in our house, folks. Seuss is OBSESSED with all things superhero. He wakes up talking about them, morphs into them throughout the day, and falls asleep with the Marvel Encyclopedia across his chest.
I’ve realized that superheroes provide a wonderful way to talk about strengths and weaknesses with children. Superman is pretty amazing, right? He can jump buildings and fly through the sky and save lives buuuut if he gets near kryptonite, watch out. We talk a lot about strengths and weaknesses in our house. As a school psychologist, I’ve long embraced this way of thinking. We all have unique learning profiles. Everyone has things they are really good at, and things they are not-so-good at, and the beauty of it is – you can work on those weaknesses. Life is a journey, not a race or a destination. We are all works in progress.
The other day, my kids and I were having one of these strength-and-weakness conversations, when Seuss asked about superpowers. He asked me what his superpower would be, and I told him that he’s the Ambassador of Joy. His superpower is that he spreads happiness. And that is a wonderful superpower to have. Then, he asked me what my superpower would be and, without thinking, I replied, “I’m sensitive.” The words surprised me, and I smiled to myself like the big dork that I am because it took me so many years to embrace my sensitivity and to view it as a strength.
Whatever you want to call it, that’s me.
Some people are born with amazing mathematical abilities, some can sing like a rock star, some can paint like Picasso, and some are superstar athletes.
I rock at empathy.
That’s my superpower.
I can vividly recall two moments from my kindergarten screening like they happened yesterday. I remember the observed play portion of the screening. All the kids at the screening were set loose in a large space while the adults looked on, some with pen and clipboard in hand. It felt weird and contrived, and I hated the feeling of all those eyes on me, but I didn’t have words for any of my feelings at the time. Instead, I played with my friend Jeremy the entire time. I knew Jeremy from my neighborhood; he lived a few doors down and he and I used to spend afternoons playing Castle Grayskull together. Jeremy was a nice boy with big, sad eyes, and he lived in a house that felt sad. As a young child, I could feel his sadness, and the sadness that hung on the walls of his house. I wanted to take it away, and I tried to do so during those Castle Grayskull afternoons. In all honesty, I didn’t even like Masters of the Universe, but I knew nothing made Jeremy happier. I’d let him be He-Man the entire time because it made him happy, and I’d make do with Skeletor. During our kindergarten screening, I knew that Jeremy felt as uncomfortable as I and so I played with him, and I tried to distract his sad eyes from all of those adults watching our every move.
Later on in the screening, a lady with a kind smile walked me over to a table and asked me to sit with her. She proceeded to make small talk with me, something I’ve always hated. Again, the situation felt awkward, rushed even. I could tell that this woman would rather be somewhere else, and I wanted to be somewhere else, too. After a few minutes of small talk, the woman took out a piece of paper and a pencil and she began to draw. I watched as she drew a stick figure in a slow and exaggerated manner. Her stick figure was missing some very obvious details: an eye, half a mouth, a limb or two. When she was finished, she turned the paper around so that I could see it and asked, “How do you like my drawing?”
What was I supposed to do, folks? She had just spent all that time drawing it right in front of me! I told her I liked it. The lie burned on my lips.
Next, she asked something to the effect of, “Is there anything wrong with my drawing?”
Again, what was I supposed to say? I shook my head.
On the drive home, my mom asked me about the drawing. “Cait,” she asked, “why didn’t you tell the lady what was wrong with her drawing?”
I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
And, do you know what?
I bombed the kindergarten screening.
I bombed it because I “needed more social skills practice” [because I only played with the sad boy from the sad family who I knew– at the age of five- desperately needed a friend in this world] and because of not wanting to hurt the feelings of the lady with the kind smile and cruddy drawing skills.
So this sensitive soul spent another year in preschool. Jeremy’s family moved that summer. In my second year of preschool, I befriended a timid boy named Michael and another boy, Eric, who struggled with selective mutism. Both boys would only talk to me. Teachers would ask me to ask Michael and Eric various questions. If the boys needed something, they would whisper their words into my willing ears.
Was I working on my social skills, or was I using my superpower?
For far too many years, I viewed my sensitivity as a deficit, a weakness, something I wished to change. When I was a little girl, I wished it away. I yearned for some magic pill that, when swallowed, would stop my eyes from shedding tears.
Growing up, I’d always hear things like:
Are you crying? What are you crying about now?
Don’t be so sensitive.
You shouldn’t worry about that.
You’re not going to cry, are you?
Don’t take it so personally.
When I feel any strong emotion- whether it is happiness, embarrassment, anger, or sadness- I shed tears. I have cried in public more times than I care to remember. I can’t help it, and believe me I have tried.
And do you know what? At some point, somewhere along the line, I began to see this weakness as the strength that it is. It took me years, decades even, but I now view my sensitivity as a superpower.
BEING SENSITIVE HAS SO MANY BENEFITS, INCLUDING:
I have been blessed with many wonderful friendships in this life. Many of these friendships date back to my early childhood. Sensitive people make great friends. They listen, they care deeply, they quite literally feel for you in any given situation.
I don’t believe you can be a sensitive jerk. It’s impossible. Sensitive people care deeply for others. They have a strong desire to serve. And kindness attracts kindness. In my world, kindness trumps all else.
Sensitive people are givers and they often think of others before themselves. They make wonderful counselors, teachers, clergy, friends, nonprofit workers, volunteers, and moms.
My sensitivity was essential to my success as an educator. It fueled my passion for working with and wanting to help the underdogs. It helped me connect with children and teens from many different backgrounds, and to connect with their families.
ARE YOU SENSITIVE?
Sensitive people have been around forever, folks. Many years ago, Carl Jung talked about innate sensitiveness. Sadly, this superpower is not valued in our culture. Do you share this superpower? Do you:
- Cry easily?
- Feel more deeply?
- Sense the emotions of others when you walk in a room?
- Have you always been a peacemaker?
- Have to limit media because it is upsetting to you?
- Are you a life-long helper?
If you answered yes to the above questions, you are an empathy rock star, too. Have you learned to embrace your superpower?
HOW TO EMBRACE YOUR SUPERPOWER
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Every single person in this world has things that they are reeeeally good at and things that they stink at. Sometimes, what we view as our weakness turns out to be our greatest strength.
View sensitivity as a strength
Being sensitive is a strength, not a weakness. Being able to sense the emotions of those around you and to connect deeply with others is a superpower.
Embrace quiet time
There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing some alone time to recharge. Make sure you create some space between all the other things for yourself.
When you care deeply for others, it can be easy to forget to take care of oneself. Make sure that self-care is a priority. Take care of yourself and you’ll be equipped to take good care of those around you. Do you love to run, journal, swim, read? Whatever feeds your soul, do that.
Set limits, create boundaries, and self-censor
If I watch a movie, I feel like I’ve lived it, and insomnia will result. I have to pause while reading emotional books; I need to set them down and walk away for a bit. Forget watching the news- I gave up on that years ago. If you know that watching the news it too much for you, give it up. You cannot carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Focus on Gratitude
Sometimes, as an empath, it can be very easy to look around and see and feel all the wrongs in this world. Take a deep breath, and focus on the good. Focus on gratitude and the negative will be less overwhelming.
Feeling overwhelmed by your superpower? Take a walk in the great outdoors. Studies show that nature heals all, so get out there!
You cannot carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Yes, there are a lot of people who need help in this world, but you cannot help them all. Instead, realize that all change starts small. Little ripples can touch so many. Kindness starts at home. Start there, do what you can, and be at peace with it.
ARE YOU PARENTING A LITTLE EMPATH?
I’m mom to a little girl with superpowers just like mine.
One stern look and her lip will start to quiver, and in seconds she’ll be sobbing, devastated that she’s hurt someone around her.
She can pick up on the environment around her. “Why was that mom so sad?” she’ll ask, long before any of us learn that mom has suffered multiple losses.
She’ll spend an entire vacation rescuing frogs and caterpillars from the swimming pool.
Out in public, she’ll hear a baby cry in the distance and stop- focused, waiting for the baby to be okay.
“Why were they mad at each other?” she’ll inquire at a party, after which my friend will confess that she and her husband had been in an argument just before the party.
She’ll pretend she can’t read in front of those who haven’t learned yet. Why? Because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.
Books, movies, and songs make her cry. Get used to it, my sweet girl.
The last thing I want is T to go through much of her life wishing her superpower away like I did as a child. I see the strength in her. I see her big heart, her kind soul. In my world, it’s wonderful to be smart and funny, but kindness trumps all. I want her to see that, too.
How can you help your sensitive child?
- Hug her- When she’s overwhelmed with emotion, scoop her up and give her a big hug.
- Validate her feelings– Tell your sensitive child that it is perfectly normal to have feelings and it’s wonderful to be able to show those feelings. Explain that she doesn’t need to hide, nor feel ashamed of those feelings. It’s a blessing to be able to feel the emotions of those around you and be able to deeply connect.
- Emphasize sensitivity as the strength that it is– Sensitivity will get you far in this life. Your child will be kind, she’ll be a wonderful friend to others, she’ll be a helper.
- Help her set boundaries- Limiting media exposure can be healthy for all children, but especially for those who are highly sensitive. Turn off the news when your kids are around.
- You’ve helped enough- Sometimes, my daughter helps so much. It’s wonderful that she’s such a helper, but I want her to be a kid. Set some limits and say, “You’ve done a wonderful job. You’ve helped enough. Go play!”
- Practice mindfulness- Mindfulness can work wonders for adults and children. Incorporate mindfulness in your family routine so that your child will learn important coping and life skills.
Would you like to read more about those superpowers??
You are not alone. You don’t have to take my word for it! Here are some great books for the empathy rock stars out there:
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron
If you are a highly sensitive person like myself, you will wholeheartedly appreciate this book. Do yourself a favor and read it. It will be good for your soul.
That proverbial apple does not fall far from its tree. If you are parenting a highly sensitive child, this book is for you.
If you grew up being told that you were too quiet, this is the book for you. It’s fascinating to think about introversion and extroversion as it relates to the world, careers, family, and education. Be sure to check out Susan Cain’s new website, Quiet Revolution.
This is a wonderful book for those raising introverted children in this extroverted world.
Wondering if your child is gifted/2e?
Now, it’s your turn. Are you highly sensitive? Are you able to view it as your superpower, or are you still trying to embrace it? Share here!
Today, I’m going to leave you with the lyrics to a song that brought me solace as a child. It was from the Marlo Thomas Free to Be… You and Me album.
I didn’t have it on CD or cassette tape… nope, I had the record, folks. I love these lyrics and I play the song for my children frequently because the message is an important one:
It’s all right to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you
It’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better
Raindrops from your eyes
Washing all the mad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It’s gonna make you feel better
It’s all right to feel things
Though the feelings may be strange
Feelings are such real things
And they change and change and change
Sad ‘n’ grumpy, down in the dumpy
Snuggly, hugly, mean ‘n’ ugly
Sloppy, slappy, hoppy, happy
Change and change and change
It’s all right to know
Feelings come and feelings go
It’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better
It’s all right to cry, little boy
I know some big boys that cry too
~ Carol Hall, It’s All Right to Cry
Performed by Rosey Grier
Free to Be … You and Me