In Defense of Sensitive and How to Tell If You Are


I was a sensitive child. Fabric that was even slightly itchy was a misery to me. My husband will tell you that I hate overhead lights. I have too many table lights because I want light. I just don’t want it overhead. Florescent lights cause me to flee to the shadows. Some people love having the noise on the television. It is like white noise to them. As for me, I much prefer silence. I love music, but everything on my iTunes is pretty mellow.

Gosh, I sound boring. And I hate violent shows, horror movies in particular. The images get caught in my mind. Art museums sensitivemove me deeply. My best prayer times have literally been in closets. A good walk-in closet drowns out most low-level noises. I worry about my effect on others. I dread phone calls. I Love Lucy tormented me with embarrassment as a child. I really wanted Lucille Ball to make better choices.

For most of my life, I have been told that I am overly sensitive. I feel pain deeply so during the worst times in my life, I often turned towards dissociation as a relief. I have spent so much of my life trying to become less sensitive, because the inference of sensitivity is, of course, weakness. Sensitive people are often considered fragile and delicate. I don’t think I agree with this anymore.

Recently in a prayer time, God let me know that He purposely made me the way that I am. I thought of all the times that I was told to stop being sensitive. He pointed out that I have a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry.  I’m pretty sure that in order to get a graduate degree in writing poetry, the sensitivity cards were dealt out quite a long time ago. I laughed and laughed when I realized that yes, I am a card-carrying sensitive person and I have the perfect degree to prove it.

So it turns out that about fifteen percent of all humans are sensitive. The way they perceive sensory experiences differs significantly from the other eighty-five percent who wish that the sensitive people in their lives would harden up a little. Sensitive people and those who are much less so can cause each other quite a bit of misery, I believe. I know that I was a near-insolvable puzzle to my mother when I was a child. So here is a checklist.  The more you identify with, the more you rank on the sensitivity scale.

  1. Physical discomfort can seriously discombobulate you. For most people, mild discomfort is tolerable. The problem for sensitive people is the definition of the word ‘mild’. I remember a knit pantsuit I was forced to wear when I was six. It was actually very pretty and I thought I would like it. But the knit scratched me and constricted me. I sensitivefelt like I was being squeezed. After about ten minutes, I was in actual pain. The resulting temper tantrum must have confused my mother. If you spend time feeling fabrics to make sure they are soft against your skin and shoe shopping is a risky proposition, you are probably sensitive.
  2. There are some foods that will never cross your lips. I am a great believer in giving children no thank you helpings. It expands their palate. But for a sensitive person, taste is often amplified like everything else. Sommeliers are often sensitive. Sensitive people tend to be foodies because their taste buds are highly developed, but at the same time, they cannot force themselves to eat what is disgusting to them. My parents are fond of runny fried eggs. I cannot tolerate runny whites. Yolks are ok. Arguments have been had.
  3. You remember with complete clarity all of the embarrassing moments of your life. Oh, the self-recrimination! I found that imaginative prayer really helped clear my memory decks of those excruciating remembrances. But when you are constitutionally created to feel deeply, you kind of have to take the good with the bad. And to Mrs. Freeman, wherever you are, when I, a fourth grader, told you I liked your son, I meant as a friend.
  4. Art moves you. This sounds all very well and good, but folks, I am here to say that it is embarrassing. I weep at movies. It is a joke in our family. I often have to hold my breath and look away. Last night, I had to leave the room during a particularly embarrassing moment on a show I had already watched before. I read the end of books to make sure I can prepare myself for the ending. If the finale is tragic, I will often just skip it. I have my life to live. I do not have time for a protracted grieving period for a character in a book.
  5. People’s troubles sometimes affect you more than they affect the ones with the troubles. Being sensitive can nudge a person into the path of the people pleaser. Because you feel your emotions so strongly, you amplify the emotions you imagine other people feel. You go to enormous lengths to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. Then you wonder why they hurt yours so easily. After reading this, it should begin to occur to you that your experience of an event differs from theirs. Fortunately, I have learned to face telling the truth later in life. But sensitive people often become untruthful to ‘spare’ the feelings of others.
  6. You notice everything. I am generally the first to spot an animal in the wild. I just sense them. I can immediately tell if someone is looking at me. The nuances of body language and expression are an sensitiveopen book to me. I have a perfect color memory which means my friends drag me around to find matching home décor.

Sometimes I think life would be easier if I was less sensitive. On the other hand, writing the poetry I do would be impossible. But given the careful hands, God used to make creation with its subtleties and incredible splendor, I can’t help but think that He is sensitive too. After all, in order to hear Him, we have to listen to the still, small voice. And that voice can be so easily drowned out.

Sometimes I wonder why God doesn’t come blustering in, arms akimbo and shouting, “Listen up, you little miscreants!” But then I remember that He is after our hearts, and to win a heart takes a certain gentleness, a certain sensitivity. So if you find yourself in these six categories, you are a sensitive person. And that is a good thing. You just might have to fight a little harder to help people understand where you are coming from.

If you are a highly sensitive person, I suggest a couple of books on the topic. If you aren’t, I suggest you read these to figure out the sensitive people in your life. It is the sensitive thing to do…


Declutter Your Soul with Imaginative Prayer

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15 Replies to “In Defense of Sensitive and How to Tell If You Are”

  1. “People’s troubles sometimes affect you more than they affect the ones with the troubles.” Several times I have felt empathy to the point of becoming the other person. I told my husband that maybe my spiritual gift of mercy was malfunctioning.

  2. curvychristianity says: Reply

    Ohhhhhh I love this! Anything that can get me into the heart and mind of another person is wonderful. I am, perhaps, not to the same level of sensititve, but I am sure glad to have a better understanding of it! I am sure that this will help me navigate some interesting relationships a little better 🙂

  3. ewebster20142017 says: Reply

    How beautiful! One of my biggest fears is people not wanting to take me seriously because of my sensitivity to joking and sarcasm. It sounds a little silly, but I hate the idea that people think of me as sensitive. But you are so right in that this is the way God created me, and He pursues me with sensitivity.

  4. We are all unique and made in the image of God. Celebrate that! It is so good that you can accept who you are and share with others to bring more understanding to themselves.

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I am definitely sensitive and can agree with your list. I especially can’t stand scary, horror, violent images and I know what you mean about grieving characters. Things move me deeply and I have trouble ridding those emotions. Have you ever taken a personality test? I’m curious if we have similar personalities. I’ve always felt different (too sensitive) but now I do recognize that it’s ok.

  6. I heard “You’re too sensitive” frequently by family members when I was young! I couldn’t stand wet hair getting the collar of my shirt wet. I strongly disliked the seams in socks. Too many different noises taking place all at the same time hurts. Don’t get me started on the chewing of cereal! I detest being scared. But I also can read people like an open book and know what they are feeling. Given I’m a therapist, this completely makes sense why God created me to be sensitive.

  7. I loved this so much! Thank you for sharing a glimpse into your heart and perspective. I can be sensitive on occasion, but this really helped me to see things through your eyes. I will be much more mindful for those in my life who experience sensitivity. Bless you this week!

  8. Oh my goodness! So much of this describes me. I have a hard time watching comedies where someone’s situation keeps getting worse and worse. It doesn’t make me laugh and actually stresses me out. I am so funny about my clothes too. I think my son is like this too.

  9. I think I’m sensitive too! Pantyhose are the worst invention ever, they would drive me mad when I had to wear them. I also hate fluorescent lights, Walmart’s are the worse.
    Thank you for the reminder about uniqueness and God tailored us especially for His plans!

  10. Yup, this is me! I’m very picky about food and cry over most movies. I’m just learning how to express myself to my boyfriend without fear of hurting him. He is blunt and honest, so it makes it interesting!

  11. Wow, what insights. This is not me. But boy how I need you. You (meaning the sensitive folks in my life) keep me from becoming calloused and reminds me that God is sensitive/protective/compassionate towards me. And I need that. And I need to show that to others.

  12. This made me chuckle with recognition, thanks for sharing such a beautiful piece. I have always been told I was too sensitive, but learned to embrace it in my adulthood. However, my family would much prefer I liked loud tv, bright lights and movies that “might” have a sad ending 😉

  13. Wow! You have described me in so many ways! The creative person and sensitive person especially. God made us this way for His reasons and I’m learning to be content with it!

  14. So interesting! I can relate to spotting animals in the wild. But I am definitely a person who has had many embarrassing situations and learned just to let it roll off my back and laugh. I have to remind myself that not everyone is like that especially one of my children. She definitely fits several of these categories.

  15. I am thankful you have written about me ( :)) and shared what you have learnt, that we might share in your learning. A wise woman once said to me that God had not make a mistake making me the way I am. He made me like a violin; my taut strings snap easily, but God can make beautiful music with my life.
    I am sharing that because it is likely equally true of you, and it blessed me deeply.
    I am empathetic and extremely sensitive, and as I am getting nearer to 70, I have developed extreme sensitivity to noise [ ear-plugs in church!] . The upside of this is responding to God’s call to solitude and silence twice a day to help me cope when I am with people.
    Your blog posts are immensely interesting and helpful.

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