On the Art of Sensitivity

Butterfly Lounge, paper collage, 2023

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off… They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.

Pearl S. Buck

I am keenly aware that my sensitivity is at once my greatest gift and my greatest burden. It has always been that way, and it likely always will be. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Without it, I wouldn’t have the “overpowering necessity to create, create, create,” as Pearl Buck says. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to embrace the kind of play that makes art possible. Without it, a sunny spring day wouldn’t feel miraculous. A bird wouldn’t be awe-inspiring. The view from the top of a mountain wouldn’t make me feel as if I were seeing God. 

I know that may sound strange to you and that when I publish posts on these kinds of topics, some of you are probably thinking, “What the hell is she talking about?”I also know that retaining the capacity to be overwhelmed by the beauty of simple things—nay, of being able to feel as if I am experiencing the miraculous in everyday life—is what makes me value my sensitivity so very much.

Indeed, for highly sensitive people, the “highs” are extraordinarily high, and the “lows” can be extraordinarily low. Conflict, for instance, creates a huge “low” for me. There are few experiences that have the potential to devastate me like conflict does (at least, it always seems to feel devastating in the moment). If any of my important relationships is in turmoil, I have a tendency to feel as if my whole world is collapsing. And it can take me a long time to move past those negative emotions. There is a part of me that hates this. And there is another part of me that understands emotional overreaction is part of who I am and that the key to maintaining balance is knowing how to manage it properly.

It is my opinion that, while degrees of sensory and emotional sensitivity may vary from person to person, we were all born more sensitive than we are. When we’re taught to suppress or ignore our emotions and desires in order to “fit in” or be “normal” or do what we’re “supposed to do”, when we’re taught not to play or daydream, not to express ourselves in ways that feel natural to us, we begin losing touch with our innate sensitivity. When we stop creating, when we stop imagining and being curious, we lose touch with our sensitivity. When we trade time spent moving our bodies, working with our hands, getting adequate fresh air and sunshine, or being in nature for screen time and couch time and other forms of passive entertainment (in excess), we become further desensitized.

And while the contributions of highly sensitive people in many fields and disciplines are numerous, knowing how to keep our sensitivity in an increasingly desensitized world is, perhaps, chief among the lessons we can teach our less sensitive counterparts. Being so tuned in to our inner experiences and so hyper-aware of even subtle shifts in those experiences has its benefits…even if it also makes us a wee bit neurotic from time to time. Because I do believe we all have the capacity to regain our innate sensitivity and that reclaiming the sensitive aspects of our nature is integral to really discovering ourselves, or becoming who we are. 

It is my experience that many of the activities that can help us reclaim—or maintain—our sensitivity are simple and rather rudimentary and, with the exception of physical exercise, require stillness and concentration (no bright lights or loud noises or multi-tasking here). Gardening, cooking, meditating, spending time in nature quietly observing and appreciating all that nature has to offer, learning (or re-learning) how to play with abandon, making art, building something, writing something, or, really, doing anything creatively. I would also add: limiting our exposure to violent and/or oversexualized entertainment, which, it seems to me, overstimulates us in a very negative way, often without our realizing it. The idea, really, is to lower the bar, or threshold, for sensory stimulation by returning to a simpler way of being. After all, sensitivity is something we cannot be fully human without.

20 responses to “On the Art of Sensitivity”

  1. This reminds me of a hindi song “Jo Bhi Main” from the album “rockstar”. It is about a man’s plight of never being able to put into words the sensitive phenomenons that are inspired inside of him upon his interactions with the world. And upon how even attempting to put them into words destroy the sensibilities of those experiences, as he sees, for others.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Only a highly sensitive person like you, who perceives the world from another dimension, can write a text as sincere and brilliant as this one… The existential problem of sensitive beings is that they receive a lot of incomprehension from the world, this because their nature is seen as “strange” by others, but in return they have an advantage: they are able to perceive the world with magic and beauty, feeling art, music and nature in a unique way.
    Me ha gustado mucho tu texto, L. Feliz sábado!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, J. I think you’re right about “incomprehension” being an issue for sensitive people. We never quite fit in. When I was growing up, that was a big issue for me: I always felt like I was searching for others like me and couldn’t figure out what it was that made me different. But now…I wouldn’t trade my sensitivity for anything. The depth of feeling and creativity (especially creativity) that come with it are too important, too much a part of what makes life worth living. Thank you again for your feedback. Happy Saturday to you!

      Liked by 2 people

      • At that stage of adolescence, perhaps the hardest thing for a sensitive person to decide is how far to protect or force themselves, while still valuing a personality trait that offers so much that others lack. I’m glad you were able to finally find that balance that has managed to create an environment of comfort in which you can now be yourself.
        Feliz sábado, L. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • I spent a great deal of time and energy forcing myself to be other than I was. Fortunately, though, I don’t think I was very good at it. And once I reached that stage of maturity at which it felt vital to “return to myself”, my sensitivity was right there waiting for me. What’s been most rewarding has been embracing all the different ways I can channel it, especially in terms of creativity, and how different the world looks when I live in harmony with my sensitivity rather than fighting it. Embracing my sensitivity has shown me that I am capable of a great many things I at one time never thought possible. Feliz sábado, J. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. I especially relate to hiding your sensitivity and trying to be normal. Definitely happens, at least to me. There is desensitizing, but I wonder if that could also be because of how much information, and sensationalism is thrown at us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I absolutely think so. Too much information, too much sensationalism, and it’s given to us in a way that’s too bright, too loud, and too fast. And it never, ever stops. I think we often don’t realize how negatively those kinds of things can affect us. Thank you for the feedback! I’m happy to know this discussion resonates.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The world is truly a place abuzz with stimuli that is as overwhelming as it is stimulating. I love your reflection on how this effects us emotionally, especially as I am reading a couple pieces right now about the importance of stepping back and becoming more aware of our output. And this ending line too: “After all, sensitivity is something we cannot be fully human without.” Gorgeous!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you so much, Layla. It is, I think, vital to step back and be thoughtful about what we put out into the world–especially since there’s so much stimuli (and so much negative stimuli) all around us. I find the most soulful activities are those that allow me to become part of the silence. I always appreciate your feedback! Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The subject of your collage is living the dream! Floating, reading, surrounded by butterflies… 🦋 A perfect day! 😁 Your words I will take my time with, and I will no doubt, enjoy every minute. 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Indeed…stillness, simplicity, creating, moving our bodies are such wonderful ways to maintain the beautiful sensitivity we are all born with. It can be a burden sometimes but allowing ourselves time to feel, to hear, to take in and wonder at the world around us is a gift to give ourselves daily…and I agree, viewing overstimulating things works against us. Allowing our sensitivities to respond to the simple song of a bird, or the touch of gentle fingertips upon your skin allows us to live the way we are supposed to..with grace, with passion, with understanding, with connection…great entry, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: