Have you ever been bothered by your sensitivity? This is a long-standing problem for me, one that I routinely have to reign in or it mushrooms into anxiety and frustration. The last year has brought about many changes for us all. Some, affecting me personally was the resignation from a job, a son moving out, another son’s college searches and acceptance and then withdrawal from university to pursue a different path, irritation with the educational system’s failure to be transparent, a son moving home for the summer, a son becoming a transfer student, canceled travel plans, canceled graduation ceremony plans, isolation, getting used to retirement, and more. This is not to mention all the feelings associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the after-effects of poor decision making by our government.
I know I am not alone in these sensitivities, many have them and cope with them daily. Yet, my history of being sensitive goes way back to early childhood when I was sensitive to the smell of fresh-cut grass due to my perennial fall allergies. It goes back to having tags in my garments rub against my neck or hip or the small of my back and irritate me to the point of not being able to focus on anything else. It goes back to committee meetings when I was so impassioned about the subject matter that I could barely speak. The sensitivities also apply to social justice issues and the destruction of our earth home.
I learned, somewhat late in life, that I have what is known as Dabrowski’s Overexcitablilites. Dabrowski was a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist who devoted time to developing a framework useful in understanding the intensities that are commonly observed among the gifted but can be exhibited in others as well.
To quote an article on the SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) website, “Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience. Dabrowski identified five areas of intensity-Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. A person may possess one or more of these.” (Lind, S., 2011). Primarily, I have intellectual and emotional overexcitability.
Overexcitabilities result in seeing the world differently, more complex, multi-sided, and in feeling stronger about how reality plays out, not only for oneself but for others as well. They can lead to joy or the intense frustration of being misunderstood.
Over the years I’ve learned to deal with these sensitivities in various ways. One is to be a helper. This applies to my role as an environmental educator. I try to role model for our youth and community how to be an earth steward, to value and care for other species (both flora and fauna) with whom we share our home planet. I love information and learning. I research to find answers and then act to share the information I’ve found. This has been a trend my entire life, regardless of what profession I happen to be practicing.
I write more than I speak. This doesn’t mean that I cower or keep my opinions to myself. But, it does mean that I have to be more deliberate in getting my point across. This is difficult sometimes. I need time to explain my position, in its entirety, mainly because I’ve considered all the points. I’ve found that often people do not have the time or inclination to be good listeners. Those that have taken time to listen to what I have to say, know of my passion and intellect for specific subject areas. I have vision, motivation, and enthusiasm, but if shut down by lack of time, investment, or not an adequate amount of collegial support (which includes listening), I am misunderstood. This, in turn, leads to being brushed off in the future much more easily, and a cycle develops.
It means that I might have to change my clothes multiple times in one morning, such as I did today when I found a tag in my dress was uncomfortable. This has become rare, but occasionally it happens and when it does, I take care of it immediately. Changing clothes is easier than fighting with a piece of irritating clothing all day, and having that irritation affect my mood. My advice for anyone who has a child like this – for God’s sake, let them change their clothes! You’ll both be happier!
I think of all the times in my past when someone said to me, “you’re too sensitive.” It was usually said as a criticism. However, I value my sensitivity for the most part. Being in my mid-fifties, I’ve learned to embrace what makes me, well, me – sensitivities, overexcitabilities, and all the traits that go with them. Being a sensitive soul is not a bad thing, just different, and that difference is something I value, even if others, sometimes, fail to understand.
Are you a sensitive soul? How do you cope with your sensitivities?