Are You a Sensitive Person?

by Christopher Lovejoy on January 21, 2018

I cannot count the number of times in my life while growing up in a small town when someone had told me, with varying degrees of concern or complaint, that “you’re so sensitive” or “you’re too sensitive”.

As a child, I did a lot of observing and not a whole lot of talking. When I was 7 or 8, a tough boy at school approached me during recess one morning and made it clear to me that he did not like that I was so quiet and took it upon himself to set me straight by calling me out on it.

“Say something,” he said suddenly.

Caught off guard, I said nothing, pondering what to say or whether to say anything at all.

“Say something,” he intoned.

I sized him up with a steady gaze, observing his placid countenance, and then glanced at his buddy, knowing him to be a bully, and said nothing, a sense of dread gathering inside my gut.

“Say something.”

Again, I said nothing.

“Say something.”

Again, I said nothing.

“Say something.”

Captivated by his insistence, I surveyed his face for hints that might betray his feelings, but found none.

Again, I said nothing.

“Say something.”

Again, I said nothing.

“Say something.” By this time, the tone of his voice had found its untimely death in monotony. I turned away, and, presumably taking this as disdain, he violated my space by getting in my face.

“Say something.”

A complicated mix of tears welled in my eyes.

At last, he relented, but a few days later (was it a few days later? maybe, but for narrative purposes, it sounds apropos), he approached me again, determined to set me straight, but in those few days, I had already figured out how to handle his insistence that I say something.

With his bully buddy looking on bemusedly, he launched another salvo.

“Say something.”

I held my ground and said nothing.

“Say something.”

“Something.”

Without missing a beat, he persisted: “say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

“Something.” I began walking, and they followed alongside me, on either side of me, almost touching.

“Say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

By this time, they had backed me against a wall.

“Something,” I replied with an inflection that gave a hint of hope.

“Say something.”

“Something,” I responded, softening up my voice with sensitivity.

“Say something.”

“Something,” I rejoined, matching his deadly monotonous tonality.

“Say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

“Something.”

“Say something.”

“Something.” I spoke it calmly, and with a hint of defiance, but with a defiance mixed with dread that I might get beaten up for being so brazen. He finally relented, but not before shooting me with a glare.

He never bothered me after that.

The moral of the story? When someone insists on goading you with “say something”, say “something.”

Actually, truth be told, there is more to this anecdote than meets the eye or mind. Much more. But before I broach this “much more”, I feel compelled to take a quick detour.

I like to peruse the daily news online to stay informed about what is happening in the city in which I live and I invariably find an inordinate number of news items appearing that speak to desperate reactions, sometimes in far away places, but most often in the city or region where I live.

It is also clear to me, based on fleeting daily interactions with people on the street and in local shops, that the privileged ones among us have abandoned them en masse to fend for themselves. The underclasses not only do not appear all that happy, they seem steeped in a sad resignation born of misery.

The privileged classes among us have two tactics of manipulation at their disposal with which to cope with this dark underbelly: normalization and minimization. If they can’t normalize the problem (“it’s a tough world out there”), they can at least minimize it (“it’s not as bad as all that”).

This cynical detachment has been the bane of humanity for much of its history, but I also think there is a real chance of heating and melting its cowardly influence in the face of some deep heartfelt truth.

In rising to the heart of sensitivity, a key distinction is required, one that honors the difference between “the ease with which feelings can be evoked” and “the ease with which feelings can be provoked”.

This distinction is a subtle one and so let us explore and examine it with sensitivity by starting with this question: in your daily affairs, in your daily interactions, are you sensitive or … susceptible?

For me, this question is top of mind with respect to what is currently happening in this cauldron of a world bubbling over with desperate reactions born of misery, depravity, and insanity that presently seem far away to me ~ that is to say, the reactions, not the consequences that arise or ensue in their wake.

For me, sensitivity carries a positive connotation and I invite you to hold that thought for a moment.

In the documentary that goes by the name of Sensitive: the Untold Story, which you can watch here for free, a strong case is made for the positivity of sensitivity in contrast to the reality of susceptibility, having me realize deeply that sensitivity is not merely the domain of artists, poets, and writers, but also the domain of high performance athletes and executives.

Reference: Sensitive: the Untold Story (2015) 1 hr, 4 min

In saying this, I find myself inclined to speak of the yin and yang of sensitivity. In a nutshell, if the soul of involvement is receptive, then the spirit of engagement is assertive. An athlete in flow with yin and yang can be just as sensitive to cues in the environment as an artist can be to the cues of experience.

By contrast, in speaking to the reality of susceptibility or, more precisely, differential susceptibility, one is well advised to speak to what I call the catalysts of underwhelm and overwhelm: too little stimulus is a cue to get moving; too much stimulus is a cue to slow down and adjust.

If I am (more or less) susceptible to being affected by cues and clues in my environment or experience, then I am (more or less) sensitive to receiving, reflecting upon, and responding to said cues and clues.

If I am susceptible to cues that affect me negatively, then my feelings are subject to provocation, but if I am susceptible to cues that affect me positively, then my feelings are subject to evocation, and I remain sensitive to responding to the extent to which I remain sensitive to feeling.

In this light, it doesn’t make sense to say that I am too susceptible ~ either I am or I am not. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to say that I am too sensitive when I respond to my cues, whether such response is perceived as positive and effective or as negative and destructive.

I am susceptible (more or less) to being affected positively or negatively, just as I am sensitive (more or less) to my feelings in responding positively, negatively, or neutrally, but what if I ignore or dismiss, avoid or evade the cues presented by my environment or experience, such that the resulting stress or distress underwhelms or overwhelms me to the point of anger or upset?

If I react in anger or withdraw in upset, am I too sensitive? If the reaction or withdrawal is perceived as justified, am I too sensitive? And why brand myself as too sensitive if my reaction or withdrawal is the best possible response that I could give in the moment that it occurred?

Key question: not justified according to whose agency and authority?

Circling back to my anecdote at the beginning of this post, I could very well ask myself: was my childhood partner in contrast not doing me a favor by getting me to open up and “say something”?

Or was he confessing his own insecurity around the silence of a deep contemplative nature?

The social catalyst on offer afforded me an opportunity to experience a unique situation, one that I took to heart with sensitivity, responding in ways that felt good and right for me, regardless of any ensuing consequences that might have brought about grievous harm to my person.

Everyone alive is susceptible to the catalytic potential of environmental or experiential stimulus, weak or strong, short or long, just as everyone alive is sensitive to feeling into responding positively, negatively, or neutrally to the relevant and significant cues, some more so than others, some less so than others.

Are you a sensitive person? Of course you are, and so, by all means, make the most of your sensitivity.

Are you a highly sensitive person? You could be, regardless of what anyone might have to say about that, including yourself at this time, in which case you might want to do a bit of digging and exploring to find out just how sensitive you are so as to reap the benefits of this beautiful and blessed sensitivity.

If you know that you are highly sensitive generally, or highly sensitive to certain situations or interactions, then what better way to get know yourself than to play in the space between stimulus and response.


To share information and inspiration on what is happening on this troubled yet promising world, I drew up two lists of sites that are serving the causes of personal, global and/or cosmic awakening.

This post has been filed under Application in the Ultimate Outline.

Note: my evolving outline on approaching a realization of the ultimate in personal fulfillment can be found here, accessible from the nav menu under the page “Be Here Now”.

Note: this ever growing perspective began here: Ultimate Perspective

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