Sensitive? Or Susceptible?

by Christopher Lovejoy on September 7, 2020

In everyday discourse, we typically like to use words that are short and sweet, punchy and to the point. So what are we to do with a word like “susceptible” in a discussion about sensitivity? Even worse, who uses the word “susceptibility” in a conversation about personal affairs?

These objections might explain why sensitivity is confused with susceptibility.

Nowadays, the adjective “sensitive” carries two essential meanings, both of them positive in their connotation; the adjective “susceptible,” on the other hand, offers one essential meaning in relation to “sensitive,” a meaning that is not so positive in its connotation, as can be seen here:

sensitive (adj.): (1) quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences
sensitive (adj.): (2) having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of feelings

susceptible (adj.): likely or liable to be influenced or harmed by a particular thing

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyways, a sensitive person need not be susceptible. Indeed, next to susceptibility, sensitivity in a person is a very positive quality. When I make time to really feel into the adjective “susceptible,” I cannot help but be reminded of the term “vulnerable.”

susceptible (adj.): likely or liable to be influenced or harmed by a particular thing

vulnerable (adj.): susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm

As we can see, vulnerability is a child of susceptibility. In academic discourse, vulnerability is touted as a positive quality, but when we pay close attention to the meaning of “vulnerable,” we can see just how misguided this is. In view of this, sensitivity ought to be touted as desirable.

Are You Sovereign?

In giving these definitions some thought, I find myself in wonder: what distinguishes someone who is sensitive from someone who is susceptible or vulnerable by reason of being in need of special care, or support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect?

In a word? Sovereignty.

The conventional definition of sovereign runs as follows . . .

sovereign (adj.): possessing supreme or ultimate power

Applied to nations, the term “sovereign” describes two conditions, one external and one internal. Internally speaking, a sovereign nation is one that holds supreme power over the people within its domain; externally speaking, such a nation enjoys complete freedom from foreign rule.

As a noun, “sovereign” typically refers to “a supreme ruler, especially a monarch,” and is used as a title for “the highest leader.” Sovereign is a term borrowed from Old French souverain, which ultimately derives from Latin superanus (I kid you not), which simply means “above.”

In view of these archaic meanings, let us see if we can rescue the term “sovereign” from its questionable origins. In using the word “sove-reign,” one is reminded of self-rule, of having agency, authority, and autonomy with and for the self in relation to others and to the world at large.

Internally speaking, a sovereign person is one who can handle the agency, authority, and autonomy to hold supreme power over the stimuli and influences within its domain; externally speaking, such a sovereign enjoys complete freedom with and from the foreign influence of others.

agency (n.): (1) the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment; (2) the capacity of an actor to engage with social structures; (3) the ability of an actor to make the choice to act

authority (n.): (1) the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience; (2) the power that one person or group possesses and exercises over another person or group

autonomy (n.): (1) the capacity of an agent to act with objective morality rather than under the influence of impulses; (2) freedom from external control or influence; independence

The power that comes with having agency and authority, and therefore autonomy, is necessarily egoic in nature, but need not turn corrupt or criminal as a consequence. By the same token, the power that comes with having sensitivity need not be susceptible as a consequence.

In word and deed, sensitivity contributes both to agency and authority, as follows:

sensitive (adj.): (1) quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences (applies to agency)
sensitive (adj.): (2) having or displaying a quick, delicate appreciation of feelings (applies to authority)

In view of these applications, you are sovereign to the degree to which you can apply your sensitivity to your agency and authority on your way to becoming autonomous in your person, i.e., to becoming free from external control (with agency) and free from influence (with authority).

As a sovereign in your own right, by virtue of your birthright, you remain a free agent to the extent to which you can exercise control over your environment with sensitivity, and you remain an author of your destiny to the extent to which you can influence others to follow your lead, and remain immune to following the lead of others, most especially when such a lead is not legitimate.

In light of these distinctions, a more contemporary, less absolute definition of sovereign emerges:

sovereign (adj.): possessing the requisite power to exercise free agency and authorship

Such power is relative to the agent and author who can act more or less autonomously.

Are You Highly Susceptible?

Highly sensitive persons: are they highly susceptible persons? Not necessarily. The distress or upset of those who are highly sensitive to feelings and cues in their environments, reacting inappropriately to stimuli that trouble or disturb, indicates susceptibility more than sensitivity.

The highly susceptible person is more sensitive to slight or threat than a highly sensitive person who is not susceptible. This rather unfortunate condition can likely be traced back to an insecure attachment from infancy or to a queasy and questionable upbringing from childhood.

Susceptibility can also be traced to toxicities in food, water, and air, among other things.

Which is not to say that highly susceptible persons cannot become highly sensitive persons. Such persons, whether in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, and with the appropriate detoxification protocols, can be given strategies to make the most of their sensitivity to slight or threat.

Many adults carry patterns of behavior left over from infancy, childhood, or adolescence that cause them to be unusually susceptible to slight or threat, making them all the more likely to be unduly influenced or harmed. Here are 7 telltale clues that they labor under a susceptibility:

1) they react intensely and repeatedly to certain apparent slights or threats;
2) they keep taking certain apparent slights or threats personally;
3) they remain oblivious to certain apparent slights or threats;
4) they keep blaming others for certain apparent slights or threats;
5) they insist on having their way in reaction to certain apparent slights or threats;
6) they become passive-aggressive in response to certain apparent slights; and
7) they become possessive in response to certain apparent threats

The signs of susceptibility also indicate physically and/or emotionally painful memories that have been frozen in time, which have a gravity all their own when they come into contact with stimuli later in life that enlarge the significance of painful memories and cause more pain.

These unfortunate emotional attractors of pain generate biases in thinking and hidden prejudices that further distort thinking and lead to even more ignorance and delusion, which only serve to cement ideas that are more or less fixed and bear little if any relationship to reality.

These unfortunate tendencies are carryovers from infancy, childhood, or adolescence in need of integration. Keep in mind, too, that successful integration at any stage means more capacity to integrate. This virtuous cycle will have one become less susceptible and more sensitive.

Here are 3 basic steps to educate and parent the infant, child, or adolescent within:

1) desire: make a note of when and where you feel unduly sensitive to slight or threat
2) accept: do not ignore, dismiss, avoid, suppress, evade, or bypass the susceptibility
3) intend: devise a tactic with clear strategies to turn a susceptibility into a sensitivity

This very basic practical frame is best placed in the context of manifesting desired results, but before we go there, let us briefly touch on a proposition that seems almost too obvious to make explicit.

Human Beings Have a Serious Problem

It almost goes without saying that humanity as a whole has a serious problem with authority.

Most human beings are quite capable of exercising free agency, when given half a chance. Most human beings also understand and appreciate what it means to transmute urges and impulses into desires to be free of external control or influence, and will do so when given half a chance.

What most human beings, however, cannot and will not bear is authority without legitimacy, i.e., the presumption or corruption of power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience as and when it is done at the expense of another. Even when the power or right to do so is legitimate, serious questions arise as and when situations and circumstances grow ever more complex.

Socially engineering the appearance of legitimacy has occupied a lot of attention.

Even legitimate authority is susceptible to immature conduct and narcissistic abuse ~ on both sides of the power equation. Creative, productive individuals who might otherwise have much to contribute turn away in disgust and go it alone, repulsed by the corruption of legitimacy.

The result is a culturally stale, stagnant world marked by mediocrity.

Might there be a way out of this cesspool?

In my post, In Lak’ech, Ala K’in, under the heading Strong, Smart, Savvy Followers, I raised the issue of effective, decisive leadership in the context of six leadership styles. The results of the research on leadership are clear: the most effective leadership style is authoritative.

Leaders who employ this style of leadership are visionaries more often than not; they inform and inspire their followers by making it clear to them how their contributions fit into a bigger picture. Those who work with such leaders understand that what they do matters, and why.

Authoritative leaders encourage followers to ask questions (inquiry) as much as speak in favor of certain points of view (advocacy) ~ to cast their attention inward as much as outward. When balance is maintained, performance remains high. In other words, they flourish as a group.

Not so if authority and legitimacy are undermined by immature conduct and narcissistic abuse.

In a complex world, such behavior can no longer be tolerated without serious consequence.

Susceptibility > > > Sensitivity

I pride myself on being sensitive to cues and clues, and I trust that you do, too. I also acknowledge that, at any given moment, I could be more than a little susceptible to hurt or harm. This recognition is vital to us all for the simple reason that it alerts us to the significance of sensitivity.

What I propose is a pathway that leads from susceptibility to sensitivity, one that requires parental oversight, regardless of whether you yourself are a parent or in the role of parent. For ease of reference, here again are the steps for parenting the infant, child, and adolescent within:

1) desire: make a note of when and where you feel unduly sensitive to slight or threat
2) accept: do not ignore, dismiss, avoid, suppress, evade, or bypass the susceptibility
3) intend: devise a tactic with clear strategies to turn a susceptibility into a sensitivity

This final step, intention, is best viewed in view of personal manifestation. Fortunately for us all, the royal road to manifestation has been mapped. Herewith, the essentials of manifesting desired results:

1) allow yourself to envision the life of your dreams: what do you really, truly desire?
2) focus on a particular outcome that excites intense desire and brings the vision alive
3) accept that your desire is possible, that you are worthy and deserving of receiving

4) intend to manifest your deepest heartfelt desire without hesitation or reservation
5) act while assuming the feeling of the wish fulfilled, conducting yourself accordingly
6) release your desire with no expectation of how and when or whether it manifests

Let us suppose that someone you know relies on delusion as a defense to cope with a susceptibility. A delusion is an erroneous belief held fast and fixed in the face of evidence to the contrary. For example, “I must know that I can have the acceptance, affection, and approval of others before I can be seen and heard in public; otherwise, I can not and will not leave the comfort of my home.”

This susceptibility is the influence of being treated with anything less than acceptance in the presence of strangers. With a few tweaks, such a susceptibility can be turned into a sensitivity: (1) “must” > “prefer to”; (2) what if I allow myself to have the acceptance of just one person?; (3) what if I allow myself to be rejected by just one person?; (4) could I allow myself to be sensitive to rejection?

This process can be taken further in view of personal manifestation as a whole . . .

Could I allow myself to live in a world where I enjoy the acceptance of others more often than not? Could I allow myself to focus specifically on having and enjoying the acceptance of a small group of friends? Could I allow myself to believe that such an outcome is possible? Could I allow myself to feel worthy and deserving of such an outcome? Can I now allow myself to manifest this outcome?

I hereby intend to manifest this outcome sooner rather than later and without hesitation or reservation; to act decisively and effectively while assuming the feeling of the wish fulfilled; and to release any expectation of how and when or even whether this outcome manifests at all.

The process is simple, but not always easy to endure. In light of this admission, we could learn a lot from those who make it a practice to educate and parent highly susceptible children ~ children with insecure attachment styles and children with queasy and questionable upbringings.

Here, let us also never forget the power of detoxification, where appropriate.

Highly Susceptible Children

Highly sensitive children who are rarely if ever susceptible to slight or threat are a marvel to behold. They require little if any discipline simply because they already know, more often than not, how to parent themselves, to find and follow and flow with their own unique inspiration.

Highly susceptible children, however, are not so fortunate.

Consider: which of these two types of children best describes your inner child at this time?

Practitioners who deal with highly susceptible children have said that it’s hard to know how to properly discipline them because they feel more deeply than other children, but as we’ve already seen, depth of feeling might only ever be a susceptibility in a child if it cannot be handled.

If highly sensitive children seem highly susceptible to slight or threat, this might simply mean that they are leading with the introverted feeling function and are not being properly supported, which has nothing to do with being insecure; insecurity requires a very different response.

Nevertheless, can children with insecure attachment styles be helped to reframe susceptibility as sensitivity? In the same breath, we might also turn over the proverbial coin: can the inner child with an insecure attachment style be helped to reframe susceptibility as sensitivity?

First, it bears repeating that sensitivity is not susceptibility (necessarily):

sensitive (adj.): (1) quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences
sensitive (adj.): (2) having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of feelings

susceptible (adj.): likely or liable to be influenced or harmed by a particular thing

Second, displays of inappropriate excessive emotion (irritability and excitability) indicate one of two conditions: (1) poorly supported sensitivity in the face of real or perceived slights or threats, or (2) high susceptibility to being affected by slights or threats, both real and perceived.

Third, irritability and excitability combined is not a temperament; it’s a reaction. Highly susceptible children are overwhelmed by too much stimulation, which in turn begs for two responses: (1) remove them from overstimulating environments; and (2) stop over-scheduling them.

Fourth, where possible, calibrate stimulation to susceptibility so that sensitivity can arise. This might mean starting with a plain environment, after which more stimulation can be added over time. Or it might mean starting with a few activities in a day and adding more over time.

Fifth, be sensitive to the difference between efforts and results, and appreciate the effort. In difficult or demanding situations or circumstances, highly susceptible children are prone to lie to get their way or get away: care enough about truth to encourage these children to speak truth.

Sixth, it might be tempting to issue ultimatums in response to negative conduct; focus instead on proposing rewards for positive behavior, and follow up consistently with rewards if as when positive behavior is forthcoming. Likewise, reward the realization of behavioral milestones.

Seventh, using labels and mirrors, help highly susceptible children stay in touch with their feelings by putting appropriate words to feelings, so that they’re less inclined to act up or act out and more inclined to verbalize their feelings when they feel the urge or impulse to act up or out.

Examples: it looks like you’re feeling anxious about this; it sounds like you’re feeling nervous about doing this; it seems like you’re feeling a little down in the dumps today; it feels like you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this; it sounds like you’re feeling irritable about having to do this.

Eighth, in the moment of overwhelm, make a point of encouraging highly susceptible children to seek and find solutions to their own anxieties. Help them frame problems in ways that make it easy for them to resolve; give them viable clues or options to help them dispatch problems.

Finally, get a knack for when to go easy and when to stay the course. When highly susceptible children cry or feel bad after breaking a rule, it’s recognized that caregivers not be too quick to give them a pass or bail them out. Gentle discipline will always be a part of the learning process.

These guidelines are as applicable to the inner child as they are to highly susceptible children.

If you’re feeling it, think about how you might apply these guidelines to your own inner child.

Are You Still Childlike?

How good are you at playing pretend? How good are you at being someone you’re not? At seeming to be better than you are? At being more competent, intelligent, effective, or attractive than you are? At being happier, more satisfied, and/or more successful than you are?

These are not idle questions.

The inner child loves to play pretend. You could even go so far as to say that any dark pretense at all is childish, whereas any light pretense is childlike. Are you tempted to transcend the play of presence and pretense by dismissing your inner child? I would not recommend it.

Here’s my recommendation: steer your inner child towards becoming or remaining childlike, in awe and wonder, with deep presence, through the play of light pretense, if as when the impulse to indulge the play of pretense, alone or with others, feels good and right and pure.

Some quick tips to cultivate and celebrate a childlike wonder:

1) be here now: as much as possible, speak or write about what is happening now; keep exploring and expressing what you really need or truly desire rather than complain about what you didn’t get or deserve.

2) be the cause: be the cause, just because, and be at the source of choice: no one makes you feel good or bad; rather, you let others make you feel good or bad ~ keep bringing your thoughts and feelings home.

3) no praise, no blame: the inner critic is the enemy of the inner child: stop judging yourself and others with praise and blame; consider: “I appreciate . . .” and “Interesting point of view; I think/feel . . .”

4) see the you in me: be mindful of the difference between “you” and “the you in me;” use labels if as when you feel tempted to confuse the two: “you seem sad today” rather than “why are you so sad today?”

The inner child can be trusted to meet you half way, as long as you keep bringing your inner child out to play with a love pure, deep, and true: there’s no better way to neutralize the influence of judge and critic, and no better way to expand and extend compassion to them both.

Suggested Reading: Embrace the Inner Child

Are We Still Childish?

When it comes to being silly, there’s a fine line to be drawn between childish and childlike, only because the energy of blame in the midst of play can be quite subtle when the intent remains obscure. We are childlike in play to the degree to which we keep praise and blame to a minimum.

But can we remain childlike in the face of childishness?

Is the immature child any match for the magical child?

Narcissistic abuse and immature conduct is a co-dependent dynamic that is the bane of humanity, the one dynamic that represents a very long-standing addiction to power, one that deceives, seduces, manipulates, and exploits by way of separation, division, rejection, and exclusion.

Immature conduct is childish conduct in view of a gaping wound of separation ~ a clue to one side of a co-dependency in relationship that pits a brutal critic against a cruel adversary ~ and on the other side of this gaping wound of separation lies a paradise of peace and prosperity.

For those caught inside this co-dependency, sensitivity is susceptibility:

1) they react intensely and repeatedly to certain apparent slights or threats;
2) they keep taking certain apparent slights or threats personally;
3) they remain oblivious to certain apparent slights or threats;
4) they keep blaming others for certain apparent slights or threats;
5) they insist on having their way in reaction to certain apparent slights or threats;
6) they become passive-aggressive in response to certain apparent slights; and
7) they become possessive in response to certain apparent threats

It if weren’t for these malignant dynamics in co-dependency being so widespread, more of us would pay more attention to what is happening in and to this world without feeling so inclined to pass it off as someone else’s problem with sheeplike obedience to questionable authority.

Such a wholesale response indicates a glaring lack of maturity, which is childish by definition.

Truth be told, obedience to authority, legitimate or otherwise, is a tough nut to crack. At the root of being, we are creatures of habit, and when things go well, we rely on the habit of compliance to buy the freedom to keep having and doing what we’ve already been having and doing.

When a crisis of conscience or confidence arises, we let it be someone else’s problem until it passes, and only feel obligated to contribute a token or two of our time or money if as when it is generally expected of us by those who occupy or advertise positions of legitimate authority.

We obey for the good of society; we obey celebrities who exude auras of supernatural power; we obey mandates because we interpret them as legitimate, owing to their source; and we obey the commands of religious authorities to conform ~ “to belong, to believe, to become.”

We also readily and willingly obey or comply when it is seen to be in our best interests, which includes comfort, pleasure, satisfaction, money, status, a job, a reputation, the unity and harmony of family, and the freedom to pursue desirable prospects to secure a future of ease.

A political ruler who is seen by much if not most of the populace to safeguard and secure these interests in the face of widespread lack or loss is given far more leeway to put followers at ease (and in debt) than a political ruler who can stay the course with responsible stewardship.

When the opportunistic leader carefully sacrifices the few (even if vulnerable) for the sake of the many, there is a tacit understanding that the many will enter what are known in political discourse as “zones of tolerance” or “zones of indifference” that buffer negative blowback.

We also obey or comply under what is known as “fear of sanctions” that is generated by those in authority, legitimate or otherwise, to enforce mandates (that are seen to affect the welfare of everyone) with a loss of privilege or the threat of violence against those who dare disobey.

Examples are made of rebels to spread a contagion of fear so that the sanctioned can do the sanctioning.

If all else fails, authorities, legitimate or otherwise, can always break the spirit of courage and confidence by gaslighting subjects with a false sense of reality to (a) reduce their capacities to discern and judge what is right from wrong, and (b) make them incapable of resistance.

When we add all this up, narcissistic abuse and immature conduct are inevitable.

Predators and Parasites

As the world grows ever more complex and complicated, we grow ever more sensitive or susceptible to rejection. In view of this observation, being or becoming ever more sensitive to rejection is a good thing ~ a very good thing ~ but being susceptible to rejection? Not so much.

At first blush, many if not most slights and threats are merely apparent. As interactions and situations grow more complex and complicated, so too do the number and nature of apparent slights and threats. Time, money, energy ~ all are at risk of being consumed by “the other.”

Predatory slights and threats are made apparent by their presumptive nature: “I will take away your time, money, and energy when it suits my purpose and my interests, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” In the psychiatric literature, this take is called “narcissistic supply.”

Parasitical slights and threats, on the other hand, are made apparent by their consumptive nature: “I will suck away your time, money, and energy when it suits my purpose and my interests, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Here, “sucks to be you” is unusually precise.

Now a slight might not sound like much, but when you add them up over time, they can all too quickly and easily add up to something quite substantial, even formidable, even to the point of becoming a threat. Threats, on the other hand, can be slight, but again, when you add them up over time, they too can all too quickly and easily add up to something quite substantial, even formidable.

The key takeaway here is that it pays to be attentive, and sensitive, to slights and threats, which is what most of us humans are inclined to do anyways, even if it doesn’t seem that that is what we are doing, given how preoccupied we are at saving face and keeping up appearances.

I respectfully invite you to take just a moment to contemplate the sheer amount of wasted time, money, and energy that you and your loved ones spend on dodging slights and threats in the course of a single day or week to comprehend just how much humanity is shortchanging itself.

Sensitivity as Susceptibility?

In allowing yourself to contemplate the ramifications of so much wasted time, money, and energy, ask yourself: is there such a thing as being too sensitive to slights and threats, so much so that a sensitivity to rejection becomes a susceptibility to rejection? This indeed is a fair question.

The answer to this question comes from a rather unusual place: Zen stories.

Be open to explore.

The story of The Farmer’s Horse reminds us to be mindful of the impulse to judge too quickly. We think we know all that there is to know, and behave like predators when we presume to take the floor (or the stage) to broadcast our knowledge and wisdom like it’s nobody’s business.

Be open to expand.

The story of The Learned Student reminds us to be mindful of our parasitical leanings to filling up our cups, so as to release the weight of too many opinions, or the weight of opinions that have long lost their cachet, so that there’s enough space for new and fresh insights to emerge.

Be open to extend.

The Couple on the Donkey reminds us of the predatory human impulse to judge, judge, judge, no matter the context (“how mean, how cruel, how careless, how stupid, how ridiculous”). In view of others, we would do well to recall when to ignore, dismiss, or bypass what others think.

Be open to express.

The Move would have us be mindful of the parasitical impulse to rely on stale and stagnant information. We do well to beware that what we seek might already contain or carry what we already do not need or want: the grass is not always greener on the other side of the proverbial fence.

If P is the impulse to judge too quickly, then Q can be the empty cup waiting to be filled. If P is not always what it appears to be, then Q can be a new and fresh insight or perspective into the nature or meaning of P. We can mind our Ps and Qs with a keen sensitivity to slight or threat.

The name of the game is Equanimity.

When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune any longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it ~ Marcus Aurelius

Wayne Dyer was once quoted as saying, how people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours. If I reject X, will X reject me? If I allow myself to be rejected without comment or question, will I once again be rejected? Wait, was that slight or threat intentional or incidental?

We are all predatory and parasitical by nature for two simple reasons: (1) the bodies and brains that we occupy are predatory, and (2) these bodies are tried and tested by all manner of parasites. In view of these less-than-flattering reasons, we all have our work cut out for us.

One, let us stop con-fusing susceptibility with sensitivity. Two, let us be sensitive ~ not vulnerable. Three, let us hone the meaning of sovereignty to include the powers of agency, authorship, and autonomy. Four, let us be ever mindful of our susceptibilities to slights and threats. Five, let us devise tactics with clear strategies that quickly and easily turn susceptibilities into sensitivities.

In view of humanity’s flawed relationship with authority, let us make narcissistic abuse and immature conduct prime targets for life: (1) be here now, by keeping the focus on what is required or desired; (2) be the cause, just because, by having yourself have others feel good or better; (3) keep replacing praise with appreciation; keep replacing blame with “interesting point of view.”

Finally, let us short-circuit the childish habit of projecting ourselves onto others. If humanity is to stand any chance of bringing forth a world of peace and prosperity in light of unity and harmony, let it be quick to heal its moronic, monstrous addiction to power, the sooner the better.

Without falling prey to authoritarian schemes and without indulging intolerant views and practices.

The magical child within deserves no less.


is spite a weapon best reserved
for things that actually matter?

~ yours

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