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Is hypersensitivity a blessing or a curse ?

One characteristic which has always been part of my personality is the fact that I’m hypersensitive. This has often been seen as a burden to be overcome. That is because while I am aware of my heightened emotions at all times, others tend to notice this more in when I’m bathing in negative feelings.

As a child, I would laugh and cry for no reason that anyone else could understand. My poor mother anguished over how best to deal with me. She had six daughters and ran a home-based daycare, she simply did not have the time and energy required to get into my head and help me make sense of my world. I would often be told to stop over-reacting and that I had to learn how to make my reactions proportionate to the events which were occurring.

This lack of understanding of one of my most fundamental personality traits led me to develop clinical depression and suicidal fixation by my late teens. I wanted nothing so much as to simply stop feeling everything all of the time. I began to develop some bad habits in my early twenties which were mostly focused on numbing my reactions to the world around me. Obviously, this was never the correct path to follow.

When I was about twenty five, I decided to open a home-based daycare like my mother before me. One of the very positive aspects of my hypersensitivity is that I can love very quickly and very strongly. I quickly developed a core group of clients who felt blessed to know that they had a daycare provider who, while their children were in my care, would love and support their children as if they were my own babies.

In one instance, a six month old infant was having a terrible time teething. He had several teeth breaking through at the same time and to make matters worse, his mother had only recently gone back to work. Between the anguish of being separated from his mother for the first time in his life and being in more pain than he’d ever known, the poor child could not stop screaming.

In many daycare situations, this poor baby would have had to cry himself to sleep and learn to self-soothe very quickly. I had five other children to care for and needed to cook, clean, and entertain everybody. I could have put him in his playpen and simply checked on him every twenty minutes or so to apply his teething gel and adjust his mobile… however I could not bear to allow the poor child to suffer from something so far beyond his understanding of the world. So, I purchased a baby wearing scarf.

When his mother dropped him off in the morning, we would simply transfer his tiny sleeping form from his car seat directly into my sling. He’d stay there, next to my heart until his mother arrived at noon to nurse him then he’d go right back in for the afternoon until she came to pick him up. He still screamed from time to time and even managed to give me a bloody nose once with a well placed punch but his mother could concentrate on doing her job well because she knew that her little treasure was as loved as he would have been with her.

When the economic crisis of 2008 hit us in rural Indiana, most of my clients lost their jobs. With no children to care for, my daycare failed and I found myself unable to pay rent on my home. The family of this little boy opened their home and hearts to my animals and me for the next year and a half. I would watch their kids when they were at work and when they got home, I worked on getting back on my own feet. More than a decade later, I still think about them daily and I know that my family and I are often mentioned in their evening prayers.

While working with children over the last two decades of my life, I’ve come to realize that being hypersensitive to others’ emotional states means that I can identify with ease those children who need their hug to last just a little bit longer than usual, those children who need someone to sit quietly beside them and listen, those children who do not feel heard or understood. I can blur the line between friend and authority figure for many children so that they feel comfortable asking me questions they would never dare ask another adult in their lives. Given some of the encounters I have had, I am sure that my ability to put their minds at ease has helped a good number of young souls to set aside their worries and concentrate on enjoying life.

Being hypersensitive has made me a better mother. While our teenagers don’t always want to discuss what is going on, I can often notice small changes in their behaviors which my husband doesn’t see. This has allowed us to have him plan some alone time with the troubled child to allow them a chance to confide in their father over whatever is happening.

I’ve been highly aware of my little girl’s emotional states ever since her birth. I’ve been able to understand and appreciate her attempts at communication since very early on. In one instance, when she was around four months old, I was changing her diaper and she reached over to me. Curiously, I allowed her to manipulate my arm. She brought my elbow to her mouth, attempted to nurse on it, and burst into a fit of giggles. I looked at my folded arm and understood instantly that my folded elbow was indeed quite round with a sharp point and yes, it DID resemble a nipple. My tiny pre-verbal baby had made her first joke! My ability to perceive and understand what she was expressing meant that this charming moment did not get overlooked as something as simple as gas giggles.

She has learned that if Papa doesn’t understand what she’s trying to say, she needs to come to Mom for a translation. I can pick up on cues that her papa simply doesn’t notice. For example, when she pointed out this light in the bathroom of our new house, exclaimed “Nose light!” and started giggling, I was instantly able to see what she saw and laugh along with her. Now, each night as she puts on her pajamas and delays bedtime by saying goodnight to everything she sees, we both blow a kiss and wish her nose-light a goodnight.

Liliana's Nose Light

Being hypersensitive means that yes, it doesn’t take much to cut me deeply. I am fully and constantly aware of the smallest expressions and subterfuges of the people around me. I can, from time to time, find myself hurt to the point of tears by a small comment from someone I care about.

Fortunately my loved ones are aware of this and will not hesitate to explain when I’ve misunderstood their meaning. I’ve also developed, over time and through endless conversations with my husband, the ability to express what has hurt me and why I reacted so strongly using language that non hypersensitive people can comprehend.

Noticing small insults has, however, made me hyper-aware of the facades and subterfuge of those who I feel very friendly towards but whose intentions towards me are less than genuine. This allows me, more often than not, the time to start building an emotional wall to protect myself before their words and actions have a chance to escalate to the point of consciously trying to hurt me. Often these people are those for whom someone like me, someone who feels everything strongly and is unashamed to have emotions, is seen as a target with weak defenses who they could easily destroy. Often they are surprised when I do not react quite as they predicted.

Yes, it’s heartbreaking each and every time that this situation replays. However I have developed a pride in my sensitivity which grants me the resilience to weather the storm of emotions and hurt so that I come out of the situation with deeper love for myself, a sympathetic feeling for the one who would hurt me, and the courage to reevaluate the events which led up to the most recent occurrence. I often bounce back from the heartbreak with positivity, joy, and motivation to redirect my path towards something more genuine. My capacity for deep hurt is nowhere near as strong as my capacity for deep joy and optimism and that is an enormous strength.

My hypersensitivity has made me a magnet for others with the same quality. I have developed a core group of friends who love and support me and who I can always trust to share their genuine reactions with me. I have been able to work with my mother to repair our broken relationship by translating my feelings and experiences into words she could understand and doing the work of understanding the meaning and intention behind her own feelings and reactions.

Being hypersensitive means that I cry easily, sure. However it also means that I smile easily, I laugh readily, I love deeply and I can connect with ease to the emotional states of those I love and search for ways to improve their lives and their world.

I used to regard my hypersensitivity as a curse. It made me feel weak and it attracts those who would victimize me. Now, however, I see it as a blessing. I am able to empathize with other sensitive souls, no matter their age or social standing, and develop true and deep connections with people who our society grossly undervalues.

My hypersensitivity is one of my most valued qualities and I have grown quite proud of the abilities it grants me. Yes, it can be a burden sometimes, but as Peter Parker is quite fond of saying “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m more determined than ever to use my power for good and work towards improving the world, one sensitive soul at a time.