Who taught us to see softness as a weakness? Who is teaching us to harden up, to be tough? Who is teaching us that the only way to be strong is to not feel, to be devoid of feelings, whether those feelings are good or bad? Why have we accepted to live like this? Why do we frown upon those who haven’t accepted toughness and hardness as a fact of life? Why do we frown upon those who choose softness? “Don’t be so sensitive!” I must’ve heard that sentence hundreds of time throughout my life, as if my sensitivity is a bad thing, something I shouldn’t be. I’ve been told to hide my feelings, bury them deep down and ignore them. My tears have been mocked as evidence of my own failures as a human, instead of as a symptom of my own humanity. And for what?
Being sensitive isn’t a flaw. Being sensitive and, more importantly, embracing your sensitivity allows you to connect to others and the world around you on a deeper level. Who wouldn’t want that? Embracing the fact that I am, indeed, a very sensitive person has allowed me to not be so afraid of my emotions, to be more empathetic and open to other people’s feelings, to better take care of myself and to better understand the needs of my body and my mind. Once again – who wouldn’t want that? Why wouldn’t you want that? Why have we been conditioned to see sensitivity has a weakness and people who are sensitive as weak, instead of strong enough in order to not be afraid to feel whatever is it the world throws at them? Why do we only have one definition of strength? Why can’t there be multiple ways to be strong? Why do people think there isn’t strength in being soft? Because there is. And why do we need to be strong all the time? We are all human. Humans aren’t perfect and they aren’t capable of being only one thing all the time. We change, and adapt. It’s what has allowed us to remain at the top of the food chain for centuries. We are made of dualities and paradoxes, it is what makes stories about others so compelling – the fact that one can be both hard and soft at once, that one can have two opposing attributes inhabiting their being at the same time.
It’s especially frustrating to know that women are the ones associated with this narrative. Whether it be physically or mentally, women are seen as the weak link. We need to put that narrative to rest. Women are often times more resilient than men. It’s almost as if we are coming up against an expectation of weakness and so we overcompensate by constantly being as strong as we can. It’s so damaging, not just to women, but to men as well. Men are as entitled to feelings of vulnerability as women and when we perpetuate gender-bias notions of sensitivity and emotion we do the most harm to the collective that is mankind. A willingness to be in touch with emotions and feelings should be seen as a quality, as an asset to navigate this crazy and sometimes overwhelming world. Women being seen as sensitive should be, therefore, seen as an asset as well and not something negative. Men being seen as sensitive should be seen as an asset and not something negative too.
So, let’s dead these narratives. Let’s dead the notion that sensitivity equals weakness, that because there is softness in you, there can’t also be toughness. Let’s dead the notion that human beings are one-dimensional and can’t be multiple things at once – sensitive, strong, funny, serious, creative, practical – and accept that having the ability to connect to others and other things easily, feelings things deeply and being in touch with your emotions is a good, really good thing and we should treat it as such.
So, next time someone tells you you’re being too sensitive, embrace it. Smile and say thank you. Rejoice in the confused looks you’ll receive from people. If you stop seeing sensitivity as a flaw, then when someone says you’re too sensitive you’ll only accept it as a compliment. Smile and, then, smile some more. Be thankful someone sees you as sensitive, as too sensitive, whatever it is. Say thank you and mean it. Live your life knowing you’re staying true to yourself. It’s all anyone can really do.
Words: Inês Mendonça, Images: Maanya Dhar