Emotional Sensitivity: Vice or Virtue?

                I am currently working toward re-integrating disowned and repressed parts of myself. I will use this blog to talk about my personal journey in hopes of encouraging others to start their own journey toward integration and wholeness.

When I was a little girl, I was an extremely sensitive person. I laughed easily and cried easily. Every emotion was a wave a mile high that crashed over my entire being. I approached life with curiosity and found passion and fun in many activities. If someone was hurt, I felt their pain. I cried when I saw people suffering on the news. If I was excited about something, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Loving people came naturally to me.

As I went through my elementary school years, I didn’t fit in with my peers because my emotional reactions were so strong. I was often made fun of because I was innocent minded and gave the strongest reactions to teasing. So, I started to get nervous about being socially rejected which fueled a lot of social anxiety. This social anxiety begot social awkwardness which begot even more teasing. It was a snowball effect.

So, around the time I turned ten, I decided that I didn’t want to be emotional anymore. I wanted to be laid back, stoic, and unphased by emotions and physical pain. I didn’t want to be like a little girl anymore, I wanted to be like a man. Specifically, I wanted to be like my father. So, I repressed the emotional part of myself to curry for social likeability. I also became extremely misogynistic, hating most girls and criticizing their tendencies. Femininity had become my shadow.

I remember being in day camp during the summer of that year, showing off my newfound hardness using macho shows of strength and emotional desensitization. I would challenge boys to arm-wrestling matches and didn’t flinch when I got hurt playing sports. I was so proud of my ability to distance myself from emotions. I recall asking two other girls with very sharp nails to scratch down my arms as hard as they could, bragging to them and kids nearby that I didn’t feel pain even when I bled.

And it was true that I didn’t feel pain. I wasn’t just pretending not to. I really didn’t feel it anymore. Because I took pride in my ability to endure pain I ceased to see it as negative. In fact, pain had become positive to me because it fueled my pride. Much like my pain, I became genuinely less able to feel emotion too.

My overt machismo only lasted through that summer as a passing phase. As I entered middle school, I decided to use style of dress and conformity to fit in. This meant that I could no longer be overtly masculine but needed to fit in as a girl and learn to be attractive and feminine. This drive for conformity relaxed as the year passed, and I was able to make friends with many girls who were off-beats like me.

However, so much of my natural personality (which is mostly feminine) still remained repressed under layers of false masculinity… a false masculinity that was met with approval from my peers, the media, and society in general.

While I had become willing to express socially acceptable feminine traits like enjoyment of fashion and beauty, most of my feminine traits were still relegated to my subconscious mind and the seeds of misogyny remained.

The repression that affected me most profoundly was still my emotional repression. I still have a high degree of resistance to expressing my emotions because it is so difficult to be vulnerable in our world which tends to see emotions as an unnecessary and annoying signs of weakness Crying in public is almost as embarrassing to me as peeing my pants.

 Like my ten year old self, our society favors stoicism, dispassionate response to activities both good and bad, and a general feeling of cool-headedness. If you love too deeply or get too excited, people will think you’re naïve at best and crazy/creepy at worst. This is why words like sensitive and emotional are often used as insults.

However, I’m trying day by day to accept this part of myself and allow it to resurface into my personality because I need it to be a whole person again. But even more importantly, in order for our world to become whole again, it needs me and others to feel okay with expressing our emotions and to encourage emotional expression in others. Otherwise, we (both women and men) will always be out of touch with our feminine sides and out of touch with love.

So, I challenge you to take baby steps toward making words like ‘emotional’ and ‘sensitive’ mean something positive.