17 Jan The silent shame of sensitive people
Growing up I heard it all the time: “Greta is very shy”. If I didn’t immediately dive into an activity head-first, raise my hand in class, or speak with bold pride – it was because I was “shy”. And so the label stuck. It didn’t matter that I went through school taking on the leadership positions of Deputy Head Girl at Middle School and Head Girl at High School. I was still “shy”. It was a handy, catch-all word to explain all manner of complexities.
Finally, at university, a friend pulled me up on it. “What do you mean, you’re shy?” she scoffed. “You’re one of the most outgoing people I have ever met!”
Still, I clung onto my label until around three years later when I realised that I wasn’t shy, I was sensitive. Finally, there was a word to explain why I need downtime. Why I like to perform but can’t be ‘on’ 24/7. Why I like the arts and creativity. Why bustling, busy, noisy places leave me drained if I spend too much time in them. Why I don’t care for office politics. And why I just want everyone to get on.
I devoured Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person and have been trying to figure out how best to thrive as a highly sensitive person ever since!
I know I’m not alone, and it’s sad that sensitive people are often shamed into submission. It also makes me wonder just how many people go through life feeling like they don’t quite fit. They do! But they may not have the right language to express who they are.
People often talk about the glass ceiling, in terms of women, or minorities. How when these two groups get to a certain level, many just can’t progress further up the career ladder. But there’s also a sensitive ceiling throughout much of the world.
Scientists estimate that 15-20% of the population are highly sensitive. That includes many artists, creatives and innovators. Yet, the world seems to be designed to be as noisy as possible. We sensitive folk need to ensure we create soothing solutions to daily life so that we don’t end up frazzled. We need to speak up about who we are, and about the qualities that make us just as good as non-sensitive people. We all have something unique to offer, and there’s no shame in that.