This Ladies’ Home Journal story resonated with me as I have always been a “thin-skinned“ person. (I know, I chose to be a journalist!) I am afraid that Ari is taking after me, as it doesn’t take much to hurt his feelings.
The other day we were watching the Power Rangers and I started pretending doing a karate chop on him with an exaggerated “hiyah!“ Despite my playfulness and exaggerated moves, I scared him and he burst into tears. (Okay, I am so not taking this kid to karate classes again!)
From the time he was a baby, he never cried at physical pain, which DH and I found bizarre. He would bonk his head, or when he was a toddler, casually walk into the house with a bleeding body part — yet, shed no tears. But when we say “no“ — not even in a loud tone — or gently reprimand him, that is enough for him to bawl.
While the LHJ story was focused on women and encouraged us to embrace our inner-wimp — I mean, sensitivity! — it did offer tips on how to raise more confident children.
“An environment that responds to the needs of sensitive children may result in their moving through life less fearful and self-conscious,” explains Dr. Jacobson. “But inhibited children with overprotective parents can become even more fearful and touchy if they’re constantly criticized.” And let’s face it, this happens a lot. Consider the people-magnet cherub who coos at everyone and then think about the infant who is frightened of strangers and wails when she’s startled. “The compliant baby gets more positive attention, which helps her become even more secure,” explains Paul Dobransky, M.D., a Chicago-based psychiatrist. “Because people are less drawn to the sensitive baby, she gets less positive attention. Meanwhile, if the parents of a highly sensitive child get upset by the child’s tears, angry outbursts, moodiness and reactions instead of helping the child modulate her distress, the child can feel ‘unseen’ and possibly unloved. She can become even more sensitive and the parents more frustrated.” Before long, I’d wager, that timid tot will be an anxious little worrywart who feels slighted by the most innocuous remark.
I can see that. Ari was the baby who always cried, which we often joke almost made him an only child. Eli is constantly smiling, which is why we tell people that she is the “easier“ baby.
But I felt better about my sweet, hypersensitive boy as the article pointed out that overt sensitivity can be an asset.
Cruelty, at least, is a malady that rarely strikes the sensitive. And, in fact, while it’s easy to dwell on the downside of being thin-skinned, the pluses are many and varied. “Sensitive people encourage others to feel that their opinions matter, they’re usually good listeners and they’re naturally empathetic,” Dr. Jacobson says. “And because they are so acutely aware of their own imperfections, they tend to be patient with the imperfections of others.”
Lyndoria Davis, a divorced single mom from Round Rock, Texas, has long struggled with being “one of those people who takes everything personally.” If someone doesn’t speak to her, she is quick to assume that it’s because she has said or done something to upset that person. On the flip side, however, Davis says, “my family tells me that my sensitivity makes me a kind, considerate and compassionate person. I take a lot of pride in that.” In Davis’s case, being sensitive contributes to healthy self-esteem.
Hypersensitive people tend to have strong instincts and intuition, and are able to work in group settings in a cooperative matter, the article said. But beware: It can be a hindrance for women in the workplace.
“In multiple studies, women have been shown to be more intuitive, which makes them more sensitive than men,” says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “Studies also reveal that women show more empathy and patience, whereas men are inclined toward problem-solving and are more comfortable with the language of logic than of emotion. In Western culture, especially, males are taught that it isn’t macho to be sensitive and show emotion. Women are given more support to express their feelings than men are.”
“It’s less that women are more sensitive than that they have more invested in getting along,” adds Dr. Legato, the author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget. “Women like to bond with others and work toward the goal of mutual cooperation. Males, by contrast, tend to be oriented toward immediate results.”
While these “feminine” characteristics may foster deep personal relationships, they can be a hindrance in the workplace. “As a kid, I was always a ‘crybaby.’ Now, at work, I have trouble confronting people without getting upset,” admits one graphic designer from Kansas City. “I hate it that my behavior confirms the stereotype that women are too emotional to compete in a male-driven corporate world.”
I can completely relate to the graphic designer. I, too, had a few crying incidences at work, and remember feeling ashamed like I couldn’t hack it or was giving women a bad rap for it. Still, I don’t think I am as sensitive as this mom:
“I don’t think I’m too sensitive, but my kids have a knack for pressing my buttons,” says Becki Woodsmall, a mother of five from Bedford, Indiana. “The other day, for instance, my daughter was programming her new phone with a distinct ring for each family member. Innocently, I asked what mine was. My son-in-law suggested the song with the line ‘It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,’ laughing. My feelings were hurt big time, but I knew if I showed it, matters would only get worse. So I swallowed my wounded pride.”
The idea, in short, is not to become less sensitive but to be less reactive to your sensitivity. You’ll never be a tough cookie, but you can look like one, at least some of the time.
Good advice. Are you or your kids overtly sensitive? Where is the line between healthy self-esteem and “wimpiness?“ Go ahead, and talk amongst yourselves. Just don’t hurt my feelings.