Just Too Sensitive ~ by Sam

I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern over the years in which spaces that are meant to provide support ~ groups that were formed as a means of support, or social connection specifically for people seeking, ostensibly to support one another (and, in my experience, this has often, but not exclusively, been women’s groups of this nature) ~ have a tendency to become cliquish and unsupportive, even ostracizing to certain individuals, or to certain segments of a community, and I have always had difficulty understanding this. Throughout my life, I have struggled to understand why people feel the need to put down or exclude others, and how in the world doing so could possibly make them feel… I don’t know. I was going to say “better,” but is that the right word? Is that what they are feeling? Does it make them feel better about themselves or their situation to put down others? Somehow, if someone else is doing a worse job of parenting, succeeding in business, managing their health or their particular situation (whatever it is), then are they doing better, and are they, perhaps, somehow superior? Because, I thought, in a situation in which people came together to support one another, people would be there to, you know, support one another.

This wasn’t brought on by any particular incident recently, in case anyone is trying to decipher what I am saying and figure out if they did or said something that upset me. I’m not that cryptic. Most of the time, if I am upset, you can probably tell. It’s honestly just a thing I have noticed. It’s happened to me, to be sure, but I have watched as it happened to many others over the years, and even in speaking up have felt fairly powerless to stop it, which has been frustrating. I haven’t always found my voice when I should have; and, in some cases, even when I did, I felt it didn’t matter, in the end.

It’s a thing I just don’t get, and never have, this clique-mentality that develops within a group and weaves a web drawing in others near it, normalizing behaviours that, in another context, would seem abhorrent. When we were young, we were taught that excluding others, gossiping about people, saying nasty things behind people’s backs, and any of that sort of “othering” behaviour was wrong. But suddenly, as adults, we’re doing it again. To me, it feels especially wrong in the context of something that is meant to be a support structure. That’s specifically what I am talking about here. I’m not saying we have to be friends with everyone we meet. That would be preposterous. (‘Though, I would argue that, while we needn’t be friends with anyone, I honestly can’t see many reasons to be unkind to most people, and absolutely none to say anything behind anyone’s back that we wouldn’t say to them. If a thing is true, and not something we shouldn’t be talking about, why wouldn’t we say it? So, if we wouldn’t say it to the person in question, perhaps we shouldn’t say it. I know. That’s not always easy, but maybe it’s kind, and maybe the world needs more kindness.)

I am talking about a very specific situation: groups that have been formed, online or IRL, in which members commit to providing support to one another. So, a member joins, and, for whatever reason, other members ~ often members who have known one another, and already formed bonds, or have certain ideas about some things that differ from the new member’s ideas ~ decide the new member just doesn’t “fit” with their group. But they don’t say anything to the member. They just leave them out of invitations, talk around them, talk about them behind their back. This behaviour usually starts with just one or two members, but then other members start to join in, even if they did not, initially share these feelings, until it seems everyone agrees in their negative opinion of the new member. But still, nobody tells them. The problem is, they can tell. They can tell they are not liked…or they have a feeling they aren’t liked as well as other members, because it’s clear that everyone else has a closer bond, and seems to be doing things without them, or it feels like people are talking about them, or that people don’t like them…but…maybe they’re just being paranoid…or maybe they’re too sensitive…

If they ask anyone what’s going on, that’s what they’re likely too hear: they’re just too sensitive. If anyone has anything negative or unkind to say to them, that’s the problem: they’re just too sensitive. Even if those same people wouldn’t dream of saying the same unkind things to a different member of the same group (because this is a safe space, where we support each other). I went through this a lot when I was younger, and it still happens now, sometimes, but I think am quicker to recognize it and walk away (which means not getting the support I need, in those situations). As I said, I know I am not the only one who has encountered this, because I have watched the same scenario unfold time and time again with other people.

Then there are the situations that come up in conversations (both online and IRL, but often, these days, online), not just in the aforementioned groups, but even with close friends and family members, in which people will say and do things that I cannot imagine having said and done even just 10 years ago. I do think this is more of a problem online, specifically, but lately, I notice it happening more and more In Real Life, as well, and this worries me (because I am Just Too Sensitive, remember?). I think, maybe, we are getting so used to this idea that we can just say anything to anyone ~ is that a product of the digital age, when a screen removes us from the face-to-face reality of our living, breathing audience? ~ that we are losing touch with our sense empathy and compassion. We’re forgetting to take into account the other person’s feelings, to think before we speak. Which is funny, because I think half of things I see posted on the internet are some version of somebody’s homemade sign/craft/digital art about exactly that (“Before You Speak, Think!…” “Classroom Rules:…” “In this house…”) So, I feel like there’s solid evidence that so many of us are trying really hard.

In fact, I keep feeling like I am trying super hard to live up to those standards; but I also keep just missing my mark. It’s disheartening, and sometimes defeating, because I do truly try to lead with my heart and take all of these things into account. I’m aware of all of these things, and yet, sometimes, I just don’t get it right. Sometimes, I act (or speak, or type) before I think. Sometimes, I have been on the wrong side of those situations, before I even realized they were unfolding, and I hate that, because I know how much I detest them when I’m on the other side. I know how much it hurts. I know how hard it is, and how bad it feels, and how it can impact a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth, and even their health and well-being. I am aware of all of these things, because I really am exceedingly sensitive. And still, sometimes, I fail.

So, I keep trying to be mindful of all of these things. I keep trying to do better. I keep saying I will lead with Kindness; but, like, really, am I doing it? I want to try harder.

Nah. That’s a copout. (I know, because Yoda just came over and smacked me in the kneecaps with his stick ~ I know, it’s not called a stick. Get off my back. Like…literally.)

I want to DO better.

So, here’s a thought (and, I know, I have mentioned this before to many of you, but here we go again): What if we’re not too sensitive?

What if, just maybe, the rest of the world needs to pause and consider that sensitivity is normal, and not a fault, and our mamas were actually right when they taught us that if we didn’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all?

What if we all started pausing to consider the consequences of our words and actions BEFORE we put them out into the world, taking into account our own sensitivity, and how words and actions like them might impact us (“Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you”)?

What if we all decided to lead with kindness and empathy?

What if we forgave ourselves when we failed?

What if we forgave others, too?

Those last two parts are super hard for me sometimes (especially that first one), but I think they might be the key to my success here.

I was taught that peace begins with me, and that the only change in the world I can make is change within myself; so I am working on being more mindful of how I interact with others in what I say and do ~ how my words and actions impact people. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. It seems we talk a lot these days about being the change we want to see in the world. I think that’s a great idea. The change I want to see is one toward kindness, empathy and greater understanding.

One thought on “Just Too Sensitive ~ by Sam

  1. I know the above scenarios are not the only examples of the kind of behaviours I’m addressing. There are workplace relationships, and interpersonal relationships of all kinds. I could have given lots of specific examples, but I think we all have plenty of our own specific examples with which to fill in the blanks, whether it’s in our personal or professional relationships, relationships with casual acquaintances, or in more structured environments (as the aforementioned groups).

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