Fragility vs. Sensitivity
I am an emotionally sensitive person. This is not to be confused with being an emotionally fragile person.
My emotional sensitivity creates more incentive in cultivating self-awareness versus self-ignorance, because this sensitivity also makes me a more conscientious person who has to rumble with my ethics and guilt, and discern if it is healthy/ethical guilt, or if I’m being guilt-tripped beyond the point where my ethics have authority and I’ve crossed over into someone else’s primary jurisdiction of personal responsibility. Sometimes there are very fine lines, and grey areas of both/and. This is why boundaries are so important for me. It helps channel my attention and energy, which there seems to be more of due to this heightened sensitivity, and with that there needs to be heightened boundaries.
I’m becoming more aware of this innate drive to engage inwardly and do it with compassionate curiosity, because it’s nearly impossible to ignore and escape from due to my sensitive nature.
-Again, notice I said sensitive, not fragile.
An exquisite perceptivity resides within me due to this highly sensitive way of being. In and of itself, this high sensitivity is neither good nor bad – it can be both good and bad, depending on the situation, but alone it is neutral. Subtle or nuanced qualities register on my radar that often go over the heads of others. I sense, discern, and am aware of more, this is what it’s like to be highly sensitive. I have a sensitive radar, and have often been misjudged as being weak or “too sensitive” implying emotional weakness or fragility. But having this inner highly sensitive apparatus doesn’t make me fragile, nor does it make me a mind-reader.
Often, I will sense the presence of certain emotions, and that is where the conscious boundary is practicing being placed, thanks to Professor Pain in the class of Hard Knocks101. I sense an emotion, but can set a boundary with my Storyteller who immediately starts concocting a story about this emotion or the person, which has gotten me into trouble with mistakenly making boundary intrusions on others. I must say though, at times that Storyteller is spot-on or pretty damn close IF I’ve been invited into part of a person’s inner sacred journey before. But even so, this Storyteller is far from infallible, she’s still got human limitations.
Now, I will speak to this “fragility” label, because I’ve often internalized this. Just as there are special devices that can see infrared light which is invisible to the naked eye, this is how it is for me concerning emotions. Devices used to detect infrared light are considered a valuable resource when illumination and awareness of infrared light is valued. The device’s ability to do that isn’t slammed as being “weak” or “fragile. The capacity for emotional sensitivity can serve as a valuable resource for people with this emotional radar as well, when there is receptivity to emotional awareness. It can actually be a very valuable resource, when emotions are valued.
The opportunity available from this capacity is for me to connect more intimately with my emotions, and to the emotions of others. There’s a flip side though – it’s much more challenging to ignore or numb out from what I sense, even when I don’t WANT the awareness. Sometimes these emotions (mine or others) are inside of conscious awareness and sometimes, they are not. I am learning to expand the space in my conscious awareness, for there is where I have more freedom to choose.
This ability to sense subtle stuff does not make me fragile. On the contrary, I have the opportunity to turn towards what I sense or, turn my back on what I sense. I am learning to turn towards these with intention and curiosity, versus reactively invalidating or defending against feeling them, or projecting my own unwanted emotions onto others because they make me uncomfortable.
Emotional sensitivity is not the same as emotional fragility. Emotional fragility is often unconsciously dependent on being unaware and ignorant of an emotional life, for fear that the awareness of emotions will shatter you.
The operative unspoken rule: “Thou shalt not be emotionally aware.”
Usually with the exception of one emotion (or if you’re super lucky- two, with happy usually as one of those “acceptable emotions”) – all others are rejected or denied because they’re threatening or “too heavy”.
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! [clap clap!] Meanwhile all other emotions are denied.
– And this is emotional fragility.
It’s usually an unconscious transaction that’s passed on from one generation to the next, which invests lots of energy into avoiding or turning your back on emotions (yours and others’) rather than acknowledging or let alone feeling them. It’s not usually a conscious option to connect to them for better self-understanding or empathically understanding others. Emotional fragility makes empathy nearly impossible, and when it is present it’s an extremely rare and limited edition.
Emotional fragility judges emotional sensitivity as a nuisance at best, and as defective at worst, because being exquisitely aware of emotions is threatening and intolerable. This is generationally passed down until someone says “enough” to emotional fragility and digs into their own inner healing work.
Being sensitive means SENSING emotions, not creating them. It’s being aware and receptive of them as they naturally arise. Digging through emotions is what emotionally sensitive people can value, because burying them requires SO much more work. Burying over emotions is what emotionally fragile people value, because emotional awareness itself is devalued, at great relational and eventually physical costs. There is a connection between our emotional health and our physical health.
Emotionally avoidant behaviors usually result in accumulating emotions and this accumulation comes with hefty taxes and unwanted side-effects because it’s running away from what IS – emotional reality, from the inside out. It’s resistance. And what you resist, persists.
Emotionally fragile people depend on not feeling their discomfort and becoming closed-off and defensive towards anything or anyone who triggers these f-f-f-feeeelings. This doesn’t seem to work against them until the accumulation of emotional debt piles up and start burying them alive. Usually personal relationships, either intimate or in the workplace, start to unravel. The build-up of a denied emotional life creates a tumor that is not benign.
Emotionally sensitive people who have learned to welcome and honor their sensitivity will start to work with their discomfort, becoming openly curious about it when triggered. I’ve also noticed, their “bottoms” tend to be higher than the non-sensitive person’s.
Emotional fragility is often a life lived while walking on eggshells, using more and more bubble wrap around self-awareness, until you can barely function without rigidity and stiffness. Emotional sensitivity often requires you to live life with resiliency because you can’t live life with bubble wrap around your emotions, so you experience quicker consequences when you don’t take regular emotional self-inventories, but you also experience deeper satisfaction when you do. The lows can be lower, and the highs can be higher.
I am emotionally sensitive and have spent most of my life trying not to be, confusing emotional fragility with strength and fortitude. I’m now seeing through that smokescreen. Emotional fragility is a sort of lackluster of courage and adapting to that lack of courage starts to take its toll. Emotional sensitivity can be cultivated, when you accept the invitation to your emotional world and connect inwardly in a compassionate place, then empathically connect to others. This leads to an authenticity that is built on a kind of inner strength and fortitude that is resilient – not fragile.