by Susan Newman
So, can one measure sensitivity? Is there some kind of Geiger counter, a receptacle where you give a urine or blood sample and hey presto! one’s sensitivity reading scrolls across a computer screen in some high-tech laboratory?
Or is it a question of getting on a special weighing scales which is somehow capable of eliminating fat and muscle and fluid and extrapolates the precise figure of one’s sensitivity?
So, what are the ramifications when we’re told that we must be careful around ‘Mary’ as she’s very sensitive?
Well, we must temper our words. Spontaneity goes out the window. Jokes are a no-go area. Honesty is to be discouraged. A good argument ‘to clear the air’ is the stuff of nightmares. You can only utter the words that ‘Mary’ wants to hear. Anything else is cruel.
Actions must be measured. If you live in close proximity with the ‘sensitive one’ then you are effectively walking on eggshells. Otherwise you run the risk of being labelled cruel, insensitive, selfish, barbaric even, because the sensitive one must always be protected.
Of course the flip side of this coin is often the reverse for the sensitive one. They can be forthright and it’s just ‘being honest’. They can point out your limitations because it’s ‘for your own good’. They can lay bare your faults and failings in order to ‘make you a better person.’
And family and friends must also take heed. Curb their enthusiasm. Because if they don’t then the ‘insensitive one’ suffers. So they creep about too, say all the right things, become overly sensitive to atmosphere, avoid invisible pitfalls and join the cheerleaders in ‘la-la land’. They mustn’t burst the bubble with clumsy, albeit well-intentioned words. And so they become part of a wafer-thin fabric, holding up the gossamer threads of an enforced reality, lest they are condemned to the category of ‘insensitive’.
If ‘Mary’ is very sensitive then at some level the natural corollary is that those in her immediate environment are ‘insensitive’. How else can we gauge her sensitivity unless we compare it to those around her? So nobody else can appreciate just how hurtful words can be, how a look can wound, how a tone of voice can spear the heart, how an action or inaction can be so selfish.
What a weapon! Self-promoted sensitivity must surely be the most powerful tool of all. It can control the words and actions of all in its immediate environs. It can reduce the most spontaneous act or joke to a shrivelling mass of nothingness. It can change the most innocuous behaviour of the most well-meaning individual. It can instil remorse and shame where there is no need. It can reduce our most natural instincts to a state of baseness.
And the really sad part is that we buy into this notion that some people are more sensitive than others. We find ourselves the champions of the sensitive. We pre-empt the actions of others, plead with them to ‘tone it down’, advise them to be ‘careful what you say’, above all ‘don’t upset Mary, she’s very sensitive.’
We become an accessory, a facilitator. We allow them free rein, because a curb might upset. The reality is that any hint of criticism or even a difference of opinion can unleash the most vitriolic barrage, interspersed with rivers of tears and ending in accusations of cruelty and meanness. We must surely be the pits if the gentle, ‘sensitive Mary’ can become a raging torrent of verbal abuse and engage in the worst verbal excesses that would cause the dockers of old to blush. Shame on us!
And so the cycle continues.
Mammy and Daddy, teach your children. Teach them while they’re young. People will disagree with them. People will speak their mind. The content won’t always please, won’t always flatter. Not everybody will think they’re the ninth wonder of the world. People will sometimes be harsh, often borne out of frustration.
No, junior is not perfect. Not made of porcelain, to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected at all costs from ‘the slings and arrows.’
It’s called adulthood. Learning to fight your own battles, engaging in ‘open warfare’, not hiding behind tears and labels of sensitivity. Nobody is our ‘carer’ when we grow up.
We look after our young and our pets – willingly, our elderly – hopefully and our weak and infirm – definitely.
For everyone else, it’s ‘open season.’
Originally published on HeadStuff.org. Available at: https://www.headstuff.org/topical/sensitivity-walking-on-eggshells/