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Sensitivity: Reactivity

When I heard the word sensitive growing up, I associated it as a negative attribute. “Why are you so sensitive?!” was something I’d hear often in school, sports, and other areas from coaches, peers, and other people.

Now, I think it’s actually one of the greatest gifts we can have, not to mention indicators that we care about that particular area of life. Think about it: the more improvement we see in an area of life, the more sensitive we actually become. In sports, the greater level a player competes the greater level of sensitivity they need to pick up the minutest of detail possible to improve their game. In health, the more in tune a person is with their body and eating well, the more sensitive their body will respond to foods that don’t promote well-being. In music too, the slightest of tweaks or strokes can make an experience richer.

I had a conversation with someone recently about this concept because it felt unsettling. We were discussing avoiding a certain thing (this is general because specifics are not necessary) so others would not have to be exposed it. My brain went immediately to thinking that this is a type of sheltering or insulation, but it helped me realize an important distinction that needed to be clarified. In some ways avoiding to look at something - let’s say inappropriate or disturbing - could be a type of resistance or non-acceptance of reality. What I was aiming to understand was that if a person is avoiding something, wouldn’t they be reacting to it? Like characters in Harry Potter avoiding to say… Voldemort! Don’t we want to be steadfast in our beliefs regardless of the circumstances, people, or environments?

The answer is yes and it depends on the intention. Intentionally avoiding something for the sake of sensitivity can be beneficial. For example, a non-smoker can be firm in the decision to not smoke even in a room of smokers. Similarly, a health-conscious eater can confidently refuse the sugary options in a room full of sweets and processed foods. It doesn’t mean a) they should put themselves in that situation if it’s avoidable or b) if they are there ie a meeting or conference, that they should react and feel threatened.

One can be sensitive without being reactive! Here’s the balance to cultivate: firm in one’s decisions and beliefs that no thing nor person can shake them, yet sensitive to the things that are opposite their beliefs. The non-smoker can choose to not smoke while disliking that others smoke. The health-conscious eater can choose not to eat processed foods while disliking that there are foods harmful to the health of others.

When we feel an internal change, a sensitivity to do something or go somewhere, it’s important to acknowledge it, question it, and listen to it. It may be fear creeping in, in which the action may be to keep going. Or, it may be a genuine, intuitive message to forego that action or avoid that place. Of course, it depends. The sooner and more often we can listen to the messages our body’s tell us, the better we’ll get a understanding them. Hence, sensitivity may actually be our greatest strength.

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