Highly Sensitive People Can Change The World — If We Let Them

Highly Sensitive People Can Change The World — If We Let Them

Why it's dangerous to devalue empathy and compassion

Starting in the 1970s, psychologists began assigning the trait of “codependent” to patients whom they believed possessed a self-destructive desire to please others. This construct is very reminiscent of experiencing abuse in relationships, as it pinpoints the susceptibility of one’s emotional state to external influence as the sole reason for distress in one’s life. An issue I find with the idea of codependency as a diagnosable personality disorder is that it casts a negative light on victims of emotional abuse. Rather than celebrating a person’s willingness to exude love and kindness, the notion that codependent individuals “care too much” demeans them while excusing perpetrators of emotional abuse. Emotionally abusive people already have the upper hand in terms of the relationship’s power play. Therefore, placing the burden of the relationship’s failure on the victim by declaring their “codependency” reinforces societal tolerance of emotional abuse. This leads us, as a culture, to devalue traits such as empathy and compassion, while rewarding those who possess cold, manipulative attitudes.

Typically, women embody the more benevolent characteristics of the ones listed above. This could be an indirect result of many western social structures: pigeonholing women into caretaker roles, the feminization of emotional literacy, equating fierce individualism with professional success (which is inexplicably linked to masculinity), etc. Visible links exist between how we regard empathy and the careers which involve its application. For example, teachers, though integral to curating the young minds of our nation, are often underpaid and under-appreciated. Why? Well, the field just happens to be dominated by women. The same phenomenon pervades in the sphere of social activism or humanitarianism. From caretakers in nursing homes to the vast network of volunteers propping up schools, churches, community centers, and nonprofit organizations, women are on the frontline. As my mother has told me, “The world runs on the unpaid work of women.”

Naturally, those who respond emotionally to human suffering make perfect activists. They understand the importance of putting their own needs aside for the greater good. Combined with a dose of pragmatism, organization, charisma, and vision, these people are able to lead movements and create progress. This hypothetical personality is pretty admirable, if you ask me. Yet, too often are these people referred to as naive, impractical, or overly emotional. I would know. I’ve always been an idealist; I’ve always been an activist. My worst nightmare, (or “personal hell” for the Meyer’s Brigg’s INFJ personality type) is a world in which all people are subjected to the rule of an unjust, oppressive force without anyone to advocate on their behalf. I identify as female, and fit 100% into this profile that I’ve introduced. I’m told that I’m wrong for letting my passion for change guide me. But why is it right to promote selfishness above improving life for everyone?

I discovered one of my favorite quotes from a Chipotle bag: “We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.” -Steven Pinker

Apathy helps one achieve a momentary feeling of superiority. Passion and relentless caring, on the other hand, can help you accomplish something so much bigger than yourself.

Our manmade gender hierarchy has pitted everyone, even women, against the idea of embracing feminine qualities. Since we’ve shoved genuine concern for others into that corner along with an affinity for pink, it’s been difficult to convince people that it’s okay to let your guard down and show your soft side. However, it’s crucial to strike the correct balance between selflessness and self-preservation. Women have been conditioned to feel responsible for the needs of others. Mothers forego sleep to tend to their children, wives sacrifice pleasure to inflate their husbands’ sexual egos, and so on. Along with our ability to feel vividly, we are blessed - and cursed - with the ability to detect and, subsequently, serve the emotional needs of those around us. Maybe that’s where the idea of codependency came from, the thought that some only know they are loved or valued when they feel they are needed. I reject the idea that codependency is the root cause of women’s interpersonal issues. Rather, I believe that the trouble lies in the inability of others to accommodate highly sensitive people.

The “highly sensitive” person is one so in tune with the emotions and needs of others that they neglect their own self-care. They are sweet, generous souls who want nothing more than to leave the world better off than when they entered it. We could all do well to assist in their efforts, first by acknowledging their emotional nature as something beautiful and unique. We must try to shift our cultural values away from materialism, personal wealth, and individual progress, to a holistic understanding of what progress really looks like. In order to do this, we cannot afford to belittle our instruments of change for having larger hearts.

Secondly, we need to remind them that they must take care of themselves in order to help anyone else. Activists, like myself, often fear that we’re not doing enough for our causes. This is especially relevant to highly sensitive college students, who sometimes care more about meeting external expectations (like getting good grades, volunteering, and attending social obligations) than self-nurturing. This leads to a dismal lack of sleep, mental health concerns, physical illness, and spiritual dearth. Everyone should make sure that the highly sensitive person in their life is eating well, resting when need be, and addressing all their personal needs --whether psychological or tangible.

Lastly, we need to build up women. We can make sure female spaces are positive and inclusive, that women are serving as role models for each other, and that the female figures in our lives all communicate feminist values. But we also need to have men expressing their support for highly sensitive women. The next time some guy says a woman is “crazy,” when she may just be emotional for a perfectly valid reason, call him out on it. And the next time anyone compares someone of a different gender to a woman as a means of insulting them, shut it down. This person could be highly sensitive, which is something worth celebrating. Highly sensitive people have the potential to positively change the world. Let’s make sure we do whatever we can to enable them.

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A Letter to the Girl I Was 3 Years Ago

"Strength grows in the moments when you think you can't go on but you keep going anyway."

  To the old me, 

The girl who worried too much about what other people thought of her, the girl who didn’t know what she was worth, the girl who was scared to be alone. 

I know it’s hard, you’re just starting out high school and what people think of you is SO important. You want to be accepted, you want to be liked. You alter the person you actually are, because you want to be the person everyone loves. Stop. It’s not worth it. In a couple years it won’t matter what everyone thought of you, because majority of those people wont stick around after you walk across that stage at graduation. They don’t care about you that much. Be yourself, because that is the best version you can be. You are beautiful just the way you are, you are special just the way you are. Be confident in who you are. Once you stop caring what others think, you will feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders and you will never want to go back.

And YOU, you are worth SO much, and that will be your biggest weapon one day knowing that and being confident in that. Stop letting people walk all over you and define who you are, and stop settling for less than you deserve. LOVE yourself first, CHOOSE yourself first, and everything else will fall into place. The most important relationship you can have is the one with yourself, and the one with the big Man upstairs. The mistakes you have made, and will continue to make, will never define your value as a person.  Once you discover your self value, you will know what you deserve and what you don’t deserve.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” –Psalm 139:13-14

I cant stress this enough: it is OK to be independent, it is OK to be alone. Honestly, you wont figure this one out for a while. You will go through relationship after relationship depending on guys for your happiness and that will be your source of self-validation, and that will get your heart broken at times. It happens, and its OK to learn from it. It is so important that you grow out of that, though. Work on yourself while you have the time, make yourself a better you for the right person that does come along, but most importantly, make yourself a better you for YOU. Be dependent on yourself and your faith for the happiness that you crave out of other people. Stop putting yourself through the heartbreaks, and just settling because you are afraid of being alone. Embrace it, and take advantage of it. 

To the girl that is the girl I used to be-

It’s never too late to realize things need to change. It’s never too late to rid yourself of the negativity, and all of the things holding you back. You got this, I believe in you. Take it from the one girl who never thought she had it in her to become stronger. 

To the old me-

I wish that I could go back and hug you and let you know that you are so loved. You are so worth it. You are so special. You CAN do this. Everything you are going through and will go through will be so worth it, and to never EVER give up no matter how much you want to at times. I wish that I could’ve told you in a few years, you will be mentally and emotionally stronger than you have ever been, and everything that you are going through is just a phase.                                                                                  Life isn't always perfect. Life isn't always easy. Life doesn't always make sense, but thats the beauty of it.

Love,

Me, today. 

  



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Walking Through Campus In The Dark Made Me Realize Girls Should Be Helping Other Girls Feel Safer

I'm forever grateful for the girls who helped me feel safe.

If you're a girl, chances are doing certain things, like walking alone in the dark, can be kind of scary.

I needed to walk from the dorms to the Greyhound station downtown to catch a 7 a.m. bus, and if you've ever lived in the Pacific Northwest in the fall, you know some mornings it isn't light until almost 8 a.m. or later. I am not a morning person and neither were any of my friends, so I knew I would probably be going alone.

There aren't a lot of people out and about that early in the morning and, being a girl in today's world, walking alone in the dark makes me nervous.

I planned on calling a cab, but when it didn't show after 20 minutes, I knew I was going to have to walk. As I started walking, I thought about all the horror stories I've heard on the news, all the times I've been harassed and followed by strangers on the street, all the places I was walking that weren't well light or were in commercial areas with businesses that weren't open. I didn't have pepper spray, I don't know a lot of self-defense, and I felt like all I could really do was keep my head down, walk fast, and hope nothing bad happened.

I was more worried than I care to admit but I didn't really have any other options.

I was walking past Gamma Phi Beta's house, with my phone flashlight on and silently counting the blocks until reached the bus station, and at about the same time, two girls were leaving the house in workout gear, like they were headed out for a run. What caught me off guard was when they asked if I was okay and why I was walking by myself. I explained that I was headed to the Greyhound station and no one else was awake, so I was on my own.

Without any hesitation, they offered to walk with me, so I wouldn't be alone.

I can't even put into words how relieved and grateful I was. If they asked if I wanted them to walk with me, I probably would have said no because I wouldn't want to mess up their plans or be a burden, but they offered.

When we were walking, it felt like walking with friends, not like two friends begrudgingly walking a stranger as a favor. We talked about majors, binge-worthy Netflix shows, classes, and when we reached the bus station downtown, we went our separate ways.

I don't remember their names and I don't know if they'll ever know how much that meant to me, but I still think about it, over a year later, and it reminds me how important it is to look out for and support other girls.

Since I feel like I never got to thank them properly, I do it the best way I know how: by paying it forward. When I have the opportunity to do something to make another girl feel safer, whether that's walking with her, checking in with her at a party, or otherwise, I think it's important to do it.

No one understands the struggles girls face just by existing in our f*cked up world quite like other girls. It is so important for all of us to do our part to support and protect our community.

If you have the opportunity to help out someone else in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation, do it. You have no idea the impact it will have.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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