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
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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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'As A Woman,' I Don't Need To Fit Your Preconceived Political Assumptions About Women

I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.

As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.

"As a woman…"

This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"

Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.

To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.

It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."

That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.

We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?

As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It's Hard To Stay Friends With A Kavanaugh-Lover, But It's Possible

Or hater.

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If you don't have your head buried in the sand these days, it's impossible not to realize how viscerally raw most people's political emotions are. And unless you live in a bubble, you likely have friends or family who have very different political beliefs with you. If you want to cut off those relationships, read no further. But if you view your relationships more T. D. Jakes style—"I like to see myself as a bridge builder, that is, me building bridges between people […], between politics, trying to find common ground"—then play on.

Before beginning a conversation with a politically-differing friend, put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: what aspects of their life might have influenced them in this way? Accept that you just don't know what their experiences have been like. Maybe your gun-supporting friend had her house traumatically burglarized when she was quite young; maybe your friend who believes the government should solve all our problems was only able to get hot lunches at school because of government aid. View it as a thought experiment if you will: imagine a sympathetic reason (rather than a judgment-worthy reason) that your friend has this differing viewpoint.

We have two ears and one mouth. Ask them questions and then genuinely listen. As humans, we often listen to respond, not to understand. Try to understand without demonizing or judging your friend. David Livingstone Smith, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, said that when we dehumanize or demonize others, it acts as: "a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable." Try to accept that your friend's point of view—no matter how much you disagree with it—is (in their eyes) just as valid as your own. Your goal is to listen first, persuade later, argue rarely (or never).

It's not about you. Your friend's support of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court means just that: they think he should have been confirmed. Or if they are angry that he got confirmed, it means just that: they think he should have not been confirmed at the time. Use our earlier thought experiment: perhaps the supporter found fault in the accusations against Kavanaugh or genuinely viewed it as a false accusation, and (whether that happened here or not), we can agree a false accusation is concerning. It doesn't necessarily mean that they think the assault he was accused of is okay—perhaps they think any form of sexual assault is utterly appalling and should never be tolerated, but just didn't happen here. Your friend's view is not personal to you, no matter how personal it may feel.

There's a difference between supporting a politician and supporting an action. If your family member voted for Trump, that doesn't mean they support his personal behavior. (If they DO—that's a different story.) It's like watching Lady Bird (great movie) and someone saying that means you think all children should treat their mother like Lady Bird treats hers. The two could be equated but aren't necessarily. Have you ever gone to the theaters and seen a movie that had elements you didn't agree with or like? The same can be said for politics.

If it seems appropriate, when they are done sharing and seem receptive to conversation, share why you may disagree with them. Times to NOT share: if they are angry or closed off. (Observe both their words and their body language. If their voice was raised or their arms are crossed, not the time.) If they just shared something vulnerable with you (eg. they are vehemently pro-choice because they've been assaulted and got an abortion), now is not the time.

Remember, your goal is not to argue, but to listen and then to persuade. If they're not in a place where they can listen to you being persuasive—then let it go and try again some other time.

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. However—sometimes you shouldn't always maintain these relationships. Politicians your friends support don't necessarily fully reflect who your friends are, but political views are an aspect of who they are. To use the above analogy: when you see a movie at the theater, you are supporting it. Even if you disagree with it and warn your friends away, you still paid for the ticket.

And sometimes you don't. Understand when you need to disengage. It's okay to have some things you can talk about civilly and rationally and some things that you just can't. If my friend thinks communism is the way to go, for example, I am able to speak respectfully and rationally about it. But if a person tries to support child abuse, I absolutely cannot have a conversation with them where I try to understand where they're coming from and listen to them without telling them how wrong they are. It's okay to have some topics that mean so much to you that you can't engage with all of them or respect every differing point of view.

When you win, be gracious. And lastly, if you supported Kavanaugh, your friends who opposed his quick confirmation are crushed right now. It's okay if you think that's silly or not a big deal. But go back to the first point: put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if some political issue you felt really strongly about was dealt a crushing blow? You'd want the people on the winning side to be gracious, or try to understand, or at least not rub it in. Maybe you didn't like how the situation unfolded, but your guy's in now. Think of the golden rule and be kind to your friends who are struggling with this.

Just remember:

"Be sure when you step—step with care and great tact. And remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft—and never mix up your right foot with your left."
Dr. Seuss.

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