Deborah Ward

Sense and Sensitivity

Sensitive and Strong: Can We Really Be Both?

Six reasons why sensitivity and strength go hand in hand.

Posted Nov 23, 2014

Have you ever noticed that some of the most sensitive people are also the strongest? When it comes to inner strength, or resilience—the ability to cope with difficult situations, deal with stress, and overcome the odds—highly sensitive people seem to have some kind of secret ability to weather life’s storms. Think about Princess Diana, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt. They don’t just survive adversity either, they thrive, learning from their experiences, developing their skills and becoming even stronger through the process. What’s more, they don’t get through hard times by toughing it out, burying their feelings or adopting a stoic persona. They get through it by being completely themselves and using their highly sensitive traits to the fullest.

Sensitivity is often seen as a weakness in our culture, especially when an HSP is under stress. Easily overwhelmed by too much sensory stimulation, too much to do, or too many people, we tend to get emotional and overwhelmed and need to escape the stressful environment. We often show our feelings, both good and bad, leaving others to think we’re overreacting and the intensity of our feelings can convince them we’re just not coping well.

What’s worse, however, is that we often view ourselves the same way. High sensitivity can make everyday life feel like a drama in which every scene is set to high definition. It can be overwhelming and our own intense and emotional way of being can lead us to believe that we’re not as tough as everyone else, that we’re soft and weak and need someone else to be in charge, a dangerous and self-defeating concept that can easily lower our self-esteem and set us up for a life of victimhood.

The truth is that high sensitivity gives us the ability to be strong, capable and thriving, even in the face of adversity. In fact, the very traits that make us highly sensitive are the qualities that can give us enormous inner strength. The key to developing inner strength, therefore, is not in trying to be less sensitive, but recognizing that sensitivity is strength.

Awareness: Because HSPs are more aware of our surroundings and our own feelings than other people, we tend to have a better understanding of when we are stressed, overwhelmed and what we need to feel calmer, allowing us to face difficult situations rather than pushing them away.

Creativity: Creative pursuits give us the channel through which our energies can flow in positive ways. When we’re facing hard times, the ability to express ourselves in a work of art can give us the outlet for our intense feelings in a way that can benefit others as well as ourselves.

Empathy: Putting ourselves in other peoples’ shoes is something that HSPs do naturally. It gives other people a feeling of recognition while developing our own understanding of human nature. Additionally, our abhorrence of abuse, neglect or the mistreatment of others gives us the drive to stand up for what we believe in.

Appreciation: Highly sensitive people notice details and have a deep appreciation for beauty, so much so that we see it everywhere, every day, in even the smallest things. This appreciation for life’s beauty builds our inner strength because we know there is so much to be grateful for and because it creates a sense of inner calm and happiness and joy in everyday things.

Intuition: Our highly developed intuitive sense gives us a deep understanding of people and situations, allowing us a clear vision of what is happening and what needs to be done.

Passion: Despite our sensitive and gentle appearance, HSPs are intensely passionate people. We feel strongly about our values and issues we believe in, creating a powerful energy that feeds our resilience. It is this passion that enables highly sensitive people to keep moving forward and take on life’s challenges, despite the risks, the dangers, and even their own fears. They will simply do what they believe in because they feel so strongly about it, resulting in actions that are illustrations not only of conviction, but bravery.

Knowing that you possess these qualities means that you can trust yourself to get yourself through the tough times. When you believe that you are a strong, capable person with the inner resources to help you cope, you will realize that you don’t need to depend on other people or anything outside of yourself to get you through it. When you believe that you can depend on yourself, you will find yourself rising to the occasion, becoming the tower of strength that you need when life is stormy.

When faced with any challenge or difficulty, the more you act like yourself, that is, the more sensitive, creative, empathetic, intuitive and passionate you are, the more you will behave in ways that nurture those qualities. The more you live your life like a highly sensitive person, pursuing creative activities, taking time to be alone and in nature, listening to music, appreciating the beauty in the world around you, the stronger you will feel.

Sensitivity is not a prison sentence, condemning us to a life spent hiding from an often overstimulating and stressful world and struggling to protect ourselves from a life full of challenges. Sensitivity is a way of being that gives you special gifts. The more you become aware of those gifts, and the more you make choices every day that honor who you are, the stronger you will become, giving you the resources to overcome life’s obstacles and building your self-confidence, your self-esteem and your ability to create a more loving, accepting and beautiful world.