“You’re too sensitive.”
“Why do you cry so much?”
“You’re so serious all the time. Why can’t you lighten up?”
“Stop being so emotional!”
Some of us, about 20 percent of the general population according to Dr. Elaine Aron, have either heard these statements from those who know us or have believed them to be true about ourselves. We are deep thinkers and philosophers. We are daydreamers. We are artists and poets and writers. We are counselors and advisors. We are priests and contemplatives.
We are highly sensitive people.
Because those around us might think we’re aloof, distant, or strange, we tend to adopt this way of viewing ourselves. I grew up a highly sensitive child, and I knew I was different from about the age of three or four. I felt everything strongly, both joy and sorrow, anger and fear and anticipation. I cried easily. I cared about the trees and animals and unborn babies. I hated war, and even the slightest violence rattled me deeply. I thought about higher things, like heaven and what the angels and saints must be doing around me.
But my inherent way of being in the world was quickly jettisoned when I heard that sensitivity and emotional expression was not socially acceptable. I’ve since grown to see the gift of sensitivity and, as a Catholic woman, how sensitivity might be better understood and embraced in the world.
Understanding Sensitivity as a Virtue
A few years ago, I was working on writing a book about the Beatitudes. To prepare, I read Fr. Jacques Philippe’s book, The Eight Doors of the Kingdom: Meditations on the Beatitudes. His chapter on meekness struck me in a particular way, because he listed several qualities of meekness that many overlook: vulnerability, receptivity, and sensitivity.
Most equate meekness with humility, but it extends to a heart that is open to both freely giving and receiving love without restraint or conditions. Sensitivity, as a Christian virtue, is one in which we are attuned to the musings and movements of the Holy Spirit. Highly sensitive people are typically deeply spiritual, because they recognize subtleties in their environment that most altogether miss. And they also hear God’s voice with more clarity and certainty than others seem to.
When you are sensitive, you are more apt to notice the suffering of others, both collective and individual. You are moved by war, famine, poverty, abortion, discrimination, plagues, and pandemics. You are also moved to reach out to those who are in the thick of such crises, because your heart truly feels with and for them.
Your Spiritual Gifts
The highly sensitive Catholic is likely to excel in charity and wisdom. We can look at many saints who may have been highly sensitive, such as St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Edith Stein, St. Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Jean Vianney, to name a few. It is said that wisdom is the highest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, yet many highly sensitive Catholics are naturally drawn toward wisdom and innately have this gift.
Those of us who are highly sensitive tend to also experience a piercing wound in the heart that can be offered to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a token of love for Him. We may also be drawn to Our Lady of Sorrows, because her heart was pierced for love, too, and we identify easily with a heart that is heavy with sorrow and suffering.
Why the Church Today Needs You
Because highly sensitive persons make up the minority of the world’s populace, they often feel out of place. Rather than carrying a sense of superiority, they struggle with feeling inferior, because they live in a society that values mirth and sunny attitudes over depth and introspection.
The Church needs highly sensitive Catholics, because sensitive people encourage others toward self-reflection and self-knowledge. They advise their friends at church to persevere through hardship, to endure afflictions, to think and feel deeply out of love for Jesus. In many ways, the highly sensitive Catholic understands the Passion of Jesus and the merit of suffering in a way most others do not.
You are an emotional and spiritual barometer. You hear the still, small voice while others are clamoring to find God in the sensational thunderstorm or windstorm. Bring that gift of stillness, of subtlety, of beauty and solitude and the simple into the world in which you live. You may not feel your voice is loud or confident enough to change someone’s perspective or life. But the people you do influence, one by one, will be profoundly impacted by your depth and empathy.
*The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron, xiv.