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Why You Should Celebrate Your Sensitivity


Something I’ve heard a lot in my life are the words, “don’t be so sensitive.” In moments big and small, I’ve been warned away from experiencing things they way they actually felt to me. Most of the time I have heard these words, they have come out of the mouths of people with good intentions. I have heard them from friends and family, I have heard them from teachers and collaborators. Occasionally these words have been used by people who were trying to dismiss me entirely and position me as over emotional. It took me years, but what I have learned to be capital “T” true is that sensitivity is our native human state. It is our nature. And that sensitivity has power in it.

Whenever someone says that you are being too sensitive, they are really saying you should stop feeling so much and stop expressing it so loudly. They are telling you to anesthetize yourself. They are telling you this because your feelings are making them uncomfortable. Maybe they feel guilty about some way they have hurt you. Perhaps they are nervous that you are making a scene and they’ll be implicated in your misbehavior. Or maybe they are worried that if you keep expressing yourself, others will see that you are right and they are wrong. If we are deferential to the person warning us of our own feelings, we hear their words and seek out ways to suppress our inner life and avoid trouble. We shut ourselves down. Sometimes we internalize the criticism and this is terrible for actors and humans alike.

Apart from the obvious dangers associated with some of the strategies many of us use to suppress our sensitive natures—alcohol, drugs, food, and zoning out on Netflix, to name a few— we also learn that we have to habitually diminish our true selves. Because the opposite of sensitivity is numbness. To be human is to be open, reactionary, dynamic and connected to our impulses. To be human is to listen and respond. Our true selves experience the world around us fully and react to it with action. Our true nature is to be in constant response to everything around us, a human feedback loop. We are instinct and drive. And we all used to be that way.

A few weeks ago, I spent a few days with my two year old nephew and watched as he experienced everything around him fully and responded to it. A dog barked and he squealed in delight. He took a drink of something he didn’t like and spit it out immediately. He heard someone raise their voice in anger and he began to cry. He didn’t miss a beat. I was struck watching my nephew by just how unfiltered and guileless his humanity is. Obviously, I am not saying that we should all act like two year olds. But we can be as open as a child and as expressive in our adult lives. The alternative is to live a lie.

As I said before, the opposite of sensitive is numb. It’s important to also recognize that the opposite of responsive is inert. The two go hand in hand. When we experience the world and those around us fully, when we let it in, we are spurred to take action. Our sensitivity is fuel in our tanks. When we let the world in and let ourselves respond in kind, we fight for what we believe is right. We also empathize more fully, we love harder, we connect. To be truly sensitive is to be engaged in the world in a meaningful way, living truthfully and with integrity. And if you let yourself live this way in your life, the same will be true in your acting.