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Are You Too Emotional?

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Are You Too Emotional?

Embracing your sensitive side.
Cheryl  Richardson
Cheryl Richardson More by this author
Sep 06, 2013 at 10:00 AM

When I was a little girl, my dad used to call me “Sarah Heartburn”—a funny twist on the name of French movie actress Sarah Bernhardt—because I had a tendency to be a bit dramatic when things didn’t go my way. The truth was that I was a highly sensitive child. I cried easily, felt deeply hurt when kids called me names or made fun of me, and was prone to bouts of loneliness and a kind of sadness that I didn’t understand.

For years I used to beat myself up for being sensitive. Like the little girl who felt too much, as a grown woman I still cried easily, felt bowled over by too much stimulation (the kind that came from big crowds, bright lights, and loud noises), and was deeply hurt by criticism and mean-spirited remarks. I hated being sensitive—loathed it, in fact—until a conversation with my first personal coach Thomas Leonard shifted my perspective.

I had delivered one of my first speeches on coaching and had received criticism from an angry audience member who didn’t like the way I presented my ideas. The review was harsh, and the pain of it stayed with me for days. During a call to Thomas, I described the feedback and admitted, “I hate that I’m so affected by this stuff. You can’t believe what’s gone on in my head since I read that review: I suck as a speaker; Forget about doing this for a living; Stick to being a coach, kid. I’m just too sensitive, and I hate it!”

Thomas listened thoughtfully as I continued on about how upset I was, and when I finished, he delivered one of his classic one-liners: “You know, Cheryl, the way I see it, your sensitivity is your greatest gift.” After taking a moment to allow his statement to sink in, he continued, “This gift has gotten you to where you are today, and it’s what makes you a great coach. If I were you, I’d protect your sensitivity rather than hate it.”

Protect my sensitivity? Now there was a concept I’d never considered before. The idea that my sensitivity might be a blessing rather than a curse was a surprising revelation. Like so many men and women, I believed that being vulnerable and expressing it was akin to admitting defeat or appearing weak. For example, it wasn’t okay to get emotional about a boss’s inappropriate behavior; I needed to suck it up and get the job done anyway. Now Thomas was challenging me to reconsider those beliefs.

As I thought about the benefits of my sensitivity, I realized that it had always led me to feel deeply connected to nature, animals, birds, music, and art. But it had also translated into a keenly perceptive ability to read people. With a tilt of the head, a blink of an eye, or a slight shift in tone of voice, I often could tell what someone was thinking or feeling. This ability developed over time into a finely tuned intuitive knowing that allowed me to be quite effective as a coach and teacher. I could anticipate people’s needs. Many times I knew what my students wanted before they knew themselves.

I suddenly understood that there are all kinds of gifts we experience when we open to, and then embrace, our sensitive side. All human beings possess a level of sensitivity that, when taken seriously and protected, can open us to a rich and satisfying experience of life. When we give presence to our sensitivity, we’re better able to see beauty everywhere and in everything from flowers to weeds, in joyous experiences and in the poignantly sad ones as well. We tend to be empathetic—kind and compassionate people who can easily put ourselves in the shoes of another. These are wonderful gifts indeed.

About Author
Cheryl  Richardson
Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times best-selling author of Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, and The Unmistakable Touch of Grace. Continue reading