- “You’re such a crybaby!”
- “You take everything so personally!”
- “You’re just too sensitive!”
All my life, I’ve been embarrassed of my tears. I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me that I am so easily hurt by a few careless words. I’ve considered myself defective because I feel everything so deeply.
And I’ve felt completely alone because nobody understood me.
“Too” Sensitive as a Child
My father recalls:
As a young girl, in kindergarten and primary grades, you reacted immediately to me. If I simply moved my finger, you instantly knew what I meant and immediately changed what you were doing. At the slightest demonstration of my displeasure, you began to cry.
“Too” Sensitive as a Teen
I recall my joy at hearing my Geometry teacher announce to the class, “Cheri achieved 100% on every single test during first quarter!”
I was basking in my moment of glory: approval from a teacher I admired. But my 15 seconds of fame were brought to a quick halt by his next words.
“Today, I’d like to introduce a brand new student who will beat her next quarter.”
I couldn’t breathe.
The room swam around me as I tried desperately to control my tears. Mr. Vickers had known me for three months and yet he stated with conviction that this new student – whom he had just met – would beat me. The achievement of which I was so proud was suddenly meaningless. Worthless. I was worthless. Otherwise, how could Mr. Vickers know that I would be so easily beaten?
As I cried in the girls’ bathroom after class, my friends taunted me for being a “poor sport” who couldn’t share being “teacher’s pet.”
Even my BFF of ten years didn’t understand why I was so devastated.
“Too” Sensitive as an Adult
Shortly before I turned forty, I sat in the congregation as a preacher denounced cheap grace.
“You may have heard that God loves you just the way you are,” he thundered, pounding the pulpit for emphasis.
“But I am here to tell you that God does not love you just the way you are!”
Intellectually, I understood the point he was making. My logical brain agreed that of course God loves me too much to leave me where I am.
But even as I fought to stay rational, powerful emotions arose–along with a torrent of tears–and engulfed me.
My heart felt as though the one truth that kept it beating had been ripped right out. My body convulsed with crescendoing sobs.
My bewildered husband sat stiffly, gazing intently forward, until I composed myself several long minutes later. Later, in the car, he asked, “What set you off this time?”
After I explained, he said, “Well, you were the only one who chose to hear it that way.”
A highly logical man, he didn’t understand why I hid in the guest bathroom for a full hour after we returned home.
A “Highly” Sensitive Person
In 2012, after reading Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person, I stopped thinking of myself as “too” sensitive and started exploring what it means to be created in the image of God as “highly” sensitive person.
As a highly sensitive person, I become overwhelmed more easily than most people. So I need to take responsibility for getting my sleep, nutrition, exercise, and solitude.
I need to advocate for my needs rather than assuming others can read my mind.
I need to recognize my emotional triggers and respond from maturity.
A “Highly Dependent” Child of God
I’m also discovering that being highly sensitive means that I am “highly dependent” on Jesus.
Some consider me childish for living on the edge of tears; they tell me to “just grow up” and “get a grip.” But while I recognize my need to “put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11b), I also find assurance in Jesus’ welcome of those of us who have child-like places in our hearts:
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’.
In fact, Jesus warns that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15b)
And to show what “receiving the kingdom of God like a little child” looks like,
“He took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16)
When the 5-year-old part of my heart begins to break, yet again, I’m learning to run not to the bathroom to hide my tears but straight to His arms, where I find refuge in His ever-present strength. (Psalm 46:1)
A “Highly Sensitive” Savior
And to my delight, I’m discovering that in Jesus, I have a highly sensitive big brother (Hebrews 2:11).
When I’m feeling emotionally fragile, I remind myself that He’s got my back.
Re-playing the scene of Mary weeping at Jesus feet, I hear His words, “Leave her alone” (John 12:7) defending me from those who would mock me for crying behind bathroom doors.
Remembering how He was so “deeply moved in spirit” by Mary’s tears that He wept publically with her (John 11:33-35), I sense His presence with me in my suffering.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my high sensitivity, I turn less often to unsafe people–or even well-meaning but clueless people!–who will only hurt me more.
I’m learning to look, instead, to the One who always understands.