When I studied law in my 20s, I learned of the "eggshell skull" concept in torts, where a victim suffers more harm than the average person because of a biological weakness.
All my life I’ve felt as if I have an eggshell heart, and this seemed to me to be a failure, a flaw in my humanity, as if I'm simply not able to withstand the robust battering of a normal life with all that it brings.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I found the news harrowing. Families killed in fires. Car accidents. Suicides. War. Terrorism. Acts of violence. I spent many hours in my room sobbing on my bed for the grief of strangers.
My parents tried to help me. They told me to "stop being oversensitive." My father would say, "You can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders." I didn’t know how to put it down.
When I was 15, a bus of school children crashed into a dam, and most of them drowned. At school the following day, friends were making jokes about this tragedy. "How can you joke about children drowning?" I asked, unable to hide my tears. People told me I just had no sense of humor.
For a long time I imagined there was something wrong with me. I was ashamed of how painful life felt to me — even when my own life was going well.
It was only in my 20s when I met my Buddhist teacher, and I discussed my problem with her, that I found some relief.
She told me that most people have to work hard to feel empathy and compassion for the suffering of others — that this is part of spiritual work. She suggested that feeling the pain of the world is the sign of an evolved soul, and though I have no proof that this is so, for the first time I didn’t feel "wrong." I began to see my eggshell heart as a gift.
Here are some of the blessings of being oversensitive. If you too have wondered how to "fix yourself" or numb some of the pain, here are some reasons to love your soft open heart:
1. We can tell how someone is feeling by looking at them, or listening to the way they speak.
We don't necessarily do this by listening to what they say, but to the sound of their voice. We notice sadness, and because of that, we judge people less.
2. If we are writers, we’re able to step into the shoes of our characters and imagine their suffering, even if we’ve never experienced it ourselves.
As we write, we feel the pain of someone whose lover has died, or who has lost a child in war, or whose dreams have never come true.
3. We feel gratitude for our lives and the simple blessings in it, because we’re aware of the pain in the world all the time.
When my children come home safely from school, or my husband reaches for my hand, I am stunned by the abundance of simple joy I feel.
4. Because we’re undefended, we don’t shy away from tragedy or loss.
When someone is in pain, we’re able to "be with it."
5. We feel connected to the web of life, and to the energy that runs through all of us.
It gives us perspective on small daily irritations.
6. We're easily able to pray for the safety, well-being and healing of others when we ourselves have nothing to gain.
We know that the healing of others heals us.
7. We are never without a story to tell.
Because we belong to the stories around us.
Oversensitive people are easily overwhelmed — especially by events that are happening around us at the moment in the world. I have found the beautiful Buddhist practice of Tonglen (breathing in the suffering of others and breathing out love and compassion) help me when I feel helpless in the face of suffering.
To those other highly sensitive people reading this post, you are not alone. You are not broken. You are the silent heart the world desperately needs right now, and I am grateful to know that you are also out there.
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