Sensitivity Is Your Superpower

In times like these, you may wish that you had less sensitivity. Life as an empathetic soul is often overwhelming. It can be easy to fall into despair or anxiety. And because you are capable in multiple ways, relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, plants and animals may be clamoring for your assistance. 

You may be happy to help. It could be your calling to serve others . But you might feel inadequate because you aren’t the one dragging people out of burning buildings. You aren’t the one rushing into war zones to cover the atrocities.

And the clamoring may make you want to stay in bed. On your good days. On your bad days, it may make you want to pulverize the clamorers, if you know what I mean. ( Just because you’re sensitive doesn’t mean that you never feel drawn to pulverizing. I don’t recommend doing it. I’m just saying… )

You need to understand that your sensitivity is your strength. Being perceptive, empathetic, compassionate and intuitive are skills that the world needs. Desperately.

But because you’re a sensitive soul, there are some things that you need to know.

First: Just because you can sense someone’s pain, doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for fixing it.  Just because you can do something faster, better and more easily than other people, doesn’t mean that you have to do that something. Practice saying no. Think of it like this: There are many helpers out there. You’re giving someone else a chance to step up. You’re helping someone else learn. I’m not saying that you should shirk your responsibilities. I’m just suggesting that it’s healthy to set boundaries and limits. You’re very capable in many areas. It’s impossible and inappropriate for you to do everything you could possibly do. Exhausting yourself? Not recommended. Look for the times when you’re drawn to something because it’s energizing. Head in that direction.

Second: Get toxic people out of your life. They’ll get help elsewhere. You may be enabling them by letting them rely on you; and we all know that enabling is a no-no. And, by the way, the toxic people might include family members. In that case, get them out of your life, too. ( If that sounds harsh, it is. Most certainly, try therapy first and blunt discussions, if you’re so inclined. But for the truly toxic, you may need to say bye-bye.*) You’ll feel guilt. Try to let go of the guilt. Tell yourself that you’re healing the legacy of dysfunction in your family line. That your ancestors are benefitting. Because they are. ( Trust me on that one. ) Everyone benefits when you stand up for yourself.

Third: Self-care is your friend. You are not a wimp if you need to rest.

Finally: Appreciate your sensitivity. It makes you powerful. Your awareness and your capacity for compassion and loving is vast. And surely this planet, your relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, plants, animals and even your politicians, need all of the love and compassion they can get.

Sensitivity is your superpower.


* I know that in some cases you won’t be able to say good-bye to toxic family members. In those cases, do your best to set limits, protect yourself and get support.

To my dear bloggEEs: Tell us about your sensitivities. How do you protect yourself from the clamorers? Describe how you use your superpower. And thank you, as always, for being here.

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

39 responses to “Sensitivity Is Your Superpower”

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  1. Rickote Avatar

    My supercurse I would say. I have a harder time month after month, day after day, I feel sadness, and want to cry, and be increasingly isolated… I live in US, and everything happening the last few years is demoting further any meaning to me of our insignificant existence, I know I am quite sensible to almost anything… violence, even the idea of killing an insect, anything strident! And I don’t know how to cope with this social hate, the I don’t care I or you die attitude of antivaxer friends, or even family! The continuous dismissal of basic facts… is really bad and really eroding myself and interfering in a number of fronts. Not sure if is only this, or there is more, but as you commented I feel I needed to dropped what I feel was toxic. So I got out from social networks, whatsapp groups, even with some family members that felt destructive and unnecessary distraction… But I don’t feel much better.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      These are hard times, Rickote. I hear you. Do you have a spiritual practice? Do you have good friends? Where do you find nourishment? Go there. <3

      1.  Avatar

        I feel your help is sincere, yet a bit too mystic. I don’t even know I have a spirit and/or soul by extension. For me, the spirit is just “The Rainforest” we all have, where the trees and their leaves are real neurons touching and (literally) talking each other. Talking of nourishment, in my “Rainforest” is raining really bad, getting flooded! … I love to be in zero gravity, total silence, is a unique sensation. I think I need to go diving, no bubbles!

  2. Why Do We Need A Blog For Super Smart, Sensitive, Creative, and Empathetic (Gifted!) People? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Being highly sensitive to textures, images, sounds, smells, tastes, colors, other’s emotions, medications, justice issues, and expectations, does not feel smart, but rather it feels like you are a high maintenance, complaining, ungrateful weirdo. […]

  3. A Totally Anecdotal Unscientific Explanation of a Particular Variety of High Intelligence from an Absolutely Nonacademic Tango Dancing Psychotherapist | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] her classmates in some intellectual repartee when all they want is to watch Survivor. Feels a spiritual and intuitive connection to the ocean and ravens. Lonely for a friend who gets her and who has read Lord of the […]

  4. What Are The Challenges Gifted Adults Have In Common? — A Therapist’s Perspective | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Relationships, Sensitivity, and the […]

  5. The Less Obvious Traits of Giftedness — Intense Emotions, Intuition, and Empathy | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] It is a lot to manage.  A lot to live with. Particularly in these tumultuous times. […]

  6. Some of My Best Friends Are Introverted, Sensitive, Introspective, Smart, Empathetic, Overthinking, Perfectionists | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] you Highly Sensitive? You may be easily overwhelmed by things that other people do not even notice. This can be […]

  7. standing still in a widening circle | sun opposite moon

    […] Look for more sensitivity. […]

  8. shellypruittjohnson Avatar

    Thanks for this post. Lately, I have been giving myself a lot of time to write and draw and paint and walk in nature. It helps a lot.

  9. What Does Gifted Look Like in My World? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] repartee when all they want is to watch Netflix. Some teachers think she’s arrogant. Feels a spiritual and intuitive connection to the ocean and the ravens. Lonely for a friend who gets her and who has read Lord of […]

  10. Teemu Avatar

    I hope to learn to control my empathy now that I’m more aware of how excessive it is (the sort of, walk past a beggar on the street sends you into an emotional tailspin for the rest of the day). It seems to help to think of it as just a brain function that’s overactive, not some real urgent call to action. It’s also kind of alarming to think that the average person seems to be almost psychopathic compared to me. But I don’t want to put it so negatively, I think they are lucky. Self awareness is key, then one can extract the good out of this. Ultimately, all of this is a blessing (to use a religious term) of epic proportions.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It would be great if all humans had that much empathy. It’s my hope that we’re evolving in that direction. In the meantime, it makes sense for you to practice boundary setting and self-soothing. Do you have a spiritual practice that can help? Do you feel comforted when you’re in nature? Thank you for sharing, Teemu.

  11. How Will You Know a Gifted Adult When You See One? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Look for more sensitivity. […]

  12. RainySunshine Avatar

    I have not been officially tested for giftedness, but I do had a very high IQ score result and I recognize myself so much in the descriptions and problems of gifted adults. What you write resonates so much to me (and I feel so scared to acknowledge I might be gifted, like I’m arrogant or haughty for thinking that).

    What you wrote about knowing about other people’s pain and what is causing it and feeling over-responsible resonates to me too. I am learning to let go more, to ask myself if it’s beneficial/harmful to me or not. If it’s harmful, I really need to steer clear. Feeling responsible for others while it harms me, a path too often walked unfortunately. But now it’s time for change! Slow and painful changes, yes!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      If you’re resonating with what you’re reading here, it’s likely that you have a rainforest mind. (are gifted!) And yes, it makes sense to be aware when you’re being “over-responsible” and “steer clear” if you’re being harmed!!

  13. thescapegoatwhoquit Avatar

    This is such a powerful message. I have been getting friends to check my emotions before reacting to situations but boundaries are definitely the most important thing and it is so difficult to not be sensitive. It is best to channel sensitivity to positive things instead of lingering over the negative, and feel that even though I have been hurt in the past I will not be bittered by it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing, thescapegoatwhoquit. (great name!!)

  14. Jenny Hanley Avatar
    Jenny Hanley

    Love this so much

  15. Sarah Avatar

    My husband commented to me the other day when we were arguing about how to handle his intrusive family that “everyone” gets on my nerves. I was hurt, because that’s not true. After some reflection, I went back to him. I pointed out the family members we have (on BOTH sides) who are toxic. He had to agree. Then I reminded him that I suffer from extreme empathy sometimes. He had to agree with that too. So we were able to come to an agreement. We both come from families that are loaded with toxic, hurtful, negative people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we found each other. 🙂 We agreed to work together to not only deal with toxicity but to consciously avoid modeling the behavior we learned to our own children. It’s a big step to be able to have this conversation with him. I think it’s been easier for him to blame me for being to sensitive than to face the fact that his parents are intensely negative and controlling. I feel like we’re moving forward. Thanks again for a timely post! I’m still not sure if you’re a mind reader. You’re definitely tuned in to the zeitgeist.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sounds like a very important conversation with your husband, Sarah. I’m glad my posts are timely! It can be a bit of a mystery to me why certain topics come up when they do… 🙂

  16. j'adore champagne Avatar
    j’adore champagne

    I just did six weeks of caregiving and being helpful – 3000 or so miles away. Since I have arrived home, I have become ill with a cold and all I want to do is sleep. I often just don’t know when to – or am able to – stop. But what I did was so rewarding and so needed. Sometimes I find myself tempted to shut down. No email, no FB, nothing.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Maybe occasional shutting down is what’s needed.

  17. S Avatar

    Yes, it seems like it is hard to do my best work when there’s a publicly disseminated message of what that should look like. Also, thank you for the bit about pursuing energizing work! It is beautiful how often our gifts happen to coincide with our favorite, most mindful, most impactful quests.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing, S.

  18. Devon Avatar

    Beautiful Paula! I’ve just been introduced to you writings and can’t wait to purchase your book. Thank you for every word x

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      So glad to have you here, Devon!

  19. Sensitivity Is Your Superpower | Your Rainforest Mind – Adviesbureau Willem de Boer, inspiratiecoach voor hoogbegaafden en mensen met een ASS diagnose

  20. Nimue Brown Avatar
    Nimue Brown

    One of the most useful thoughts I’ve run into came from druid author Kris Hughes – look after your own square mile. How you identify that – where exactly you draw your lines and why is a decision to make, but in essence, figure out a square mile, conceptually, that you can look after, and look after it, and trust that most of the time other people are covering other territory. It’s a defense against being overwhelmed by all the things we can’t do, keeps you focused on what you can do, and stops a person from trying to make themselves responsible for everything.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Nice, Nimue. A useful mantra. Thank you.

  21. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    One of the causes of social anxiety that was never mentioned by any of the therapists I have seen, nor was rarely mentioned in any of the literature I have read on the topic is sensitivity, especially being sensitive of others’ feelings.

    One of my biggest anxiety triggers is being around people who I sense are intimidated or otherwise nervous around me. I feel their nerves which feeds my own nerves which then becomes a feedback loop and….AAAGGHHH!!!

  22. Jessie Avatar

    I’m grateful for another well-timed post, Paula! My activist group that I complained about here last time? Well, one of the things the new angry people have done is Twitter mobbing someone they disagreed with. Complete with doxxing, and the wife of the victim saying they’d been through the worst week they’d ever experienced. I usually apply the intellectual overexcitability to address things in this circle, but lately that isn’t working so well because the emotional OE just makes me want to shout out against this injustice.

    Fortunately, things have been calming down a bit. I’ve been trying to figure out how to use this superpower, taking the pain I felt watching the new people terrorize the veteran member, and try to come up with a good workshop on organizing…one that conveys to people who DON’T have this particular superpower how to build a strong organization where people actually want to associate with each other and aren’t afraid to speak up. Fingers crossed!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      All the best to you, Jessie. it sounds so challenging. Remember to take care of yourself.

  23. annahjamesart Avatar

    I just spent last weekend being exposed to an extremely toxic family member…and oh wow, did I have a hard time. I just had to leave. It was too hard to witness, with my heart as open as it is. I am so sad and worried for this person’s partner, and at the same time know that it’s not my job to fix either one of them. Oh. It’s that boundary thing again…. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yep. That boundary thing! Very hard to enforce. Take good care of that open heart, Annah!

  24. Walther Ligtvoet Avatar
    Walther Ligtvoet

    Oh… how often I catapult into overdrive and try to fix things…. or else wonder if I should have done so… so shutting out is easier… which apparently also costs tons of energy.. :'(

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Very hard not to go into overdrive when you have the skills and when you care. What self-care practices do you do that might help, Waither?

      1. Walther Ligtvoet Avatar
        Walther Ligtvoet

        I walk.. sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for several hours. I write as often as I can. Poems, short stories or just blogs. I try to read but cannot find the peace in myself to do so at the moment and overall just weed out the people who only drain my energy and never seem to give anything in return. Sometimes easy to do, sometimes heartbreaking. I care and give as much as I can but have learned the hard way that I must also preserve some energy for myself.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Thank you for sharing your practices, Waither.