Sensitivity and the Writer

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kittyI’m a delicate little flower. People tend to laugh when I say this, but it’s true! I am a very sensitive person.

I think people tend to laugh because sensitivity is all-too-often confused with weakness. But I am definitely NOT a weak person. I am someone who feels deeply. Sometimes I might struggle with expressing those feelings in a way that others can understand. Sometimes deep empathy is mistaken for aloofness because I cannot process and express the emotion immediately. Other times I express anger and frustration with tears. A lot of the time I simply don’t react externally, rather, I contain the depth of my emotion internally, requiring space and time to do so. But I DO feel it. Very much so.

It seems these days, sensitivity  is not looked upon as a positive. I remember in one job I had (in a particularly toxic workplace environment) a friend said to me “if only you didn’t cry,” as though ti was my crying, rather than the personality deficit of a dysfunctional bully, that was the reason he targeted me (as well as others who thought, felt, responded, differently to him.

I’ve been told to “toughen up” and “get a thicker skin” so often in my life, that for a very long time I thought there was something terribly wrong with me. I was compared to a turtle without a shell; an oyster with no protection; and told “the world would chew me up and spit me out” unless I changed. I tried to ‘toughen’ up, I tried not to take things personally, I tried the ‘water-off-a-duck’s-back’ philosophy. None of it worked for me.

And then, in a moment of great clarity, I realised that I didn’t want to do it that way. I didn’t want to shut down. I didn’t want to switch off from pain – my own or anyone else’s. I didn’t want to be one of those people who could walk past an old homeless man in the street and recognise the inadequacies of a society who has failed him. I didn’t want to look into the face of an impoverished child and not see the hunger. I didn’t want to close myself off to the friend locked in an abusive relationship and pretend it’s none of my business, or the colleague who cares for an elderly parent and a sick child who sometimes gets grumpy. I didn’t want to hear another news report about asylum seekers and not recognise the desperation in their actions. I didn’t want to grow a thicker skin if it meant walking around in a narcissistic bubble.

I realised that I am okay about being a sensitive person. I refuse to allow our government, or mass media, or colleagues, or ‘friends’, or society try to desensitise me. I am okay about being a sensitive person. While others may not cope with, or understand, or approve, my sensitivity, it lends itself very well to my writing. After all, how can a writer write with authenticity unless they have some degree of insight into their character’s emotions?

The short answer is: they can’t. It’s why writers tend to be such a sensitive bunch.

The writer who writes without an understanding of, or empathy for, the human psyche, can only skim the surface of the human experience. Human connection and interaction is what drives story. Regardless of genre, a reader must be able to connect with a character. They must be able to relate to a character, either positively or negatively, whether the character is human or not. A reader needs to see some of themselves in the characters they read, consciously or subconsciously, in fantasy or reality. Strong narrative should elicit some kind of reaction or response from a reader. And reaction comes from emotion. And emotion comes from empathy. And empathy comes from sensitivity.

To really get inside a character and create that relate-ability, a writer needs to be aware of and sensitive to, the full gamut of human emotion.

I’m a very sensitive person. And I’m okay with that. Because I’m a writer.


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