Where I’m from, a country with a rough history and little hope of a brighter future, people have grown skin far too thick for their own good. On closer look however, one can see how a people can evolve in that direction, having little time to stop and consider the things in life that don’t have a direct impact on the now; having been forced to move fast and think fast, and fight constantly to get through every single day. Placed in this sort of situation, where practically nothing comes easy and the most basic requirements for comfortable living can’t be taken for granted, it becomes easier to understand why the general attitude towards sensitivity is, well, not great.
Where I’m from, people are expected to get back on their feet again right after they’ve been knocked down. They’re expected to brush things off like they never happened. “Suck it up” (or man up / toughen up / get over it / pull yourself together) and “it’s no big deal” are things we say as often as “hello” and “goodbye.” Dwelling on something that may have hurt us or crying over disappointments is simply unacceptable. Whatever it is, you pick yourself up and keep going. That’s how it is. We don’t question it. We simply try to do what is expected of us.
But for those of us who are more sensitive than most, those words can be damaging. For those of us who thoroughly process input (whether we like it or not), who feel much more deeply about the events that occur in our lives, and who require more time to collect ourselves after a difficult time, those words can leave scars that run deep.
Last year, we went back home for the holidays. During one of our family outings to a lake near my parents’ town, there was a young family standing close to where we were, feeding the ducks. At one point, the father climbs up onto a ledge for a reason that is beyond me, while his son, who must have been no more than four years old, pleaded with his father to get down while crying hysterically. It was heartbreaking, but what happened next was even worse. The father laughs at his son, stays up on the ledge a little longer, pretending he might fall over into the lake. He then jumps back down, tells his son “it’s no big deal,” picks him up and puts him up on the ledge where he panicked. The mother, carrying a baby, thought this was hilarious and laughed while her son begged his father to put him back down.
No one looked at these people like what they were doing was heartless and somewhat criminal. No one looked because to them, it was no big deal. Nothing happened. No one fell. And besides, boys aren’t supposed to cry anyway.
I suppose when a real threat a people has to constantly face is war, sensitivity is not the strength a country is looking for. Sensitivity might even be looked at as a major hindrance during a fight. I can’t even begin to imagine being thrown into a battle and have to watch people die all around me. I simply can’t.
But then again, without people who do over think and over analyze and over feel, how are things ever going to improve? When nothing is a big deal, what in the world would drive us to change our situation for the better?
You had a car accident, you say? So what?! An emergency C-section? Get over it, you both made it! Someone flicked you off for no reason? Big deal!
You’re worried too many trees are being chopped down? Too much garbage and pollution? Too much violence? Too many animals on the brink of extinction? It scares you that the planet might be in trouble?
“Suck it up, son. It’s no big deal.”
That’s what we tell our friends, family, colleagues, and worst of all, our children. If nothing is a big deal, if we’re taught to repress every feeling but anger, how is anything ever going to change? If no one cares about a thing, who’s going to fight for peace? For human rights? For gender equality? For sustainability? For the planet?
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Unfortunately, this is not just something I witness back home. It’s something I see everywhere. Boys are expected to behave like men—whatever that means—and fathers, mothers, teachers, strangers don’t hesitate to point that out.
As the mother of two boys who cry whenever we pass by workers pruning some trees on the road (because “they’re cutting off too much”), I can only say that it fills my heart with pride and joy to see such young people care so deeply about what goes on around them. It is true that parenting a highly sensitive child can be frustrating at times, but is asking our sensitive boys to ‘man up’ the solution?
My highly sensitive son, on his sixth birthday last month, asked his friends to help him support a charity his chose himself instead of bringing him presents. He cried for about forty five minutes after we read The Journey Home, a picture book about how some endangered animals might one day join the dodo if we don’t do something, and decided to support a charity that helps the planet on his next birthday. For a school project, his Christmas wish (as we saw it up on the classroom wall during his Christmas party) was for there to be no more war in the world so that people would stop dying and getting hurt. The list goes on and on.
And the thing is, we have very little to do with the opinions he has and the plans he comes up with. That’s all him. That’s the way he is.
And in my opinion, that is the way all “men” should be.
Too often, I hear of mothers complaining that their husbands don’t understand, or won’t accept their highly sensitive sons. A great book every parent of a highly sensitive boy should read is “The Strong Sensitive Boy” by Dr. Ted Zeff, in which he interviews thirty highly sensitive men form five different countries, demonstrating the factors that had the biggest impact on these individuals growing up, such as relationships with fathers, school, making friends, sports, just to name a few. Reading these men’s stories and finding out what helped and hurt them the most is not only moving, but also helps to open the eyes and hearts of fathers ̶ and mothers ̶ who may be trying to “toughen up” their sensitive boys.
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