If you’re a sensitive person, you may have been told that you are the problem—that if only you weren’t “so sensitive,” everything would be okay. You might have heard all too often that you should just “toughen up.” Yet sensitivity—when respected and valued—can be a most wondrous superpower. We live in an often-insensitive world that is hyper-focused on external appearances and material success, so it’s important to slow down to notice the wisdom of embracing and protecting our sensitivity. Prepare yourself for an inspiring journey into the realm of imperfect love, relationships, and what it takes to turn your sensitivity into one of your greatest assets. Join Dr. Carla and her amazing guest, Rebecca Strong (Bex), for an extraordinary conversation that’s sure to touch your heart and soul. If you are an HSP (a highly sensitive person)—or know someone who is—this episode is for you!
Books by Dr. Carla Manly:
Connect with Dr. Carla Manly:
Connect with Rebecca Strong:
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Sensitivity as a Superpower! Tips for Mindfully Embracing Sensitivity with Expert Rebecca Strong, Writer, Singer, and HSP!
Tired of being told you’re too sensitive? Discover how to heal and embrace your sensitivity as the superpower it’s meant to be!
If you are a sensitive person, you may have been told you are the problem, that if only you weren’t so sensitive, everything would be okay. Yet sensitivity, when respected and valued, can be a most wondrous superpower. As we live in an often insensitive world that is hyper-focused on external appearances and material success, it’s important to slow down to notice that embracing and protecting our sensitivity is a wise move.
We’ll focus on this reader’s real-life question, “From the time I was a kid, I’ve been told I’m too sensitive. My dad, who was critical and abusive, was constantly telling me to get tougher so I could get ahead in life. I’ve tried to toughen up, but it never worked for me. It’s caused me a lot of pain and shame and still does. What’s your advice?”
With that question as the focus of this episode, this is Imperfect Love. I’m joined by a special guest, Rebecca Strong, known as Bex, who will be sharing her expertise on using sensitivity as a superpower and embracing music for self-care. Welcome to the show, Bex. It’s such a joy to be with you. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
You are many things. You’re an extraordinary person. You’re a singer, musician, songwriter, and freelance writer, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Before we launch into sensitivity as a superpower, what makes you, you?
Ever since I was a little kid, creativity has been a big part of my life. I’ve always dabbled in differeant creative pursuits. I’ve hopped around from screenwriting to songwriting to filmmaking and photography and many different creative outlets. A core part of that is my sensitivity. I’ve at least found in life that a lot of artists are highly sensitive people. That can benefit you in any form of art. When I think about my core traits, sensitivity is one of the first that comes to mind. In this chapter of life, I have been trying to look for ways to channel that for good.
I’ve listened to a lot of your music, which is amazing. You are a phenomenal singer. All of your songs are beautiful, but I love the one on sensitivity. Can you tell us a little bit about that particular song?
The song is called Sensitive. It was released in March 2023. I wrote it a couple of years ago. It felt like a cathartic song to write. It felt like I had been having these feelings for a while that had been slowly mounting, which were reflecting on the fact that I had grown up with this idea that my sensitivity meant a weakness or a negative trait that I should be ashamed of.
As soon as I entered my 30s, I felt like I started taking a step back and thinking, “I don’t think that’s true.” The song was making a statement, taking my power back, and saying, “I don’t accept that this is a negative thing about me. Here’s why.” It almost felt like writing a journal entry to write that song. It was personal.Love! Sensitivity! Superpowers! Join Dr. Carla singer-songwriter Rebecca Strong (Bex) for an inspiring conversation about relationships, family, creativity, and the journey of evolving toward greater self-love and awareness! Sensitivity is a blessing,… Click To Tweet
I put off releasing it for a couple of years because it almost felt too vulnerable and personal. I reached a point where I was like, “I don’t think I can sit on this any longer. I feel like I need to share it with people.” It’s been awesome to hear feedback that many people relate to the song. With a lot of people that related to it, I was surprised. It was unexpected. I heard from a lot of men in my life that I didn’t expect to hear from, saying, “This resonates deeply with me. I always felt like I had to hide my sensitivity.” That’s been rewarding to hear.
I love that you heard from a lot of men because when we think of sensitive people, particularly highly sensitive people, we think of women. I am with you. In fact, the reader’s question, I didn’t give away the gender, but it happened to come from a man. We can see that we would almost naturally think it must be a woman writing about that.If you're a sensitive person, you may have been told that you should toughen up! Yet sensitivity—when respected and valued—can be a most wondrous superpower! Join Dr. Carla and singer-songwriter Rebecca Strong (Bex) for a heartfelt exploration of the… Click To Tweet
Women are taught to hide their sensitivity because it can be seen as a weakness. The number of clients I have worked with over the years who were told to man up. Let it be like water off a duck’s back. Get tougher, stronger, and be like a man, whatever that means. Back to your song, is there a phrase or a few phrases that are especially meaningful to you from that song Sensitivity?
The whole gist of the chorus is, “So what if I am sensitive?” That was the first line that sparked the song. I was sitting there thinking, “I’m sensitive. Why is that being hurled at me like it’s an insult?” I started with, “So what if I am sensitive?” From there, I went back and started writing the verses, which reveal more insight into what it’s like to be a highly sensitive person. In verse two, there’s a line like, “My emotions, they run deep, and I wear them all right up on my sleeve. Damn right. You tell me I should think twice, but I have nothing to hide.”
The idea behind that was, to some people, it’s almost threatening or off-putting when someone expresses their emotions easily because they don’t know how to deal with that. They weren’t taught to express or cope with someone else’s emotional expression. They turn it around on you like it’s a bad thing. In a way, how beautiful that I don’t have to suppress how I’m feeling in the moment. I don’t have anything to hide. I want you to know how I’m feeling, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That was the idea there.I don't have to suppress how I'm feeling in the moment. I don't have anything to hide. I want you to know how I'm feeling, and there's nothing wrong with that. Click To Tweet
You did a magnificent job because our reader, or any person who has ever been in that position where they were told they are too sensitive. I love the part where you naturally said, “They hurl this at me as if it’s an insult.” Instead of realizing that sensitivity, when embraced, understood, and well-used, is a tremendous gift.
What would the world be like without our sensitive people? I wouldn’t want to live there. Our sensitive people make the world as positive as it is now. I’m with you on that. I have a question for you. In your childhood, was there any implicit or explicit message from your family of origin that sensitivity wasn’t an asset?
I’m related to the reader’s question and their childhood experiences. My mother is a sensitive person. You would think that she would’ve had compassion for those same parts in me. Maybe because she struggled with her own sensitivity, she couldn’t deal with it when I showcased that particular quality. I do remember a lot of times growing up, feeling hurt by something she said or did and having it brushed off like, “You’re too sensitive.” She didn’t want to have to take responsibility for saying, “I’m sorry,” for whatever she did.
Looking back, I can see that now, but when you’re a child, you don’t have that understanding of people yet. You don’t understand why people say the things they say. At the time, I internalized that message of, like, “I’m too sensitive. That’s a bad thing.” It becomes difficult as you get older. People hurt your feelings to tell like, “Am I allowed to feel upset about this? Is this warranted? Am I overreacting?” It becomes hard to know when your feelings are valid. It was difficult.
Looking at your background and the reader’s question, when you are given those messages from a parent, caregiver, teacher, or whoever it is in early life, all of that is internalized. You grow up thinking, “This sensitivity and this ability to feel is a bad thing.” Our ability to feel is what makes us or can make us wise.
Without our feelings, we have mere intellect. Intellect without feelings is a dangerous thing. People will use it as an insult, use somebody else’s sensitivity, deflect, and say, “Bax, you are too sensitive.” Rather than saying, “Let me see how I’ve hurt your feelings. Let me see how I’ve participated in this issue. Let’s work to create a safer environment.” Many people don’t get that. Was your dad the same? With your experience with your dad, was it similar?
I was mostly raised by my mom. She was a single mother. My dad was in and out of my life. There were times when he was more involved. He struggled with addiction quite a bit. There were years when he was around. There were years he wasn’t. I remember vividly a phone conversation I had with him. I was at a sleepover at a friend’s house in eighth grade. I remember everything about the room. I remember him saying on the phone, because I was crying about something, and he said, “You need to toughen up.” It’s funny how that memory stuck with me.
I was angry at the time. I also felt like he had no right to give me any parental advice because he was uninvolved, but it hurt me. Me crying was a reaction to disappointment that he hadn’t shown up to something. He had let me down in some way. He was telling me that I needed to toughen up, and I wasn’t allowed to be upset about that, which was confusing and maddening. I had a lot of anger about that for a long time. Part of me wondered if he was right and felt wounded and small. Part of me was like, “Screw that. I don’t need to toughen up. I’m allowed to be sad.” It was conflicting.
You are giving such great information that is giving me information about you and answering the question of the day at the same time. When we look at sensitivity, the child, and the parent, where all of this starts, this is where it starts. Childhood is where it starts. We think of how a child falls down. We say naturally and not even meaning to be mean or to ignore the child, “Don’t cry.” We’re cuddling the child and saying, “Don’t cry.” Instead of letting the crying be okay and saying, “Let me hold you.” That’s the mild level of not realizing how much we impact a child.
We have the moderate level, which is, “Come on. Let’s get back on the bike. It’s okay. You’re fine.” That you’re-fine statement is not meant to be destructive, but you’re marginalizing and ignoring the child’s feelings, or at the other end, which is what you experienced. You are coming forward, saying, “I’m hurting. I’m in pain. I’m being vulnerable. I’m sharing this that I’m in pain.” The parent Whac-A-Mole you and says, “It’s your problem. You are too sensitive. You go toughen up.” Let’s put this wall around Bex or whoever it is. Let’s put this wall. Get tougher and stronger. Please, Bex, don’t feel those feelings. Your feelings are not helpful. What a message to a child.
It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of us as humans to sit with someone else’s sadness or whatever it is they’re feeling. That’s why we push it back onto them because we can’t cope with it. It’s sad when it happens to a child because they’re not necessarily equipped to say, “That person couldn’t take responsibility for their actions.” They don’t have that awareness yet. They believe whatever you tell them about who they are. They grow up believing they have these flaws, which is sad.It's so uncomfortable for a lot of us to sit with someone else's sadness or whatever it is that they're feeling, and so that's why we push it back on to them because we can't cope with it. Click To Tweet
It is because those kids turn into teenagers who ignore their feelings and into young adults and adults who bring into their relationships and their parenting. We want to avoid them. We want to be okay. It’s interesting, as I talk a lot about, that we have five core emotions, fear, sadness, anger, joy, and disgust. From those five emotions come thousands of feelings based upon how our emotions are registered in the brain and interconnected with past experiences, outcomes, and all of these feelings.
I would like your input on this. It sounds like the person who wrote in. For males, I believe that they are taught that being okay and being angry are the two core acceptable ways of being. For women, for most of us, we are taught to be okay but happy. Happiness is not even an emotion, but it is the way to be. If a woman is sad, it’s okay. She’s allowed to go there for a little bit, but not too long.
If you’re a real woman and you’re a nurturing woman, you should never get angry. You should never say no. If we are confined, gender-wise, to one emotion or feeling per gender, look at how many we’re missing out on, all of these other emotions that we are told are not okay or should be avoided. What do you think of that?
My best friend is my guru. I always ask her for advice. She always says, “Sadness and anger are cousins. What’s lying underneath of anger is sadness.” Vice versa can happen. When you only feel the acceptable emotion of anger, as a man, very often, what’s underneath it is feeling hurt. It’s unfortunate because in relationships, especially relationships that are heterosexual, where there’s a man and a woman, and they’ve been brought up in a society that taught them that they only have this one acceptable emotion, there’s a lot of misunderstanding that happens.
You see your male significant other constantly getting angry, and you don’t know that deep down, they’re sad. You might be able to have more compassion for them and problem-solve better if you were able to see their sadness versus anger, which is sometimes scary. It creates a lot of conflicts in relationships. It makes it hard to be compassionate toward each other when we’re not allowed to feel the full spectrum of emotions.It creates a lot of conflict in relationships, and it makes it hard to be compassionate toward each other when we're not allowed to feel the full spectrum of emotions. Click To Tweet
I love that you naturally brought this up because I could go off on this tangent for a couple of hours. I 100% agree with you. Years ago, I worked on juvenile probation with this special division. There was what we called the anger iceberg. You have the anger on top and underneath, and I would show this diagram to these young men who were often angry because that is an okay emotion for a person who identifies as a male.
There they are with anger. Underneath, as they started doing their work, they would find sadness, disappointment, grief, frustration, irritation, and all of these different emotions that had been pent up. Sometimes, they would have memories from 3, 5, and 7-year-old. Most of them were 7, 8, 9, and 10-year-olds from that age period. They would remember being yelled at, screamed at, burned, and all of these different horrible things. It’s all pent-up.
They are now adolescents or late adolescents, and they’re acting out in the only way they were ever told was okay in ways that were acted out on them. A father, a mom’s boyfriend, or somebody had taken rage out on them. They learned that’s what they do. When they do it, they end up on probation. They’re thinking, “What else am I supposed to do? This is what I was taught.”
I see it in my client population where there will be a man in his 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, and they’ve never addressed their childhood trauma. They’re walking around with this. They may do good at work, and they may seem fine, but when they get behind closed doors in a relationship, that anger starts coming out. You said your dad was an addict. I believe that behind a lot of addiction is the huge sensitivity where anger becomes the defense mechanism. The anger is there, and it’s the defense. The addiction is there that’s defending against all of that inside that is shame, hurt, sadness, disappointment.
Everything you’re saying resonates. I feel like what you’re describing in many ways is what perpetuates intergenerational trauma. When you aren’t dealing with those feelings, you become a parent, and you’re reenacting all those things that you experienced during childhood. It keeps going on. I feel like I’ve made it my life’s mission to be like, “It needs to stop here with me. I don’t want to pass those messages on to my potential future children.”
He had a learning disability. He was dyslexic. He was told that he was never going to amount to anything, nothing should be expected of him, and he was lazy and stupid. He grew up with an alcoholic mother and an absent father who told him to toughen up. The more I learned about his upbringing, I was like, “He wasn’t given many tools here to be an empathetic parent or a present parent.” I have a lot more compassion for him now, but I’m not willing to lean into my own trauma and pass it on. I still have a lot to work on, and most of us do, but at least I’m aware of what I’ve taken from my childhood experiences and what I want to leave behind.
You have such an old soul quality about you because you’re conversant and articulate about these simple yet huge details that make our place on the planet, either where we’re making a difference and breaking the intergenerational transmission of violence, the intergenerational transmission of any form of abuse or negative pattern whatsoever rather than reacting to it or carrying it on.
I agree with you 100%. That’s the whole purpose of my next book, which comes out in early 2024, The Joy of Imperfect Love. I start from an attachment perspective, looking from childhood forward and saying, “This is not about us being perfect at all. We will never be perfect.” If you’re working on yourself, be prepared for a lifetime of work. For me, it’s not that I will ever stop working. It’s just, “What do I work on now? What way is it coming up?”
When we look at work that way, especially people who came from difficult childhoods, and most people didn’t have a perfect childhood, which means we all have work to do. When we look at it as you are looking at it, not blaming or shaming dad or mom, but eyes wide open, saying, “I can see what was happening.”
Even if you can’t see it, try to understand it so that you can embrace whatever they did that was positive and let go of whatever they did that was negative and say, “I’m going to do this differently. Whether I have kids or not, maybe I’m an aunt, an uncle, or a teacher, or if I have a committed relationship, or I’m dating, I’m not going to take these patterns out on my partner, my kids, or my students.” That’s not just a right, but it’s our responsibility to be mindful about how we’re showing up in the world.
The more you understand about your parents’ experiences and their backgrounds, it helps with depersonalizing a lot of what they did with you because you start to realize that it had nothing to do with you. It all stems back to their own childhood and how they were raised. It helps with forgiveness. It’s been a process of forgiving my parents for their mistakes. All parents make mistakes.
I’m still in my own relationship. I got married in June 2023. I see patterns in myself and my own relationship that I’m like, “That’s old. That goes back to me and my mom and my fear of confrontation.” I’m more likely to hide things or be passive-aggressive than I am to be honest and upfront because I didn’t feel safe doing that. These are things that I’m still working on all the time. It’s an exhausting journey, but it’s a worthy one.
First of all, congratulations on being a newlywed. Congratulations on the fact that you’re doing work in the relationship. Anyone can be in a relationship, marriage, not marriage. It takes special people to be committed to doing the work to evolve one day, one step at a time, in ways that their parents might not have done or know how to do.
I’m listening to you with such admiration and saying, “This is fabulous.” You’re seeing passive aggressiveness. You’re not saying, “It’s how I get my needs met. I’m going to do that.” You’re seeing these patterns coming up. You’re saying, “That’s not the person I want to be as a woman, as a partner in this relationship.” Bex, I am impressed.
You’re giving me so much credit. I feel like the first step is being aware of these habits, tendencies, and patterns that we don’t like. I haven’t kicked all of them yet, but at least I’m able to recognize when it’s happening. You have to start somewhere. That’s the first step.
The awareness is the first step. In every book I’ve written, that’s what I say. It’s how I work with my clients. It’s the awareness. It’s the ability to pause, self-reflect, put up a little stop sign for a minute, and say, “I’m doing this. I’ve done this. Could I have done it differently?” We can never unknow what we know. Once we know, that was a passive-aggressive remark. I saw that look. I made my partner cry. We can never unknow that.
The next step is, “Let me apologize. Let me make my brain rewired so that next time, not only will I not make that same mistake, but if I do, I’ll catch it much quicker, and I can repair that rupture.” There will be ruptures in relationships. We can’t avoid that. What we can avoid is ignoring them or doing the old, “It’s your fault. You clean up your own mess. You’re too sensitive. Deal with your problem on your own.” That’s the easy thing for the insensitive or abusive person to do.
It’s helpful when you notice yourself resorting to those old habits and patterns to think, “After the fact, how could I have handled that differently? In my best version of myself, how would I have wanted someone else to handle that with me?” It is hard when these behaviors are ingrained. I also find that it’s helpful to understand the why behind them.
For the longest time, I had this habit of getting defensive and panicked when my partner would point out something silly, like, “Why did you put that dish there? Can you take your shoes off?” My voice would get raised and get defensive. He would be like, “What is happening? Why are you reacting like that? I wasn’t mad. I was pointing something out to you.” I had to take a step back and realize, “I know why that’s happening.” Growing up, if I did something wrong around the house, I would be screamed at. My mother would go into a rage. I would hide in my closet.
I look back, and I’m like, “That’s why, now, if someone points something small out, it hasn’t registered to me yet that this is someone different. This is my partner. They’re not mad at me.” I become like a little kid again that needs to defend themselves. I was like, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” That’s taken some time to work through, but knowing where it comes from helps me be compassionate toward the little kid that’s still inside me somewhere.
I agree with you completely that until we go back and rescue that little kid over again, and that little kid at all different ages in life until the abuse stopped, and if it ever did stop, because it’s still occurring with different people. I love how you approach it. You want to be compassionate with that sensitive child that’s getting triggered. You want to understand where the roots are. We all have histories and relationships in our past, whether it’s mom, dad, caregivers, early boyfriends, early girlfriends, later boyfriends, or girlfriends who may have added to the trauma. If we don’t address that, then we’re taking all of those cumulative traumas out on our current partner. It’s not fair.
I can’t tell you how many times he’s been like, “I’m not your mom.” I know that on a logical level, but it’s hard. There’s something visceral that takes over that triggered, and I feel like I’m thrown back in time. It’s strange how that can happen so quickly.
It does happen so much. I see it in my clinical work constantly because when our brains are formed, everything is formed around that early brain. The prefrontal cortex comes in. Our early memories are protected. For however many decades you’ve been on the planet, if you’ve been on the planet 30 years, they were hardwired in for 30 years. If you’re on the planet 40, 50, or 60 years, all of those fear-based patterns are hardwired in.
People go to therapy if they do go to therapy, and they think, “Three sessions will do it.” I’m thinking, “You’re 50 years old, and you think three 50-minute sessions are going to rewire your brain that had 50 years of this. I wish it would work that quickly.” It also depends on how much you are actively working it out in the external world. That’s one piece.
Another piece is that people often come and say, “I’m 65 now. I had this trauma as a kid, but it shouldn’t affect me now because I’m older.” I always answer, “You’re perfect proof of it.” Trauma does not know chronological time. Trauma only knows when you start working on it and how much you work on it. That’s how trauma gets resolved. Chronological time doesn’t do it.
Sometimes, it’s helpful. I found myself getting frustrated with how much time it was taking me to overcome some of these patterns. My therapist at the time would say, “You have to think of these reactions that you’re having and these triggers as their pathways through the woods that have been trodden down. Think of thousands of people trodding down a path.” Trying to form a new neural pathway is like treading through the woods with no path. It’s going to take some time to keep going down this new path and carve it out before you can go there. It’s going to take practice and be patient. I’m impatient.
I love the metaphor that she was using about the pathways. I often talk about it when I work with clients. Think about it when you get on a highway. You’re on the major highway. You want to go to the supermarket, but you end up in the next town because that’s where you work. It’s a Saturday. Your brain got on the highway. You weren’t even thinking about it. It’s not your fault. You didn’t even notice that there was an exit.
We have to slow down to say, “I’m going to put up a little detour sign here and try my best next time when I get on that highway to remember here’s a detour.” The more we take that detour, and we see that stop sign or that hazard sign, the more we will learn to take that other one. At first, we’ve traveled that road to work many times. We’re going to go there automatically. We have to remember the detour sign or stop sign and get off here. That takes mindfulness.
For people who are impatient, reactive, or simply human and imperfect, we will often not even see the stop sign or the hazard sign. We go straight down that pathway. We’re wondering, “How did I get here? Why am I in conflict with my poor partner?” The best thing to do, and it sounds like you do it, is like, “I’m sorry. This is what I did. This is what I’ll do differently in the future. Thanks for being patient with me.”
We’re not perfect in every conflict, but there have been times when my partner will say, “What’s happening here? What’s going on?” He’ll notice that my reaction seems disproportionate to what’s going on. This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, my reaction when I’m triggered triggers him. It escalates. We’re out of control. We’re not perfect when that happens.
Sometimes, he’s able to say, “You seem angry. What’s going on? What are you feeling?” Approaching it with curiosity is helpful because that gives me a moment that’s disarming. It gives me a moment to be like, “I don’t know. What is that? What is happening?” It brings me back to the present before I go into full fight or flight mode.
It sounds like you have created a lot of good resources. You’ve been in therapy to work with all of this to help this innate sensitivity become the superpower that it is for you to be vulnerable with your husband to have a lovely relationship that’s not perfect. I don’t know of any relationship that is perfect, but the big green flag to me is anytime I hear partners saying, “We’re working on it. I’m becoming more aware. We’re growing.” That’s what it’s all about, the green flag of, “I’m working on it.”
Do you have any other tips for our readers about how to use their creativity or any part of who they are as a superpower? Before I get your response, I want to add this piece that I’ve noticed to make sure it doesn’t get forgotten along the way. I’ve noticed in a lot, with a lot of people, they’ll say something like, “You’re too sensitive. I don’t like your sensitivity. It’s awful. It’s all your problem. You fix all this.” They don’t like one side of the person’s sensitivity.
The other part of the person’s sensitivity, where they’re the nurturer, the caregiver, the doer, or the one who makes the meals, tends to all of the bits and pieces and is the lovey-dovey one. They like that side of the sensitivity. The part that gets triggered when pain is caused is the part that they don’t like. They want to cut the person in half and take only that part of the person. Have you experienced that? What do you think?
With me and my husband, we’re different. He’s direct and blunt in his communication. He’s like, “If I have a problem with you, I’m going to tell you. I’m going to tell you what I’m thinking and feeling.” I am tiptoeing around people and worried about hurting anyone’s feelings or making them mad at me. It’s different.
At the beginning of our relationship, that was challenging because he would want me to be more direct and upfront. I wanted him to be more sensitive and soft with his delivery. We’re constantly trying to find a middle ground. I remember saying, “You don’t get my nurturing qualities, empathy, a good listening ear, or taking care of you when you’re upset. You don’t get any of that without this other side of my sensitivity that I do get hurt and wounded.” I do feel everything intensely, but there’s a good side to that.
I had to realize that, with him, those qualities that he has are opposite to mine and do create conflict sometimes. There are many situations where I’m grateful that he is like that because I can’t deal with confrontation. We’re at a hotel. There’s some issue. I know that he has no problem going in there and talking to whoever he needs to talk to make sure that something is fixed. With most qualities, there’s a positive and a negative side, especially with sensitivity.With most qualities, there's a positive and a negative side, especially with sensitivity. Click To Tweet
I recognize that. Do I love being sensitive all the time? No. Sometimes, I feel like my feelings get hurt, and I take things personally all the time. I don’t love that. There are times when I wish I could brush something off a little more easily. I wouldn’t change that quality for the world. My partner has said, “I don’t want you to change. I don’t want you to be any different.” That’s very healing to hear.
I love that he says that to you. He loves your sensitivity. It also sounds like he’s a self-aware and self-reflective human being. Despite being straightforward, it sounds like he’s also highly supportive and has a good temper on him.
We both had a lot of childhood trauma. That came up a lot early. Early in our relationship, we had some intense arguments. We got to a point where I was like, “Is this healthy? Should we be together?” I realized that we were bringing up a lot of unresolved trauma in each other that no other relationship had brought up for me. I thought, “Maybe this is a gift. This is going to force me to grow, but it’s hard to sell.”
Is your husband engaged in therapy? Did he do a lot of self-work or any self-work?
He does his own self-work. I don’t think he’s ever done traditional therapy. He works on mindfulness a lot. He’s a spiritual person. We are praying for him. We’ve been trying to do breathing exercises together.
There are more ways than psychotherapy to do self-work. Self-work, being mindful, praying, and being spiritual can do the trick. It’s interesting that you are bringing this up. We’re going way on another tangent, but I believe the piece about relationships and the healing power. That is part of my next book where I talk about how sometimes these two people come together where there’s this friction. That friction is either a curse or a gift.
If you use that friction, and it’s coming from two people who have trauma that’s unresolved, and both people are willing to work on it, you get the joy of growing in ways that you could never do in any other relationship. If that person is there for the long haul with you, and you’re both mindful about doing that work, not only are you getting healed and the partner’s getting healed, but you’re creating this relationship that becomes beautiful because it’s knitted together by such conscious love and such mindful healing.
The other direction is to not do your work. The relationship between two people is having difficulties. If one person is working at their stuff and the other person isn’t working at their stuff, the one person’s work is so much harder, and the other person devolves or stays stagnant while the other person is going, “I am getting wiser.” Our romantic relationships hold such power for self-growth and other growth when we use them wisely.
You’re bringing up such amazing points, Bex. I love this conversation. It’s going to help not only the person who wrote but readers everywhere who have been told that their sensitivity is not a superpower. You’ve helped illuminate that when we use our sensitivity wisely and we work on it, it does become a superpower. Let’s get back to you for some more tips before we wind up. I’d love to hear more ideas.
For the reader?
It can be for anyone. What are ways that you’ve covered many bases? I could have done three episodes with you on different topics, but give some ways you have found I can do X, Y, or Z. You’ve already offered a lot, but to take the superpower from a perceived weakness and with the sensitivity, I don’t want to see it as a weakness or a liability, but here’s how I make it a superpower.
One thing that I’ve noticed with a lot of highly sensitive people like myself is in social situations, I find myself naturally being aware of what everyone around me is feeling and what their experience of that social situation is. I don’t know why or where this comes from, but I ended up taking on this role. I want to make sure everyone feels included. I notice that the person over there looks a little awkward. I’m going to go over and introduce them to someone else. I’m going to strike up a conversation with them. That person is looking around and needs something.
Being in tune with everyone else’s emotional life can be exhausting sometimes, but it’s also a great power. If you’re hosting an event or you’re at an event, making people feel comfortable and connecting people with other people can be a great thing. Having someone to play that part can put people at ease. I like hosting people at my house and planning events because I get to exercise that power.
In terms of creative pursuits, you don’t have to have an incredible singing voice or be a trained painter to benefit from the arts. If you start with journaling, singing in your car, or playing an instrument, even if it’s playing it badly, all of these things provide a safe outlet for expressing all of those emotions that in everyday life you might be told are too much by someone who’s feels threatened by your sensitivity. Find something you enjoy, whether you think that you’re good at it or not. There’s a lot of catharsis to be found in that.
I agree with you on both. I also agree with you on the exhausting part of being the person who’s reading the room and tending to everybody. It can be a wonderful way to read the room and be nurturing and caring, but also, being aware can be exhausting. You don’t need to do it all the time. You don’t need to do it if you don’t want to. If you’re getting enjoyment and it makes you grow that part of you, but you’re so mindful of it, I love that one.
I love the other part about the creative outlet, whether it’s music, journaling, or making cookies, whatever makes you feel like you can feel your feelings and have an outlet for your feelings to make it a safe space to express. Drawing, coloring, painting, and playing kickball with your dog make you feel like you have a place for all of these emotions that are a natural part.
I’m fortunate that a lot of my girlfriends happen to be highly sensitive people. It’s good to have at least one person in your life who is also sensitive and understands what comes with it. That can be a safe space and a sounding board, and can empathize with what it’s like to live in this world as a sensitive person.It's good to have at least one person in your life who is also sensitive and understands what comes with that. Click To Tweet
Thank you for adding that piece. You are right because there are many people in the world who have learned not to honor or acknowledge their sensitivity. I’m a highly sensitive person as well. Being out in the world, we need to know our boundaries, have our nice boundaries up, and know our needs because the world for sensitive people can be a stingy place to be. When you feel everything, it can be a lot. We need to have good self-care. Bex, where can our readers find you?
A lot of my writing centers around relationships, health, and well-being, especially mental health. That is on Well+Good, Business Insider, AskMen, Men’s Health, and Bustle. I write for a number of different sites. My music is all under my stage name, Bex. I believe there are multiple Bexes out in the music world. The best way to find my music is to search Bex with either the title of my recent single, which was Sensitive, or the title of my album, which was Sink or Swim. It’s on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
Bex, would you like to belt out a line or two from one of your songs for us? Feel free to say no.
One of the lines that sticks out to me is from the bridge. It goes, “It doesn’t mean that I am broken just because you break my heart wide open.”
You’re making me cry. That’s beautiful.
Thank you for your music. Thank you for sharing your time, and thank you most of all for being you and for joining us. It’s been such a pleasure and honor.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. This is Imperfect Love.
- Rebecca Strong
- The Joy of Imperfect Love
- Business Insider
- Men’s Health
- Spotify – Sink or Swim album
- Apple Music – Rebecca Strong
- YouTube – Rebecca Strong
- @_BexStrong – Twitter
- @Bex_Music – TikTok
- @Bex.Strong – Instagram
- Website: https://www.DrCarlaManly.com
- Instagram: https://www.Instagram.com/drcarlamanly
- Twitter: https://www.Twitter.com/drcarlamanly
- Facebook: https://www.Facebook.com/drcarlamanly
- LinkedIn: https://www.LinkedIn.com/in/carla-marie-manly-8682362b
- YouTube: https://www.YouTube.firstname.lastname@example.org
- TikTok: https://www.TikTok.com/@dr_carla_manly
About Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong — also known by her stage name BEX — is a Boston-based health and wellness writer and singer-songwriter. Her work can be found in Insider and Business Insider, Bustle, Health.com, Men’s Health, Healthline, Well+Good, StyleCaster, Elite Daily, PopSugar, AskMen, Clean Plates, Eat This Not That, and many other outlets. In addition to her journalistic work, she has also released a number of songs available on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube — including her latest single, “Sensitive,” — and collaborated on.