Have you ever been told to ‘toughen up?’
Or that you’re too sensitive for your own good?
If so, this month’s self-care exploration is for you. (I know it’s definitely for me.)
Cheryl Richardson, the author of the book we’ve been playing with for the last eight months,
had a wake-up moment when she was devastated by the cutting criticism of an audience member at one of her talks. She was telling her coach about it and ended her meltdown with the words, I’m just too sensitive, and I hate it.
Her coach’s reply helped to turn around her lifelong battle to ‘fix’ her sensitivity: You know, Cheryl, the way I see it, your sensitivity is your greatest gift.
This was a paradigm shift of enormous proportions, but as Cheryl looked at her life from this new perspective she realized that her sensitivity was a gift. It allowed for a profound connection with nature, music and art, which enriched her life incredibly. And it made her a powerful coach, able to tune in to the subtle nuances of her clients’ needs.
She suggests we sensitive souls make this shift as well. Instead of bemoaning our sensitivity and striving to ‘toughen up,’ we need to protect and nourish it. When we live from an open and vulnerable place, rather than from one that is closed down and on guard, we can more fully appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, we can feel more deeply (and contrary to what many believe, that is a good thing) which leads us to become more compassionate and empathetic people, precisely because we can truly feel things from another’s perspective.
It may seem like fully embracing our sensitivity would open us up to all manner of abrasive hurts, but Cheryl assures us that the opposite is true. All the energy that goes into keeping our true feelings hidden from others can instead be channeled into creating the safety necessary to express them freely.
Cheryl says to start by becoming aware of the people, places and things that cause you to shut down, numb out, or leave the present moment. She has six suggestions for protecting our sensitivity. I will give a very brief summary of them, and I highly recommend that you read this chapter yourself so you can make note of the suggestions that resonate with you. In fact, that’s part of this month’s Extreme Self-Care Homework: to implement the suggestions that speak to you.
1. Step into the Moment
The present moment is not called the present for nothing. This moment, right here, right now, is a gift to be cherished. It is resplendent with the richness and meaning that feeds our sensitive souls, if we just allow ourselves to fully experience it.
Languishing in past ‘should haves’ or zooming ahead to future ‘what ifs’ do nothing to honour or nourish our sensitivity. If you find yourself in either of those phantom places, bring yourself back to Now by tuning into the sensations of your body– your hands on the steering wheel, your feet on the earth, your arms around your beloved, your heart expanding into the love you feel for your child, your pet, this morsel of chocolate cake.
Open . . . allow . . . embrace . . . embody this moment . . . and your sensitivity will flourish.
2. Turn Down the Noise.
This is a personal favourite that I arrived at all on my own.
Take a moment to listen to what’s going on in your surroundings right now. Chances are there are plenty of noises you have learned to ‘tune out’ but your body absorbs and processes every sound, whether you realize it or not and processing sound takes energy. Eliminating that extraneous noise will do wonders for your energy levels.
And when you are not hunched against the noise, your sensitive self is more available to the subtle nuances making up this moment in your life.
3. Stop the Violence
Most media stories are fear-based because fear grabs our attention. It also creates anxiety which is toxic to our nervous system. Every worrisome story ups the adrenaline ante. In order to watch the news on a regular basis (and handle the emotional stress it creates) we have to numb out, but that numbness affects other areas of our lives. The part we shut down in order to be able to handle the violence we see in the news, remains shut down when we turn off the television. We become less sensitive to what’s going on around us, which often results in us missing our loved ones’ cues that all is not well in their world.
4. Put Limits on Toxic People
We have all, at one time or another, been miserable, gossipy, critical or complainy. That’s part of being human and, hopefully, we learn to replace these unpleasant habits with more uplifting behaviour. There are times when we need to cut ourselves, and those around us, some slack because we are all doing our best on this human journey,
this slack-cutting does not extend to people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions–the ones who hurt for sport, make a career out of complaining, or who get off on putting other people down.
If you find yourself feeling anxious around a certain person and putting up a psychic shield in order to protect yourself from their put-downs, complaints, criticisms and all round energy sucking, then you need to set some limits. This could mean having an honest conversation about how things need to change, limiting the time you spend in their company, or avoiding them altogether.
Yes, even if it’s a family member.
Or a friend, a co-worker, a boss, or a neighbor.
Cheryl is adamant: no one has the right to rob you of your sensitivity.
5. Manage Technology
Here’s another personal favorite.
It took a while for me to learn that the telephone was there for my convenience and I did not have to drop everything and run when it rang. Answering machines made it easier to ignore the ringing, but the monkey mind the ringing often creates is just as distracting: “I wonder who that was. Maybe it was important–urgent even. Maybe one of the boys needs something. Or is lying mangled in a ditch. I better check the message.”
Cheryl turns off the ringer entirely — at home and at work — so her concentration remains unbroken and she retrieves the messages at a time that works for her.
The ante has been upped considerably in the last few years. Thanks to cell phones, text messaging, and e-mails we are able (and expected) to be available 24/7. We need to remember who’s in charge and set limits.
Like Cheryl, it might be a good idea to plan when you will respond to messages. And be careful of the precedent you set. Responding immediately to an email teaches the sender that you are always johnny-on-the-spot with replies and (s)he will come to expect that. Multiply that by even a handful of people and you’ve created a sensitivity-squashing monster.
Some people must be prompt with their work responses, but not all work messages are urgent. Certainly, personal messages are not. And if you believe that replying quickly to every message will free up your time to relax, think again.
6. Set the Mood
Another way to nurture your sensitive side is to live and work in an environment that soothes you. If you (unlike me) was able to complete last month’s Extreme Self-Care Homework and create a soothing, soul-nourishing room in your home, then you are well on your way to protecting your sensitivity.
And that’s what this month’s Extreme Self-Care challenge is all about: protecting your sensitivity.
Start by reading this chapter in Cheryl’s book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care. Make note of the examples that speak to you and then list five specific ways you will protect your sensitivity this month.
Here are Cheryl’s five questions to help you on your way:
Where do you need to turn down the noise in your environment?
How will you limit the violent and disturbing news that comes into your life on a daily basis?
Who in your life zaps your energy, causes you anxiety, or makes you feel on guard? How will you protect yourself from this person?
What changes do you need to make to better manage technology so that you can respond to the needs of others rather than react?
Taking into account your five senses, what kind of surroundings do you need to feel relaxed and present?
Good luck, my Extreme Self-Care Afficiandos.
See you next month.