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How I Came to See Sensitivity as My Superpower With Anxiety

For many of us growing up we are told that we are “too sensitive” or “too emotional.” It was a common insult. As if being emotionally constipated and ignoring all your feelings could protect yourself from being hurt. It is easy to assume those of us with strong emotional responses are weaker, lesser or even broken because of these outbursts or tears. But what if your sensitivity was your greatest secret weapon against a world of apathy and distraction?

Chef Gordon Ramsey of Hell’s Kitchen fame was asked in an interview what he looks for in a promising new chef. Now, I assumed the things he would look for in a top-quality chef would be things like stress-tolerance, knife skills, passion or maybe a good knowledge of spices. But no. Ramsey simply says that he looks for “good taste.” He says that if someone can’t taste the difference between bad and excellent food they will never be able to achieve the subtly needed to make an awe-inspiring dish. All the hard-work and stone cold dedication in the world won’t teach someone how to feel.

This sounds pretty obvious. I want my Chinese takeaway to taste good so it would be nice if the chef knew what good chow mein tastes like. But, we are told anyone can be a master a skill in 10,000 hours or that gaining success is all about hustling and sacrifices. According to Ramsey though, the true tell tale sign of a good cook is how attune they are to the world around them? It’s game-changing!

See, all my life, as a person who gets overwhelmed easily and tends to cry at the drop of a hat, I’ve been told to harden up. I’ve been told that emotionality is a weakness. I’ve been taught to be ashamed of my sensitivity and I’m sure I’m not the only one. But what if it is your unique sensitivity to the world around you that makes you valuable?

In psychology, the very first step towards any kind of recovery or personal growth is acknowledgement. First, before you can work on yourself you have to know what ain’t broke and what needs fixin’. You need to develop an awareness of the things that set you off and the things that calm you down. The things that you’re passionate about and the rest you would rather ignore. Confronting what makes us afraid, angry or dispassionate is key to emotional growth over the long term.

What would a song about love be if the singer had never experienced it? Can you imagine the Adam Sandler Hellscape we would be living in if all comedy movies were about farts instead of the human condition? How many tone-deaf preachers would it take to host a Zoom funeral? Emotions are so key to the human experience they evolved in the brain millennia; before we had a neocortex to suppress them with. Surely that tells us that they serve a significant purpose; not just in day to day life, but in our survival?

Isaac Newton is rumored to have first conceived the idea of gravity while watching an apple fall from a tree in his aunt’s garden. It was Newton’s attention to the mundane that birthed a whole knew era of physics. In this way, the very human inability to focus on multiple things at once that is a blessing, not a curse. Countless books have been written on mindfulness and how to live in the moment. As humans, we are acutely aware of the world around us. It can be painful sometimes, that’s for sure. But we can really leverage our exceptionalism!

So if science says our feelings are important? If Gordon Ramsey says ” good taste” is crucial to a good cook?

Maybe it’s time to congratulate yourself on being so hyperaware of the things around and inside you. Yes, it gets overwhelming. Yes, kids in school saw it as a weakness that made you different. But what if it is precisely that difference that makes you so valuable? What if knowing really is half the battle and you don’t need to “toughen up, princess” but lean into it? What if you have been gifted this sixth sense? The ability to feel your feelings in a world dedicated to ignoring them. If this were a Marvel movie we wouldn’t need super strength or laser-powered super suits. Maybe it is lame to defeat the villain by listening to what she really wants and giving her a non-evil alternative? That probably doesn’t make an exciting movie. But it is definitely nicer than a kick to the face or an arrow in the butt!

Getty image by Maria Ponomariova

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