Growing up sensitive, I felt emotions powerfully and perceived life from a deeper level than most. I was born with certain values inherent in me, such as justice, love for all life, and freedom, and when anything in the world conflicted with these values, it tore me up inside.
My parents knew that if they killed an insect in front of me, I would immediately burst out in inconsolable tears, so when a spider happened to crawl by while we were in the living room watching TV, my mom or dad would put a piece of paper or paper towel underneath it, wait patiently for it to crawl onto it and then gently carry the spider outside to set it free.
As I got older, I discovered that once they were outside and out of my sight, they killed it. Their definition of “set it free” was different from mine, so I lingered my gaze on them and every time without fail, once they got outside, they turned back to see if I was still watching so they could determine whose version of “set it free” they should follow. If I was still watching, they nudged the spider off the piece of paper onto a bush so it could go live the rest of its life happily ever after. If I wasn’t watching, they’d crush it.
I learned early on that there was little justice or freedom for living creatures insofar as we humans had a say. This applied to small critters such as ants and spiders, to large animals such as elephants and tigers, and even to “our own kind”, humans. This realization made me cry.
I cried when my dad disrespected my mom.
I cried when a kid teased another kid.
I cried when a teacher belittled a student.
I cried a lot.
Because my heart broke a lot.
Because the world didn’t fit into my inherent values and it felt wrong and upside down and I was too young to understand why it hurt so much, let alone what values meant, and I didn’t know how to make the outside world match my inside view so all I could do was cry.
Eventually, I learned not to cry with tears where others can see and get annoyed. I learned to cry inside quietly where no one could see and notice how sad I was.
I got so good at it, I often fooled myself.
Since no one else seemed to feel or think like me, I thought I was an alien for most of my childhood years accidentally dropped on this planet (yes, an actual alien from outer space – it was the only explanation my young mind could come up with that made sense). I didn’t belong here, everything seemed upside down, inside out and backwards in this life. But since the world operated in this backwards way and everyone seemed content with it, I started to believe that I was the wrong one and that there was something flawed in me and maybe the world’s not backwards, I was.
It wasn’t until I became an adult and discovered the term “highly sensitive person” (which explained me in a scientific way) and then “empath” (which explained me in a spiritual way) that I realized I’m not alone and that I could learn to trust my intuition and my deep thoughts and feelings.
If I could go back in time and meet that younger Tree, the sensitive little girl who cried a lot, I’d sit on the floor, wrap her in my arms and let her cry. And after she had a good cry, I’d tell her what I’ve learned.
This is what I’d say:
1. Your emotions are valid.
No matter what others tell you you should or should not feel, the only feelings you truly should be feeling are the ones you’re feeling. Period.
2. It’s okay to feel bad.
Neither good nor bad feelings are better than the other. Treat them both with respect and welcome them equally.
3. You are going to feel other people’s emotions.
Treat those with respect too and welcome them as your own, because once you feel it, it’s yours to deal with.
4. Emotions are nothing more than energy in emotion.
Don’t make anything more of them than that. Don’t judge, resist or create drama around them. And most of all, don’t criticize them, yourself or others for feeling them.
5. Your mind will make up stories about you and your emotions.
These will lead to more emotions which lead to more stories. The stories will usually not support you. Whatever stories your mind makes up, don’t believe any of them. They’re just made-up stories. Refer back to #4.
6. Other people’s minds will make up stories about you and your emotions.
Those stories are none of your business. Don’t believe them either. They’re just made-up stories in someone else’s mind.
7. Emotions, when allowed to flow freely, come and go within seconds.
Yes, SECONDS. Not minutes, not hours, not days, and definitely not years. The only thing that makes them last longer than seconds is the resistance you put up about them (see #1, #2, #3 and #4), which all stem from the stories you believe about them (see #5 and #6).
There’s so much more I’d tell her but I think if she had learned these basics from the get-go, she would’ve had an easier, happier childhood and maybe she wouldn’t have beat herself up so much.
What do you wish you had known as a sensitive child?