While the term ‘snowflake’ is often used in an attempt to offend people, one writer discovered her sensitivity is actually a secret weapon.
I have been told that I am “sensitive” by many people over the years. On the odd occasion it has been said to me as a compliment, but the majority of the time it has been said as a criticism, or worse, an insult.
Being the sensitive person that I am, with skin about as thick as rice paper (essentially translucent), when this comment is made to me, or when 99 percent of any other criticism is made of me for that matter, I don’t always take it too well.
From tears to anger to defensiveness as high as Mount Everest, I usually always take whatever criticism is coming my way (constructive or not), to heart and can misinterpret the message, reading more into it than what was actually intended. While most of the time it doesn’t cause me too much angst, as a writer who pens personal and sometimes opinionated pieces, it can sometimes be an issue.
There have been a handful of times when the response to articles I have written (usually in the comments section below), have involved the word, “snowflake,” some of those rolling eye emojis, or the phrase “toughen up princess” which have led me to wonder if perhaps being thick-skinned wouldn’t be a better way to be.
For a while I struggled with this question, contemplating whether I should be writing at all? Does my sensitivity make me a weak person? One that should just keep her words and opinions to herself? When I spoke about my feelings with a fellow writer, she said to me: “When you’re a bit older it won’t worry you as much, your skin gets thicker.”
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
While this was said with good intentions, I wasn’t quite convinced that what she had told me was accurate. For me, my sensitivity feels like a characteristic that is inherently a part of me, like my eye colour which although, if I wanted to, I could mask with fakery, would still always remain.
I also didn’t necessarily view this trait as completely negative or having ‘thick skin’ as something that I necessarily wanted. There seemed to be a misconception about both ‘thick skin’ and ‘sensitivity’ that was at the root of her, and many other people’s opinions, as if being sensitive is a sign of weakness, having less confidence, or lacking in self-assurance and that having thick skin meant the opposite.
Psychologist Harriet Lerner, who has written a book about the topic called Why Don’t you Apologise? agrees.
“There’s a really strong cultural myth that if you have good self-esteem and a solid sense of self-worth, then you won’t care what other people think. That’s simply not true,” she says.
“If you’re not affected by what other people think, that means you’re disconnected from both those people and yourself. To be an authentic, openhearted person, you have to care at least a little. In fact, being “thick-skinned” could be interpreted as just another form of defensiveness.”
Clinical Psychologist Meredith Fuller told Body+Soul that “there are two kinds of people in the world, the ‘thinking preferred people’ and the ‘feeling preferred people’. Each sits at one end of a continuum to the other. While the thinking preferred people prefer a solutions-based approach, the ‘feeling preferred people’ [AKA the ‘sensitive’ people – me] are guided more by their morals, empathy and concerns for others.”
The feeling preferred people also happen to have a bunch of other really positive characteristics that make them great workers, friends, partners and just wonderful people in general.
“Feeling preferred people are often extremely effective at teamwork, conscious of other people’s emotions, value the upholding of integrity and of creating harmonious relationships, or working environments. They are also tuned in to nuances and subtleties that may not be picked up by others,” she says.
According to various studies into ‘feeling preferred’ people by Elaine Aron and other researchers, common characteristics of us ‘sensitive souls’ include: caring for others deeply, having an extraordinary depth of experience and feeling, a very strong self-awareness, increased empathy, being great nurturers, a great eye for detail and a knack for forming close relationships.
So, while I am inclined to argue that these characteristics make the sensitive souls of the world by far superior beings, an expert on all things psychological, Fuller argues that as with most things in life, balance is best.
“Ideally both perspectives should work together, they need each other,” she says.
On a personal note though, I now know that whenever someone calls me a snowflake, or sensitive in the future, I will no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed of it. Instead, I will be proud because that is what makes me a great friend, a team player, empathetic and essentially what makes me, me.
Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.