I can remember playing charades at school camp in Year 8 and one boy got up and pretended to cry – the room instantly guessed he was imitating me. I was 12 years old.
I would continue to cry throughout high school. My friends and teachers knew all about my crying. I was a highly-emotional, perfectionist who tried very hard to do the right thing. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t a social misfit. I had friends from diverse groups across the student body, I did relatively well with my grades (except maths which was always my torment) and by my senior year, I was Secretary of the Student Council and lead in the school musical (fortunately the role involved more acting than singing that year).
I was also bullied quite badly in year 8 and over the following years, I indulged in procrastination and self-sabotage leading to even more stress with my schoolwork, and despite appearances, I had low self-esteem and was highly anxious. Trying something new, like learning the clarinet (which I wanted to do), led to such heightened anxiety that I cried repeatedly and had to give up the lessons.
My Mum got me what help she could but no one seemed to have the answers.
By the time I reached my early 20s, I was on anti-depressants and it wasn’t until my early 30s that I began to work out what was happening and found non-medical ways to manage my anxiety.
There were a lot of things going on for me as a young person but one significantly influencing factor is starkly clear to me now – I was a highly-sensitive person struggling to thrive because I did not understand my sensitivity, how to manage it or use it to help me in my life.
Instead, my sensitivity was something that left me feeling overwhelmed, ashamed and wondering why I couldn’t get it together like other young people. In many ways, I was my own worst enemy and couldn’t seem to get it right.
When I look back now, I think so much of that confusion and pain was unnecessary. I just needed someone who could help me understand what was going on.
Over the past few years through my mentoring programs, I’ve helped a lot of adults to understand, manage and channel their sensitivity in healthy ways in their lives.
But this year, something has shifted – parents have begun bringing me their young people for guidance. From the ages of 12 and up, boys and girls, are doing sessions with me to understand themselves and their sensitivity more easily.
I never imagined I would work with young people who are often a lot like I was at their age. I also can’t fully describe the joy I feel when I help these young people to understand there is nothing wrong with them.
When I say the words, “Your sensitivity is your super power” young people inevitably look surprised and yes, a bit hopeful, as they lean in and ask, “What do you mean? How?”
With that one statement and the work that follows, they feel empowered and strong not ashamed or weak. To give them that gift of knowledge feels indescribably wonderful to me. And when they move on with the rest of their lives I know they will have a collection of new skills and strategies to help them feel more confident and self-reliant. Most importantly, they will understand their sensitivity is a gift in this world, not a curse.
We need to empower our sensitive young people so they can feel more connected to themselves and others. We need them to understand their sensitivity so they can manage it for themselves in healthy ways. We need sensitive young people to feel understood, heard and seen for the beautiful humans they are.
Above all, we need them to know their sensitivity is their super power; they just need some help to learn how to manage it.
Image from Jamie, 12 years old, who completed my Power of 3 Program (3 x 1 hour sessions over 3 weeks, plus homework including meditations, journaling practices, and practical strategies to apply at home/at school and in the world generally). Jamie’s words are used with kind permission from him and his mother.