Published on Charity Village
Date: 19th May 2021
Many service providers identify with heightened sensitivity. They feel attuned to the energy of other people and have a keen awareness of their capacity for compassion and empathy ~ often externally focused.
As a child, I recall sometimes being seen as overly emotional ~ at times, feeling as though I was being treated with kid gloves. It was not that anyone ever directly told me to “toughen up” but, somehow, I felt as though that would be preferable. Not until adulthood, did I recognize that my developing a thick skin was actually not about my protection, but rather that my being less sensitive made others feel more comfortable.
To be emotionally mature has nothing to do with controlling feelings or presenting yourself as stoic and cut off. It has even less to do with burying emotional energy.
If you’re anything like me, your mind probably automatically goes to the difficult and challenging emotions in life. It doesn’t seem to matter how old we are, temper tantrums can still erupt. Maybe we don’t throw our toys on the floor in the middle of the drugstore and start stomping our feet and crying when something doesn’t go our way. But, maybe, it’s not beyond us to retreat and go silent and, even if we wear a grin on our face, to be metaphorically pouting just beneath the surface.
Emotional maturity is what we develop as we become more willing to engage with our emotional experience. The growth of emotional intelligence supports the expansion of emotional maturity. But more than this, emotional maturity has us not only speaking the truth of our feelings, but also embracing them. In that embrace, we become able to discern the information they hold for us. We might be tempted to express with abandon every emotional nuance, but maturity would have us pause. There is a difference between holding back or shutting down and taking a moment of stillness to process.
In this pause, we are provided space to digest the raw material of emotional energy and impulse. Rather than hoping that someone else will take away our pain or read our mind or our heart, we listen and attend to this for ourselves first and then, once processed, we share with the other people involved. This is an act of courageous maturity.
Embrace your sensitivity
At times, your desire to be of service may leave you feeling like a raw and exposed nerve. In a state of emotional maturity, you are better equipped to manage intensified sensitivity. Many of the messages we receive in our society would have us believe that sensitivity is a liability. We are encouraged to hold it together for the sake of other people’s comfort. Somehow, we are conditioned to believe that losing our “stuff” makes us weak and drains our power, which is another fallacy. In fact, repression puts us in a weakened state. We lose energy when our main focus is to hold back and swallow what is only arising naturally. When did feeling become the enemy?
Out of concern for appearances, we choose to go numb instead of expressing ourselves. We tell ourselves we have to toughen up. We can’t possibly wear our hearts on our sleeves. What would people think? What would they say?
The truth is that sensitivity is the ace up our sleeve. It is your sensitive nature that makes intimacy possible. Sensitivity bolsters your capacity for empathy and compassion. When embraced as a gift, your sensitive nature deepens your experience of unconditional love for yourself and for others. You find the courage to explore parts of your experience where others fear to tread and you become adept at ensuring your personal safety in that exploration. This makes you ideal for your role in service.
It is only when we deny our sensitivity and perceive it as a flaw that we put ourselves in precarious situations.
A finely tuned capacity for life
Sensitivity simply means we are finely tuned to living. Your sensitivity is the key to a life filled with mystery and rich adventure. As you embrace your sensitivity, you will develop ways to ensure your safety and security within the depths of your emotional experience. You will know how to nurture what you feel.
Emotional maturity allows you to go fully and deeply into what you are feeling from a place of self-trust and self-respect. You know that your emotions are messengers ~ that your feelings are telling you something you need to be aware of ~ so, you invite them in, warts and all. You have no desire to shoot this messenger.
As we mature emotionally, we learn how to stay with our feelings so they can be expressed and released. We may run and hide from time to time. We may choose to go numb for a moment. We may have outbursts. Feelings are messy. They aren’t always warm and fuzzy.
Love yourself in spite of it. Be gentle. Be patient. Brief escapes are part of the process. It’s when we lock it up, stuff it down, and abandon it on the side of the road that we run into trouble. The wound festers and the emotional toxicity permeates the entire system. In emotional maturity, you give yourself space and time, knowing that it is temporary. Honour your process. Emotional maturity offers the promise of attention, nurturance, and integration.
As a Service Provider, your highly developed emotional intelligence is a gift that strengthens your capacity for empathy, compassion, and acceptance. You become able to connect with others on an emotional level without losing your sense of self in the process because you have honoured your personal emotional experience first. In this state of emotional maturity, it becomes natural to nurture the hearts of those who seek your service. You have shown up for yourself. Now you can be there for others.
Your sensitivity ~ is it a double-edged sword or a magic wand? You decide.
Elizabeth Bishop is the creator of The Conscious Service Approach. She regularly facilitates workshops based on the principles of the approach both online and in person. Elizabeth can be reached at www.elizabethbishopconsulting.com, on twitter at @askelizabethb, and Facebook and Linkedin at Elizabeth Bishop Consulting.