Why I Have No Desire as a Highly Sensitive Person to ‘Toughen Up’

IntrovertDear.com highly sensitive person toughen up

I only recently learned that being a highly sensitive person was actually a thing. Even before that, though, I knew from a young age that I was very sensitive.

Things seemed to affect me much more deeply than they did the people around me. Feelings were a lot stronger, and I wanted to shield myself from things that I knew would hurt.

As a child, I couldn’t shield myself very often though. I grew up in a family that knew the harsh realities of the world and wanted me to be prepared for them.

At the age of six, my mother placed me in a karate class so I could start learning self-defense techniques, and I did that for six years until I moved on to other sports.

In general, I loved it. It was a lot of fun and, as a six year old, it was quite different from anything else other kids my age were doing.

But there were times when it did not mesh well with my sensitivity. For one, people were constantly complaining about my lack of aggression. I could never bring myself to attack anyone, even for a simulation, and my defense skills were weak as well. I didn’t have whatever it took to tap into that violent, survivalist side of myself. So teachers and other adults were always telling me things like:

“You’ll never make it if you really get attacked.”

“You need to toughen up.”

“You’re not aggressive enough.”

I wasn’t aggressive enough. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that criticism. Keep in mind that I started karate at age six and left it at age twelve, so I was still a child who was expected to respond to a simulated attack with just as much aggression as anyone else. And when I couldn’t do it, I was seen as a failure.

In addition, part of our “homework” after self-defense class was to go home and watch TV shows like America’s Most Wanted. Our instructor wanted us to know how violent people could be and what we might be up against one day. That might seem a little extreme, but my karate instructor was a woman who had previously been attacked and badly injured by someone. Learning self-defense and teaching it to others became her passion, and she wanted to prepare her students for the worst.

I’m not sure if the other students in the class took the “watch true crime shows” assignment seriously or not, but my family did. They agreed with the “you need to know” sentiment.

It was rough for me. I couldn’t stand the descriptions of violent crimes or the horrible things people had done to others. I knew by now that these things happened sometimes, but I didn’t think I needed all the details.

I Felt Every Little Thing So Deeply

There were many other facets of my life that burned my sensitivity. Thanks to my introversion, I was a quiet child in school, which often led to me being scolded by teachers for not participating. This made me feel ashamed and embarrassed, which were both things I felt very deeply.

I cried a lot as a child over one thing or another, but I learned to wait and do so in private. Most of the adults around me were not sympathetic and made things worse. I heard more things like:

“You need to suck it up.”

“You’re just crying for attention.”

“Other children have it worse than you, you know.”

But I wasn’t crying for attention. I hated attention. And I wasn’t crying because I didn’t get my way or just because I could.

I was crying because I felt every little thing so deeply, and I had no way to process that or understand it. Most people around me made me feel ashamed and weak for being sensitive, so I didn’t know what else to do.

I Don’t Want to ‘Toughen Up’

Nowadays, my high sensitivity is still very much a part of me. It hasn’t ever gone away, and I don’t expect it will. I still have to shield myself, and certain things still cause a very strong reaction in me.

The difference in me today, though, is that I am fine with that. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to “toughen up.”

Everyone knows that the world can be a hard, cruel place. Bad things happen, and not everyone is as nice as they should be. Sadly, there is a lot of hate and violence and cruelty.

These are the reasons that people usually give me for why I should be tougher. It’s as if they’re saying, “You’re going to have to face that, and you’ll never survive it the way you are. You need to develop a thick skin.”

Ironically, though, those are also the reasons I give for wanting to stay like I am. With all the nastiness around, I want to remain something good.

I want to keep being unable to stand the cruelty of the world, because as soon as I develop a thicker skin and can withstand more, that means I will start to accept it. And accepting it means it won’t change.

My biggest complaint with all of this is the person who just shrugs and says, “That’s the way it is. Get used to it.”

I don’t believe that. That’s only “the way it is” if you just accept it without question and move on. Then it becomes the way it is, because you’ve done nothing to make it stop.

I know that one person can’t wipe out all the bad things in the world. But I also know that good deeds are contagious.

Whenever someone witnesses another person doing something kind and completely selfless, just because they want to, it inspires people to pass it on. That’s all you have to do.

My high sensitivity is like a pair of goggles. It allows me to see things that need to change. I can’t just turn a blind eye and let it pass as if I’ve noticed nothing. I’m not wired that way.

So, developing a thicker skin and a tougher persona has never worked for me, and it probably never will. I don’t think it will do the world any good if I start blending in as another uncaring bystander. I want to keep being the person who speaks out, shares my emotions, and lets others know when something is not okay.

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Read this: 23 ‘Small’ Signs That You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

Learn more: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine N. Aron  retina_favicon1

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  • Emily Smith

    YES! Thank you! This is exactly how I feel.

  • Alison Bode

    Great article. I also feel things very deeply and find it can be hard to continue to remain open in a world that can be very harsh. Even in the health care profession, I have been told that I am too caring. Thank you for being someone who chooses to honoring their sensitivity AND for choosing to speak up about it so eloquently!

  • Pooja.

    Thank you. I needed this. Just yesterday, my grandmother uttered the same thing to me mockingly, indicating emotions=weakness. I bursted back that being emotional and hurt by cruelty is not the wrong thing here, its the cruelty which is wrong. For that the answer was “It is how it is. Your mom survived only because she got used to the abuse from your father. You will never survive if you end up with a guy like that.”, this was after a verbal abuse from my father which made me cry in the middle of the night. I’m witnessing this for 23 years & I know that there’ll never come a time where I will be ‘used’ to it.

    And I believe like you said, Being used to something is accepting it is okay, but it is not ok having someone disregard your feelings, having someone who’s supposed to view you as an equal , treat you like a slave and never appreciate you, never caring about what you want or need. My grandmother is right. I will never stay in a relationship like that. I will never set such an example making my daughter believe its the way of the world to be treated like that. I will never survive that. But I believe accepting it and living with it as a weakness than speaking out and standing up for yourself even for little things.

    Yes I’m sensitive, very. And I know sometimes it feels like a curse. But change will never come from people who got ‘used to it’. The world needs us.

    I have struggled hard to find a place in this world. Your post makes me hope I belong just as much as the thick-skinned people, if not more. Thank you.

    • callaina70xo

      1000000x THIS!^

  • Deb White Groebner

    That is so much me that I’m crying. You are my hero today! Thank you for putting it so clearly. I’m an INFP HSP who feels like she needs to toughen up a little just to survive the physical effects of stress from taking on the cares of the world…love what you’re doing, fellow Idealist!

  • Tim

    “With all the nastiness around, I want to remain something good.” Very good thought. Love it.

  • Catherine Anderson

    What’s the saddest to me is that ALL of us begin this way. All of us are sensitive. We don’t come into this world mean-spirited, bitter, uncharitable or hateful; but then we’re conditioned by others to accept “the way it is,” rather than embracing our own gifts of kindness and compassion. Love this article. Thank you for writing it!

  • sesamibunny

    hooray for sensitivity! Although sometimes I feel like it’s a curse, I’m so grateful for the person I am.
    By the way, I was also made to take karate, but in high school. I loved the dance-like forms and techniques we practiced on our own… but hated sparring! I even tried to motivate myself by pretending I was Bubbles from the Powerpuff Girls, but that didn’t work (ha).

  • Beautifully said. I relate to this so much. Power to the HSPs ♥️