Beach Boat

How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) While Being a Sensitive Guy

I’m a sensitive guy.

There, I said it. And it wasn’t easy.

Confessions are a recurring theme on my blog. They are important because they help us get on the same level, providing a human element to the discussions. They both draw in the reader because they can relate, and also help make ideas stick.

So that’s why I try to be as transparent as possible in my posts. And this confession, both to myself and my readers, is one of the hardest I’ve made. Which is odd.

I have been reading the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts’ by Susan Cain, and in it she takes an in-depth look at the truth behind introversion, particularly, hammering home the point that introverts aren’t second-class citizens to extroverts. I can’t say I’m an introvert for sure, nor an extrovert. I feel I’m somewhere between, possibly an ambivert (are you?). One of the chapters that hit home the hardest was Sensitivity.

Cain gave a laundry list of characteristics and personality attributes of a sensitive person, and the one that possibly stood out the most was that sensitive people are sensitive to light. Just ask Tasha. When we are sitting in the living room and the top light and lamp are both on, I get flustered. And fluorescent lights were created by the Devil himself, I feel.

Additionally, sometimes I have a shaky voice, which Cain also discusses. Not surprisingly, my voice usually shakes when my comfort is most compromised, like when I’m delivering hard news to the boss. This has proved challenging in the past, as I have become disgusted with myself, wishing away this condition, or whatever it would be considered. But in ‘Quiet,’ Cain helped me see it from the other angle, detailing a study that revealed people trust most those whose voices quiver and faces turn red. Meaning, when a person delivers bad news with a shaky voice, it shows they actually care. I have observed people trust me, but it never truly donned on me that my sensitivity was to be thanked, rather than hated.

Two Sides to Every Coin

The ultimate purpose of this post is not necessarily to confess, but to drive home the point that sensitivity shouldn’t have to be a confession. Why are we all so quick to deny or hide it?

I ask this because I’ve come to realize there’s two sides to every coin. Sure, sensitive people like myself may require special handling, but I’m not suggesting anyone plug their ears when someone says “you’re being too sensitive,” either. Such statements should be considered and properly handled. The problem isn’t that we plug our ears, but that we tend to be too hard on ourselves and end up feeling like misfits or losers.

So I am instead inviting us to look at our wide sphere of strengths on the other side of the coin. For instance, here are a few of mine:

  • I rarely put my foot in my mouth. This can’t be taken for granted, as I know some people who can’t control their mouths and suffer. “I never have to worry about you saying something offensive. Not even in the slightest,” my wife told me during a discussion about why I sometimes get quiet in dinner conversations. This bothers me, so it was nice to consider this positive attribute.
  • I detect when someone’s hurting and provide empathy. My sensitive nature helps me notice distress and places me in their shoes. Insensitive people often cannot detect this and even if they do they keep chugging like the steaming locomotives they are.
  • People feel comfortable opening up to me. I have a friend who is close to me, but it’s hard for me to share my inner-most workings with her because she doesn’t think before she talks. Sadly, I’m not the only one, either. She may make me jealous of her ability to be the swashbuckling life of the party, but on the other side of the coin I know she highly values people confiding in her, and that just isn’t happening.

Let’s Start a Revolution

I’m not going to pretend that a good argument in a blog will just stop this for anyone. If readers start sending emails telling to agree I’m a sensitive guy and share examples, I wouldn’t laugh it off and shrug my shoulders, I would try to recapture my breath and pick myself up off the floor. Over the years I’ve had a share of times when someone mentioned the “s” word around me and each time I cringed and tried to scrub it off. That would still be the case, like how many women agree there’s no reason they should have to wear makeup while men don’t spend but five minutes getting ready, but it continues to happen. Why? Because it’s deeply ingrained in us.

But every movement has to start somewhere, and I’m inviting just that: to focus on the bright side of sensitivity.

Do you know of someone who might benefit from reading this? Maybe someone who has told you they struggle with this? If you are feeling bold, send them this post. If you aren’t feeling quite that bold, post it to your Facebook wall and pray they’ll read it.

  • Tiffany

    Another homerun, Awesome Matt! I really appreciate how you can see sensitivity as a positive quality. I was always told, “Your sensitivity is a blessing and a curse.” When I was younger, I was so sensitive and had my feelings hurt all of the time. For about five years in my late 20s, I had developed a cold heart, protecting my self from being hurt so much. God finally showed me this and has been restoring compassion and empathy in me ever since. Thank you for sharing your journey!

    • Matthew Rennels

      Blessing and a curse is so very right. I used to feel it was 95 percent curse, 5 percent blessing, but now I’m trying to flip those numbers around. Wish I would have done this when I was in my 20s, because I also got a cold heart.