As a kid, I was regularly criticized by my family members for being “too sensitive.” Even as I vehemently denied the accusation, my feelings were terribly hurt! And secretly I wondered if my family had identified some kind of basic character flaw I ought to be able to correct.
I never did manage to eradicate my tendency toward hurt feelings, but it turns out my difficulties may be related to how my brain is wired. Recently, I was listening to a lecture by Mark Leary, a Duke University professor of psychology and neuroscience. He explained that the brain systems that underlie physical pain overlap with the systems that are involved in psychological hurt. Moreover, recent research indicates that folks who are more sensitive to physical pain are also more sensitive to getting their feelings hurt.
A-ha! I am, after all, an all-purpose weenie. I can barely stand the discomfort of a routine injection or a visit to the dentist—and once reported to my obstetrician that delivering my first child constituted “one of life’s more horrifying experiences.” No wonder I’m especially prone to getting my feelings hurt.
So, I’ve decided to stop beating myself up over my too tender feelings. What a relief to be able to blame my neural circuitry.
Besides, my sensitivity to emotions has helped me be more sensitive to other people’s feelings in addition to my own—not a bad quality to have for daily living. Or for writing, for that matter.