The Southern Italian culture I grew up in was composed largely of people who were loud, hard-hitting, intrusive and paternalistic. My relatives were no exception. In the midst of this dominant personality trait, I was born: someone internally intense, yet quiet, inconspicuous, and reflective. This worried my relatives to no end and I was stigmatized for being different.

When someone celebrated a birthday, baptism, first communion or graduation, everyone was expected to visit in large numbers to show their support and warmth. Food, music and dance were the center of all our family events. Such ideas as conversation and connection were considered by my relatives not only strange, but threatening. It was as if by some strange power you might brainwash someone without them knowing.

Reviewing my Italian roots proved challenging because I lacked the language to define or reframe my life experiences. My path to enlightment began when reading, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” by Elaine N. Aron. Thanks to this author I began to see the strengths of heightened sensitivity. It never occurred to me it wasn’t my personality trait that was the problem but rather the cultural bias against the more quiet temperament. Aron says,

“The signs of prejudice against sensitivity are easy enough to spot once you read between the lines, to catch those descriptions of sensitivity as a ‘syndrome’ or that such people are ‘out of balance’ or ‘frequently lose control’ or are over-reacting or ‘unable to perceive accurately’ due to bodies with ‘excessive’ this or ‘abnormal’ that. Remember these are usually medical judgments from a warrior-king’s perspective of what is out, lost, over accurate, excessive and abnormal. Do remember, however, that there may be times when you truly do feel you have lost your balance, are out of control, and are overreacting.

Highly sensitive persons in a highly stimulating world are bound to, especially those who’ve had a very stressful childhood or personal history… remember it is not your trait that is to blame, but the world into which you and it were born, and are constantly being challenged to adapt or change.”

Often friends will comment about their sensitivity as if it’s a fault when what they are doing is reflecting the cultural bias that looks upon sensitivity as something less mentally sound. Aron explains that even doctors shun introversion as if it were a disease:

“Furthermore, for some doctors especially, sensitivity is a dreaded weakness they had to repress in order to survive medical school. So they project that part of themselves (and the weakness they associate with it) onto patients with any sign of it at all.”

Those of us with this trait can be introverted or extroverted. We are the resident artists, musicians, composers, writers, counselors and pastors. Having a more sensitive constitution we can be more easily bruised and misunderstood in a society where bravery, cool-headedness, mental and physical toughness and determination are highly esteemed. Of course these are excellent characteristics and this blog is not about diminishing certain personality traits against another.

Those who are socially extroverted individuals sometimes find it hard to acknowledge their sensitivity traits. King David seems to be one of those rare individuals in the Bible who was a highly skilled warrior yet at the same time was artistically sensitive writing the most amazing psalms ever written through the ages.

In relationships, those with heightened sensitivity are usually attentive and thoughtful partners with acute listening skills and compassionate hearts. Most are not only intellectually gifted but highly intuitive. They enjoy a more simple self-aware lifestyle focusing on staying fit and eating right.

Take a look at the list below and see whether any of these descriptions apply to you. Notice, however, that this list also includes many strengths:

“Do you get overwhelmed by stimuli such as lights, noises, and smells?
Do other people’s moods and emotions deeply affect you?
Are you easily startled?
Do you become uneasy when someone is watching you complete a task?
Do you become tired easily after a “normal” day of activity?
Are you aware of other things in your environment that most other people are not aware of?
Do you become agitated or anxious when you have a lot of tasks to do and not enough time to complete all of them?
Do you avoid disturbing or violent movies, books, or T.V. shows?
Do you feel the need to escape and retreat when there is too much going on around you?Are you deeply interested in the arts or music?
Do you dislike changes in your life?
Do you enjoy delicate tastes, scents, sounds, soft fabrics, or beautiful works of art?
Have you always been labeled as shy or sensitive by other people?
Are you overly conscientious?
Do you seem to be more sensitive to pain than other people?
Are you sensitive to certain foods such as foods containing caffeine, sugar or alcohol?
Do you become unpleasant when you are hungry?
Do you easily sense the energies of places or situations?
Are you easily touched by others’ experience, stories of kindness, and courage?
Are you attracted to the deeper things such as spirituality, self-development and philosophy?
Do you need time alone?
Are your feelings easily bruised?
Do you have a vivid imagination?”
— by Elaine N. Aron