My daughter cries when she falls. She doesn’t cry every time. Sometime’s she get’s up and goes about her life, but sometimes she cries and looks for me to comfort her. Some day’s it’s because she’s just having a rough day, and the frustration from the fall just adds to her discomfort. Some times she falls hard and hurts herself.
I’ve seen babies fall and their parents not flinch. Not even move or look in their direction. Some of these kids don’t even react and go about their business. Some whine and cry while their parents barely look up from their phones to murmur a “you’re okay.”
I’ll admit, there are times I compare my daughter to the tough kids. The ones that never cry or react to monstrous falls that would cause concussions in football players. Is she not tough enough? Should she be more rugged, more indestructible? Am I enabling her from being more resilient?
Yes, I respond to my daughter. No, I don’t run to her, fall to the floor, and coddle her, but when she looks for me, I am in eyesight. “Are you okay,” I’ll ask her. If she hit’s hard, I’ll pick her up and comfort her. Most of the time she gets up on her own and lets out a frustrated grunt. So, am I making her too sensitive?
I’ve noticed a trend as I scroll through social media. Tweeters and Facebook Meme’s complain that we are becoming too sensitive. “Everyone is offended.” It seems more that the older generations are accusing the younger generations of being too emotional, and taking things too personally. Perhaps, however, it’s not that we are too sensitive. Perhaps, people are uncomfortable with being called out on their own rude behaviors. It’s as if people are becoming overly defensive when someone holds them accountable for their actions. As if people should be able to freely spit out their ignorant opinions and everyone else should, rather needs to, accept it.
So, are we too sensitive? Perhaps the actual answer is that we are becoming more open with how we are feeling. Instead of being sensitive, we are actually refusing to accept the way that we are being treated. We refuse to listen to ignorant speech and misguided judgment. We refuse to allow other people to construct their opinions of us. We are drawing boundaries around us and people are distraught because we do not allow them to be crossed. How dare we? We are “too sensitive” because we are protecting our mental well being.
Mental Illness In America
Today, we are taking our Mental Health seriously. Or at least we are in trying to. It isn’t just our physical condition that keeps us healthy, but it’s also our state of mind. Think about it. Stress causes our physical health to deteriorate. The more stressed we are, the more likely we are to be receptive to illness. Our immune system depletes, our digestive system acts up, and the duress puts strain on our bodies. If this is so, why wouldn’t we invest in our mental wellness.
Refusing negativity is a powerful response to protecting our own mental health. Just like we would protect ourselves with immunizations, and healthy habits for our bodies, having boundaries builds immunity against negativity in our brains.
Most people would not want to intentionally, physically hurt somebody. Most decent human beings don’t seek out a person to punch, slap, or kick them. If we are sympathetic to someones physical health, why wouldn’t we want to be just as sympathetic to their mental health? Why shouldn’t we take into consideration how our actions and words effect someone mentally?
The truth is, people are damaged. People are fighting not only physical battles, but mental ones as well. We struggle with our physical health – we’re fighting cancer, a disease, or some other physical illness, but we’re also fighting mental illness.
In America, 1 in 5 adults suffer from some sort of mental illness in a year. Whether it’s a short term experience or a diagnosed mental disorder, 1 out of 5 of your friends, or family members, are suffering mentally. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, multiple personality disorder, etc. In your circle, 1 of 5 of you is struggling with a mental illness.
Forty four million people in America are currently suffering from some sort of mental health condition. There are 44 million people in this world who fight a constant internal battle within their own heads; people who are trapped by their own thoughts.
On average, almost 150 people commit suicide per day. In 2017, a total of 1,400,000 people attempted suicide. 50,000 people died after taking their own life. There are people, weaving in and out of your social circle, your life, who would rather be dead than alive. Yet, our biggest concern is how inconvenient it is for us to take someone else’s emotions and mental well being into consideration.
Is it because we are so use to suppressing our own emotions that we don’t want to consider other peoples feelings? Are we so internally sound and bullet proof that we just expect other people to be as well? Maybe we have been so closed off to our own emotions that we can’t recognize someone else’s.
My daughter has always had this gift where she is incredibly aware of her own emotions. At six months old I brought her to a specialist because I was concerned about her emotional development. My daughter was having intense tantrums before she could even sit up. Fits of frustration and angst, she would thrash and throw herself around, slamming her head into the floor. Come to find out, her behavior was completely normal for a child with her intense level of emotion.
Learning new skills are extremely frustrating for her. She use to thrash and throw herself out of impatience waiting for her bottle to heat up. Not getting enough to eat would send her into fits of rage and dismay. She also laughs really hard and smiles a lot. She’s easily amused by the smallest thing – the dog snorting, the cat rolling on the carpet, a tickle to her tummy.
Now, at a year old, my daughter feels every emotion, and she feels it hard. I don’t take that lightly. I embrace it. I allow her to feel them without criticism. I don’t instruct her on how she should and shouldn’t feel. I give her time, and I respond with what she needs. If she seeks comfort, she receives it.
As a mom, I fear everything about how I parent. How it effects her, if it strengthens her, or if it holds her back. Yes, I worry whether she is too clingy, too dependent, too emotional, or too sensitive. I want to encourage her, support her, and love her. What I don’t want to do is suppress her growth and development. I try to be mindful of that.
Realistically, how she reacts really depends on the day, the events, and her temperament. On different days, she has different emotional needs. Some days she’s confident and independent. She can be adventurous and outgoing and lovable. Some days shes shy, withdrawn, and extremely irritable. Other days, shes tired, impatient, and difficult to calm down. Occasionally, she’s needy and sensitive. My daughter isn’t too much of anything. She’s all of everything. She feels everything so hard.
I encourage positive emotions because it makes us feel good. We’re happy when were confident and content. We feel good when we are not struggling with negative feelings and emotions. The world is an easier environment to engage in when we are outgoing and interactive. So I encourage her, but I also accept her down days.
Her down days are always going to happen. Ignoring them or disapproving of them are not going to make them go away. It is much better for her to feel them, and move beyond them, then to bottle them up. It also teachers her to listen to her moods and her emotions which will build her emotional awareness. Most importantly, understanding her own emotions helps her understand others emotions, allowing her to learn empathy.
Importance of Empathy
Empathy is defined as understanding and sharing the feelings of another. How often does empathy exist in your life? How often do you show it? How often do you experience it? In my world, empathy is actually pretty rare. As a matter of fact, I once made a comment to my husband that he didn’t convey much empathy towards a situation that I was experiencing. His response; “what is empathy?” Many people confuse empathy with sympathy. It is not the same thing. You can be sympathetic toward someone, but not share in their actual emotions. When we are empathetic, we create a better connection with someone who is not feeling at their best.
We can meet them at their level of emotion, and we can feel how they feel. In return, we can effectively hold ourselves accountable for how we treat people because we understand how they are feeling. We validate their feelings, and we acknowledge their mental state of mind
When our own feeling are validated, we learn to validate others. When we validate someone else’s feelings, it helps them become emotionally aware of those feelings, but it also helps us become aware of ours. When we become aware of our own emotions, we recognize these same feelings in others, therefore we connect with them on an emotional level. This builds and continues the cycle of empathy.
Responding With Empathy
When my daughter becomes disgruntled from a fall, whether its out of frustration or because she’s hurt, I acknowledge her. It could be a simple “are you okay,” or it could even go as far as helping her up. I respond according to the severity of the fall. This goes for other interactions that involve an emotional response. Bad moods and good moods. This includes tantrums, outbursts, or relishing in her happiness. I feel what she feels and I empathize with her.
I am fully aware that jumping up for every little thing can deter my child from solving her own problems. Just because I am looking in her direction when she is struggling with some type of conflict, doesn’t mean I don’t allow her to figure it out herself. After all, she’s only one. Just because I ask if she is okay that doesn’t mean I pick her up every time she falls. I am simply acknowledging her and letting her know her feelings are validated. I am not making her “too sensitive;” I am teaching her empathy.
When our children explode into an emotional meltdown, our first reaction is to roll our eye’s. We analyze the situation from our perspective as an adult. Someone with years of experience and piles of other overwhelming concerns. We’re thinking about mortgages, our finances, our jobs, among other things. So, when our child is losing their minds over not having their purple cup, it isn’t a big deal to us. We get frustrated with them, tell them “it’s okay, it’s not a big deal,’ and we don’t empathize with the fact that for them, it is a very big deal.
It’s the same concept with society. We are not “coddling” when we respond to someone with empathy. We are not deterring their strength and conforming to a society that is “too sensitive.” We are respecting a person’s mental health. Yet, we refuse to accept that what is going on in our minds is our own level of importance, and not necessarily others. Therefore, we don’t realize that each one of us have different levels of stress, mental strength, and emotional capacity. We refuse to empathize with others and we label them as being “too sensitive.” Instead of feeling empathetic towards someones mental state, and emotionally aware of their feelings, we defend our rights to be selfishly inconvenienced. This is not a world I want my daughter to grow up in. If she is marked “too sensitive” then I hope she embraces it and uses it to emanate empathy and love for other “sensitive” individuals.
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