As a sensitive person, I like to be of service and, in my experience, most sensitive people are the same way. Service is a wonderful thing. It enriches our lives and the lives of others. For sensitive people, being of service has pitfalls, however. Because of our natural capacity to be sensitive to nuance and therefore the complexity in the world around us, we can often see the trees but not necessarily the forest.
Is It Pleasing Or Service?
Sensitive people are sometimes defined as people pleasers but I think we have to be careful with this kind of labeling. We have a combination of attributes which together predispose us to want to be constructive and helpful in our actions. Our innate sensitivity to nuance provides us with a lot of information that others might not be aware of. That increased awareness or knowledge is something that we may want and need to share with others because:
- We may see possibilities that others miss.
- Being empathetic we hate to see others in pain especially when we are aware of possibilities that others may not see.
- We see a world in pain and do not want to add to it
- It feels good to see others around us happy and to contribute to that happiness.
Having a different awareness gives rise to a number of questions:
- What do we do, keep our awareness to ourselves?
- Do we share what we see even if it is unwelcome?
- Do we risk our relationships over our awareness?
- When is our awareness constructive and when is it actually counterproductive to share?
- Where does our responsibility lie and how do we identify where it ends and another person’s responsibility begins?
These are important questions that sensitive people often grapple with and need to come to terms with.
There is a relationship between awareness and responsibility. However, in order to have true responsibility, there is one thing that is absolutely essential. You have to be receptive to the realities you are dealing with before you identify your role and what you need to do and then act on it. Receptivity is an important first step in assuming responsibility.
Receptivity is a complex subject. There can be many personal reasons why someone is not receptive to information:
- overload and the inability to handle more information
- work factors
- inexperience or fear
These are some of many reasons why someone might avoid new information. However, these are mostly personal reasons someone might not be interested in receiving information. Are there less personal ones?
It May Not Be Personal
As a sensitive person, it is much more difficult to evade information since our nervous systems are usually open for business listening to every nuance around us. Furthermore, according to Dr. Aron’s research, sensitive people respond differently to information and are not as oriented to the cultural cues in their environments.
Culture plays an important role in what information people consider relevant and important. Culture acts as a filtering device for human attention. If what an individual notices is outside the cultural priorities they identify with, then they may not be receptive to hearing what we have to say and it is not because they are trying to be irresponsible; they may simply see responsibility in a certain way as defined by the priorities of their culture. If my culture makes it a priority for me to be involved with the social scene, for instance, I will make it a priority and I might among other things, spend a lot of time going out and being on social media.
Survival is the first priority and cultures define the requirements for survival under their systems. If you come to me with different priorities based on what you see as necessary then we will likely disagree about what we need to be focusing on.
Cultural expectations play a significant role in setting the priorities and receptivity of individuals. This is one of the reasons many sensitive people suffer disconnects with people who are non-sensitive.
So How Do We Connect?
The quick answer is that sometimes we can and other times we cannot.
What is most useful is to be able to identify when to get involved in a situation and when not to. It is very easy in the spirit of goodwill to get involved in a situation where we have little or no chance of making a difference and then beat ourselves up when we were unsuccessful in achieving a positive outcome.
There are many cultures each with their unique priorities and objectives. If you look at what is happening around you with your sensitive and empathetic eyes you may not see the cultural aspect of what is happening and may inadvertently get involved in a problem or situation where the individuals are not receptive to what you offer because the framework for their perceptions is fixed in a particular cultural construct. This does not mean that you are dealing with irresponsible or harmful people, it simply means that the solutions that people may be receptive to are limited by their culture’s system. As a sensitive person who is very creative, I have found that my creativity is not always welcome when working with people living in some cultural systems.
Understanding the cultural frameworks that shape people’s priorities has helped me to detach from many situations where receptivity to new ideas is low. When we are able to do so we can identify those individuals and situations which are hospitable and constructive for us and which ones are likely to drain us. Learning cultural frameworks makes it much easier to identify fruitful collaborative opportunities in a world of diverse cultures.
We all need to use our time well. Being sensitive and aware is not a guarantee of successful interactions with others. We have to learn to identify where we can really be of service and when we do our service feels good to us and to others – a win-win!