Powerful? Then you can’t be sensitive.

This is the message we receive from the time we are young.

Of course it is based on an idea about strength and power.

So perhaps we need to reexamine these ideas and see if they make any sense.

What Is Power?

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, power comes basically in two forms: personal and institutional:

  • power is the ability to get something done or create an effect of some sort. It is a skill.
  • power can also be assigned as in institutional power. This power is the ability to control. It is the province of rules, roles and laws. Often institutional power is maintained by the prevailing group consciousness in any society which essentially gives it the permission to make the rules and laws that govern everyday life.

These definitions ring true. Power is either acquired through working at developing a skill or through assignment.

Both of these definitions equate power with action:

  • the action of an individual in learning how to do something, and
  • the power of institutions to act to limit the actions of others.

They also have a flaw.

The Flaw In The Definition Of Power

The common definition of powerful is highly affiliated with masculine norms that have defined culturally accepted behavior and they are action oriented ideas about being powerful.

For so long masculine and feminine have been defined as opposites, so the feminine and feminine characteristics have been designated as less attractive and less powerful.

The feminine has been traditionally associated with right brained intuition and which means that being highly sensitive is also associated with being feminine.

“Doing” has been placed on a pedestal. Observing, knowing and intuiting are all listening skills which are generally devalued in a cultural systems that demands action oriented behavior.

A Powerful Distortion

It is interesting that we are still beholden to ancient ideas about the sexes. For all of our advances, we are still perpetuating simplistic ideas about men and women. Unfortunately these ideas have consequences and are not up to the challenges of complex modern societies.

Limited ideas about strength limits our ability to find solutions to our problems – and it is showing.

When we misdefine strength and power we also misdefine what it important and necessary.

If action is a strength then contemplation is not.

If logic is a strength then intuition is not.

If brawn is a strength, compassion is not.

One-sided dualities are inherently limiting.

So How Can Sensitives Be Powerful?

In reality it can be very difficult to break through dualistic ideas about identity and power.

Duality, however, doesn’t work. We certainly see plenty of evidence around us of how duality creates as many problems as it solves because it always leaves out key factors.

That is the opportunity for highly sensitive people.

HSP’s are the great noticers of disconnection of all sorts.

Our awareness is our power. Our challenge is to make our awareness available in the world.

Many of us have experience with resistance to change: sometimes it is ours, often the resistance of others. We know from personal experience that when people are not ready for change we cannot move them to do anything. Our ideas will fall by the wayside because it is not our job to get someone to change.

There are, however, some things we can do.

We can introduce ideas that someone might not have thought of.

We can show how a new approach can be successful by talking about innovative successes.

We can show how a positive view of humanity is worth considering because of our own experiences.

We can show how going too fast causes us to miss important factors that eventually lead to unnecessary failure.

We can help others see the benefits of going slowly and carefully.

We do not need to change the world.

We can open the door a crack and let in some fresh ideas. Perhaps someone will consider those ideas today or in the future.

All we have done is introduce some new possibilities.

That is powerful.

And it is powerful enough.

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Movie Club focused on movies and discussions about living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.


  1. Tamisha on August 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Oh how I love this, Maria! I just love everything you write.

    From a branding and personal perspective, I’m 100% both of these. Not sure if you’re familiar with Abby Kerr & The Voice Bureau, but they administer a voice values paradigm for entrepreneurs that I love. In taking that several months ago, I wasn’t surprised that one of my top voice values was power. A few months later, I discovered an official “title” for so many parts of my personality I could never explain before – “introvert.” I then read Sophia Dembling’s book, The Introvert’s Way and re-branded my business to serve introverted women from this “duality” perspective.

    As a highly sensitive introverted woman, I saw not only a gap in the market, but a disconnect between introversion and self-expression or assertiveness. Many times, assertiveness (which I equate largely with power and am gifted in) is viewed as an extroverted trait when, really it’s a form of communication, available to all. I know many assertive introverts, but fewer that are.

    My sensitivity and high power value have allowed me to start a VERY unique brand conversation online.

    When you mentioned our challenge being making our awareness available to the world, I heard an emphatic “ding” because I spent SO much time trying to find what my unique perspective was (and what women in the introverted world and market really were searching for).

    I really appreciate this post. So enlightening and right on!

    • Maria on August 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      Hi Tamisha,

      How lovely for you that you have been able to work through your voice and HSP trait to find a way of being that works for you. Assertiveness is just a way of communication, as you say, and one that HSPs can avail themselves of so that they can communicate in a way that supports their values. I have not heard of Abby Kerr but will check her out.

      Thanks for your insights.

      All the best,

  2. Wren on June 18, 2014 at 11:11 am

    I found this article very helpful, especially the phrase”HSP’s are the great noticers of disconnection of all sorts.” I have not embraced that awareness fully as being my power but your article is helpful in my journey there.

    • Maria on June 18, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Hi Wren,

      I am glad that I could help. We are the grat noticers and it is a gift worth embracing.

      All the best,

  3. Kathryn Hall on June 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Love this Maria – what a wonderful post. It reminds me of the Gandhi quote ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world’.

    Power can be gentle, steady and quiet. One of my favourite words is ’empowerment’ and after reading Danielle Laporte’s book, The Desire Map, I’ve realised that feeling ’empowered’ is really important to me. To me it’s about going through the world with a sense of identity and choice. I have the power to create gentle change that’s right for me and I feel empowered by that.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Maria on June 18, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Kathryn,

      I LOVE your view on power. Power has acquired a bad reputation because it is abused so often. I love seeing that HSPs are trying to change that. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts.

      All the best,