It’s a phrase I’ve probably heard once a week since I was 12 years old: “Don’t take it personally.” When I was 12, I didn’t understand what it meant — I just continued to internalize every single remotely awkward or tense situation I found myself in.
What I did understand was that I regularly found myself with feelings of low self-esteem. I cried easily and never wanted anyone to be “mad at me,” which proved both difficult and confusing for someone who loved — and still loves — to speak her mind.
I can remember an afternoon during my freshman year of high school when I called my parents to pick me up early from school because I’d been in a fight with my best friend, no doubt over teenage nonsense.
I had to go home. Because I had a fight. A stupid fight that normal 15-year-olds have on the daily. And I couldn’t stop crying.
The fully-grown 27-year-old me looks at 15-year-old me as though she had three heads. Are you kidding me? Could you be any more dramatic? Do you know how many people have worse problems than you have — like, say, people who are starving?
And then I realize that those are the critiques I’ve been fighting my whole life. They have infiltrated my way of thinking because society tells me I’m “too sensitive.” That I was “weird” for worrying about one missed homework assignment or, in the case of my life now, taking that weird look from my boss personally (Was it something I said?) when I said “good morning.”
But it’s the way that I’m wired. The critiques are one thing — but forgetting about that aspect — it’s exhausting (and, as some like to say, creates a lot of “unnecessary work” for me).
I’ve reached a point where I try to “desensitize” myself and repeat the mantra: yes, you guessed it — “Don’t take it personally.” But sometimes I try to overcompensate for my sensitivity with sarcasm, and just not staying true to my real feelings.
I’ll admit I’ve never been officially labeled as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) , but every article I’ve ever read on the subject sounds as though it’s describing the person illustrated above.
My sensitivity manifests itself differently now than it did when I was 12 or 15. It worries incessantly if I make a mistake at work. It makes me obsess over why a friend didn’t answer a text. To bring it back: I take it all personally. And I can also tell you I’m working hard on not, as my mom likes to say, “going to that place.”
But at the same time, my sensitivity allows me to cry every time I hear Imagine played on the radio, and is the reason why I refuse to watch The Notebook. I can feel both my emotions and the emotions of others deeply, and when you’re a writer (who also happens to sing and act on the side), that can be a beautiful thing.