Dear Rachel,

I’ve got to be one of the most sensitive people in the world. Or at least that’s what people tell me, closely followed by advice about what psychiatric medications I should be taking to alleviate this problem. It’s very hard for me to be in most social or work situations where people are crass, noisy, insensitive or rude to others. People seem to take my sensitivity as carte blanche to take advantage of me. What’s wrong with being a sensitive soul? Honestly, I’d like to just sit in a hammock in the middle of a forest clearing.

Heart on her sleeve

Dear All Heart,

Imagine if zookeepers thought like most people. Imagine if they put penguins in a desert habitat and told them to learn to beSensitivity is a supreme value in the Torah cool there. Or lemurs in an arctic exhibit. Next time you’re at the zoo, pay attention to how much effort is exerted to give each species exactly what it needs not only to survive, but to thrive.

Although people are more adaptable and flexible than animals, we all have different physical, emotional and spiritual makeups, and not honoring them and their needs does not bode well for us or other people.

Sensitivity is a supreme value in the Torah. The Torah, which is usually very laconic, exhorts us to consider the sensitivity of many different kinds of vulnerability—not only the obvious orphan, widow and poor person, but someone who has taken a loan and may be overwhelmed, someone who is sensitive to certain words, a mother bird hovering over her nest, a mule working in tandem with an ox. It’s a long list of considerations. Moses did not bring on the first three plagues in Egypt out of consideration for inanimate objects to which he owed a debt.

But we can’t change other people, so let me suggest a few coping strategies that might work for you.

  1. Do seek out a forest clearing, and hang a hammock on some trees and sip a piña colada. We live overscheduled, overwhelming, demanding lives. Sensitive people need to recharge their batteries, so schedule downtime, preferably in idyllic locations. If you can’t actually get there, close your eyes and imagine them when things get hot.
  2. We can’t choose everyone in our environment, but we can draw close to us like-minded and like-souled people who can help nourish our soul. Stay clear of critical, aggressive, bullying people. Make sure that the people you choose to spend time with are giving you positive energy and not sapping it.
  3. Manipulate your environment as much as possible so that it is serene. Ask to move to a corner office, bring more plants into your work and home environment. If you are able, move to the country or to a rooftop apartment, or change jobs and work from home. If you can’t make these changes right now, consider them as future options.
  4. Get proper nourishment, exercise and sleep. Sensitive people who are hungry, lethargic or sleep-deprived are exponentially more sensitive.
  5. Appoint a mentor, spiritual guide, life coach, best friend or someone who can act as a sounding board to give you healthy feedback and advice, and to encourage you. Talk about one issue at a time and resolve them slowly.
  6. Focus on the positive as much as possible. Think about the good in your life. Avoid the trap of second-guessing yourself, regretting your choices or dwelling on the wrongs done to you.
  7. Highly sensitive people want to help others resolve their problems, and the world its ills and injustices, but choose your battles. Overly immersing yourself in other people’s problems or fighting the unbeatable will only make you feel defeated.

Be proud of your sensitive nature. It helps you be intuitive, empathic and kind.

You see and feel things other people are not equipped to see. You are deep and discerning. And though that may cause some pain, it’s also going to give you a level of wonderment, beauty and sensitivity that many people are not privileged to have.