By Kimberly Zapata
I have always been rough and tumble. When I was younger, I played with the boys, and “acted” like the boys. I enjoyed sports and climbing trees. I welcomed scrapes, bruises, cuts, and scuffed knees.
To me, they were symbols of strength. They were bloody badges of honor.
But my rugged exterior was a farce. It was a facade — one I developed early on to shield my fragile interior and protect my sensitive soul. Because this tomboy — this hardened gal — was also very tense and touchy.
I was (and still am) a highly sensitive soul, but it didn’t take me long to realize that this was a “bad thing.” That my tears, thoughts, and emotions were a “bad thing.”
You see, my heart aches when others hurt. I literally cry when others are struggling, emotional, downtrodden, or sad; I am codependent to a fault.
Of course, there’s more to it than that — so much more. I shake every time someone raises their voice. I feel their angst, anger, sadness, and fear. I worry about things beyond my control because I want to help people. Because I want to save people. I am very affected by both the environment and the moods of those around me, because I feel, care, and give too much. I am also easily overwhelmed.
The constant motion, commotion, and energy exhausts me mentally and physically. So, like any child struggling to find her place and voice in the world, I “bucked up.” I “hardened up.” My skin and I “toughened up,” and I learned to play pretend early.
Make no mistake: I didn’t feel better. Inside, I was struggling and suffering. Even though I felt like I was dying, I crafted a fearless, stoic, confident, and strong persona that radiated bravery and courage. I became the person I “should be” by neglecting the person I was. After all, I hated the sensitive girl I was.
But at 33, I am finally starting to realize that maybe empathy isn’t so bad. Maybe my “sensitive heart” isn’t so bad. Perhaps my sensitivities actually make me stronger, more confident, and more capable than I ever imagined.