Saturday, January 11, 2003

Sensitivity....or Something Like It

When I was a kid, my parents used to yell at me about it. "Why are you so goddamn sensitive?" they'd demand. I still remember the way my dad would sneer and snarl the words at me, like sensitivity was something profoundly icky to be deplored. "You're too goddamned soft-hearted!" was another common complaint. I didn't really have an answer for why I was that way, just that I was. I didn't want him to kill the spider, no matter how afraid of it I was. I didn't like it when they yelled at me, even if I deserved it. Eventually I learned that when I cried, they would just become more angry. So, I would stand, stone-faced and stoic, and take whatever it was that they dished out at me. Crying was something you did later on, alone in the woods behind Grandma and Pop's, or maybe in your room if you could muffle the sobs enough to guarantee that they wouldn't hear. I was not oversensitive. I was strong and good.

One of my first serious relationships was with someone cruel and angry. His biggest explanation for being that way was that I was so horrid, so intrinsically mean and awful; that he just couldn't help himself. I was a fucking nasty bitch, so why shouldn't he be that way? Maybe if I wasn't such a fucking nasty bitch he would be nicer. Maybe if I was thinner, prettier, smarter....but I wasn't enough of any of those things, so he had a right to treat me however he chose. Sometimes I lived up to his assessment and was cruel, angry, mean. A fucking nasty bitch. Other times I was small and crumpled and unable to muster the energy to be anything other than quietly "nice".

When I was in college, I remember jokingly telling a friend that I would rip someone a new one if they did a certain thing. She didn't even try to suppress her guffaws. "Can you imagine Amanda being mean to someone?!?", she laughed to another friend who was present. "She's the nicest person I know! Amanda, you couldn't be mean to someone if your life depended on it!"

I was a bit taken aback. I wasn't a nasty fucking bitch? Or a fucking nasty bitch? I was (gasp!) "nice"??? I wondered what she saw, if I somehow had her fooled.

A guy I dated around the same time put me on a strange pedestal of "niceness". It fucked with the relationship. "You have such a big heart," I remember him complaining, "it's almost too big for your body. You love everyone, everything. You drain yourself bleeding for everyone else! I could never be like will always be a better person than me. And I don't know if I can deal with it."

Well, I didn't expect him to be like me. And I wouldn't have assessed myself that way, that's for damn sure. But it's kind of become a theme in my relationships with other people, whether romantic or platonic in nature. They love me because I'm "sensitive", because I'll almost always put them before myself. Because they can step on me unthinkingly and I'll still love them unwaveringly (well, to a point...), attributing such behavior to a "bad day" or some such nonsense. But then, they also hate me for the same reasons. Because they feel somehow smaller when the same sensitivity makes me see things they've missed, when it makes me cry at something they didn't intend to have such an effect. God, I couldn't even begin to count the number of people who have eventually tossed me aside in part because I unintentionally made them feel like an asshole by tearing up when they said certain things to me, things they would never have deemed "mean". And that I wouldn't necessarily have, either, 5 minutes later. But at the time....knee-jerk reaction takes over. And try as I might, sometimes I can't quite blink back the tears enough to make them unnoticeable.

I despise it in part. Mostly because it means I spend much more time than I would like feeling hurt. I wish I could stand stoicly like I did as a child, letting hurtful things roll off me like water off the proverbial duck's back. But then, take it too far and you become a fucking nasty bitch.

I'm still trying to reconcile the different parts of myself, to put them together puzzle-fashion in a manner that is pleasing to both myself and other people. But I always kind of sucked at jigsaw puzzles. So I'm still kind of strewn about haphazardly on the dining-room table.

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