A Sponge’s Contribution: How to Channel Your Sensitivity to Do Good

Continuing the series on sensitivity, let’s look at the tremendous potential of empathy.  Such an antenna is a very powerful tool, and it can cause a lot of grief — or tremendous joy.

So, I cry watching movies, I get upset when the person next to me is having a bad day, and I get overwhelmed by other people’s feelings.

You may wonder (as I do), what good is this sensitivity, if all it does is just toppling us off our feet?

Well, it turns out, an emotional sensitivity is a very potent gift.  Channel it in right ways, and you can make great difference in the lives of people you touch.

Using Emotional Sensitivity to Create and Strengthen a Bond

I am a father to two little children, and they do what kids do — cry.  They cry when they slip and fall.  They cry when their toy is being used by someone else.  They cry when they have to wait.

And what is the proper first response to a child’s hurt feelings?

You acknowledge it.

“Yes, honey — it’s sad, isn’t it?”  instead of “Don’t cry!  It’s nothing.”

It’s not always necessary to feel what they are feeling.  But it’s always good to let them know that you know how they are feeling.  This validates their experience.  It says that what they are feeling is allowed and accepted (if not encouraged).  It tells them that they are not alone in feeling how they feel.

An emotional sensitivity, or empathy, is the antenna you can use to pick up on this need for validation and connection.  It’s very essential — the emotional bond is the foundation of all relationships.

And the same is true for grown-ups.

The Power of Sensitivity

This ability to sense other people’s feelings enables us to be great carers.

Of course we care.  If you’re in the same room as I am and having a bad day, I feel it.  Your problem is not just yours, it’s mine, too.  This is true even if we are mature enough to set up healthy boundaries around ourselves (which is one of the challenges we sensitives face).   This is how empathy can become a burden.

On the other hand, imagine what it’s like to have an empathic on your side.  This person is finely tuned to your feelings.  S/He can sense your discomfort, fear, and vulnerability.  And they use it to inform how they can help you meet your needs.

Let’s say you’re studying math, or something you just don’t like.  You are tutored by an empathic woman.  She starts to explain something to you, but you just can’t follow her.

Before you say anything, only after a minute or two, she stops and says “this doesn’t make sense to you, does it?”

You silently nod, relieved that you didn’t have to admit it, grateful that she picked it up and didn’t subject you to a lengthy session of confusion and overwhelmment.

So she changes course.  Perhaps she’ll use analogy that you can relate to, or bring out models and toys that are designed to help you understand.  After trying a few ways to explain, finally it clicks.  “I get it!” you exclaim, exhilarated by your break-through.  Nobody else even knew that you weren’t getting it — and your silent fear was eating you alive, for the fear of being discovered.  But it was eradicated in a single session by this perceptive person.

Your tutor smiles her radiant smile.  Nothing brings her more joy than to help her tutee experience break-throughs.

You see, we sensitives care, and care deeply, precisely because we feel others’ feelings as our own.  Nothing feels more devastating than causing others pain, especially when we are the cause of it.  And nothing feels better than experiencing joy and triumph of others, and it feels positively ecstatic when we know we contributed to that victory.

When we care, it’s a very personal business.  We make it our business to make sure that people we care about are feeling good.

The Double-Edged Sword of Empathy

Just like any other gifts, emotional sensitivity can be used to cause great damage.  As in above, imagine somebody can see right through you and pick up on all your discomfot and vulnerabilities.  Such a person can weild the power to hit you exactly where it hurts.  It can be a very traumatic experience to be with an empathic person who doesn’t realize the power s/he holds.

Yet, this also happens often, not necessarily because of evil, malicious intent, but more out of the desperate necessity one feels to be defensive and control others.  When you feel threatened, you naturally try to strike an effective blow to your opponent.  An empath can turn into a manipulative, hurtful person when pushed in wrong ways.

Emotional sensitivity is a very powerful tool, because all humans are emotional beings.   Being in touch with others’ feelings can give us information we can either use for or against. Either way, we can make very profound impact in other people’s lives.

Roles for Positive Channeling of Sensitivity

When you start to realize the power of sensitivity, you’ll also begin to open your eyes to opportunities where you can use it to make a difference.  Which is virtually everywhere, as all relationships contain emotional ties.  Here are some roles where the power of empathy can greatly help you become effective:

  • Spouse/romantic relationship
  • Parent
  • Mentor/Coach
  • Counselor/Therapist
  • Teacher
  • Nurse/Doctor/other healing arts
  • Consultant of any kind
  • Child Care/Hospice

I’m sure there are countless others.  Any situations where we get to interact deeply with a relatively small group of people (as dealing with too many people can get overwhelming), where we are tasked to help them meet their needs, are opportunities for us to shine.

A Sponge’s Contribution

I’ve used the word “sponge” to describe myself, and so has Kristi over at Kikolani.com.  It’s an accurate analogy — we soak up other people’s feelings.  But a sponge doesn’t hold water in forever.  Sooner or later what we absorb come out, either through evaporation or by wringing out.

As an emotional sponge, I am blessed with a very powerful gift, one that can make tremendous impacts for good.  What I soak up, I can then release it to create an empathic feedback that can really touch people in a way they wish to be touched.

As with all powerful tools, emotional sensitivity can be used to cause pain and destruction, or create healing and joy.  Understanding empathy can help you point ways to do much good for yourself and for those around you.

It’s a tremendous gift.  Use it to help others.  And yourself.

Have you ever been touched by a sensitive person?  Can you think of a situation where someone used his/her empathy to do good?  Please share below.


  1. Pingback: Our Best Version | Life’s Survival Guide for Sensitive Souls

  2. Ari–what a beautiful post. I have been thinking about you during the last week, hoping you are okay.

    I have a friend who is a highly evolved, sensitive–who happens to be a Native American medicine man. After I entered recovery, I moved to Montana to go to college and I was very much nurtured in that setting. There were no opportunities for me to do heroin–it was a wonderful cocoon of caring and loving people, who all helped me stay clean in those first, early crucial years of my recovery.

    When I was heading off to graduate school, I was so worried about leaving this cocoon–but yet, I didn’t say anything about my fears to anyone. When I was out walking in the mountainside of Montana with my friend the medicine man, he turned to me and said, “Melinda–it is time for you to leave this place. Bozeman, Montana is a sacred place–no fighting was ever done in this land (called the Valley of Flowers). It is a place of transition and guides people through their life’s transitions. You now have what you needed to gain to go on your way. If you stay, you will be out of balance-so take what you have learned and be successful somewhere else.”

    All at once, he alleviated my great fears–and I also knew that he was right. I needed to go off to graduate school and become the person I am today. I have often thought back to Jim (the medicine man) and thought about what a great sensitive he was to have picked up so keenly on my feelings and fears.

    Another great post, Ari–


    Melinda´s last blog post..Bloggers Unite for World Aids Day

    1. Hi Melinda,

      Wow, that was a great example of how a person used his sensitivity to reach you where you needed to be. Thanks for sharing that.

      I myself often get intuition like that when I’m talking to someone. But it takes a lot of wisdom to approach it as wisely as your friend. It’s one thing to know what the other person is feeling — it’s quite another to reach out in just the right way to touch the vulnerable place, as it can easily come across as threatening.

      But it’s something I aspire to do.


    1. Hi Amanda!

      Welcome to OBV! Glad to have you here.

      Indeed, I think it’s easy to think of our sensitive antennas as a burden or a curse. Hopefully I demonstrated that it also has tremendous potential for good.


    1. Hi Tom,

      Yes, but when I think of the word “empath” I think of Star Trek. 😉 It sounds so supernatural to me.

      It is hard to set boundaries — but there are many positive sides, too. Like being able to see through most lies. 😉


  3. Hey Ari! You know my sensitive companion is my son. It is nice to connect with someone that is truly sensitive to every emotion. Just this morning I was given a hug just because! He knew and so did I.

    Glad to see this post.

    Cricket´s last blog post..

  4. Ari, What a wonderful metaphor, your sponge both soaking up and giving out emotions. There can be a powerful aura of energy about each one of us. I find this is particularly potent with small children, as they have not yet constructed the emotional shields that plague so many of us. And sometimes, just sitting with someone who is in a great deal of emotional pain, projecting your own healing emotion their direction, can be more effective than words.

    Thanks for making me think! G.

    Grace Kleppin´s last blog post..150 ways to be mindful in the next 24 hours

    1. Hi Grace,

      Sorry about the delay of this reply.

      You have a good point about just sitting with a person — I have had many moments where I felt that the best thing to say was nothing. Words seem to cheapen the depth of our feelings somehow.


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