Emotional Sensitivity and Neurotypicalism

Content/trigger warning: death mention, neurotypicalist slur

Oh, hey! I found this entry in my folder of blog entries and it turns out I wrote it a long time ago and never posted it. So have a real entry!

Today (er, on the day I wrote it, which was January 23), someone took time out of their busy schedule to tell me I was wrong for my feelings about Carrie Fisher’s death. Why would someone do that?

Well, I could speculate until the cows come home, but I have always been befuddled by disrespect and meanness. I don’t understand the motivation and may be neurologically incapable of doing so, because it’s not a motivation I have. (Low intellectual empathy. It makes life interesting.) So instead, I want to talk about sensitivity.

Actually, I want to talk about two kinds of sensitivity: sensitivity as in respect and sensitivity as in being emotionally sensitive and vulnerable. It also would be accurate that I want to talk about being sensitive to sensitivity in the sense of being respectful of vulnerability. Some people are sensitive. In modern society, especially in the US (which is where I live and therefore the place I am most qualified to discuss), sensitivity gets a bad rap. It is actively discouraged. People are told to stop being dramatic, stop crying, stop being sensitive, etc. The usual rationale behind this is that the world is cruel, so sensitivity is maladaptive and should be trained out of people. I find there to be two problems with that: one, many sensitive people can literally not be trained out of being who they are, and two, it is possible to create a world that is more accessible to sensitive people.

Many neurodivergent people are highly emotionally sensitive. (Others are highly emotionally insensitive; I might discuss that later.) It is because of this that the “your feelings are wrong and you should feel bad” attitude toward sensitivity crosses into neurotypicalism. Yes, being crappy in response to someone being more upset than you think they should be is rooted in neurotypicalism. You’re gods damned right I said it.

I want to point out that an exception to the discussion in this entry is the fact that being told one is acting like a bigot tends to hurt feelings. In this case, those hurt feelings are the problem of the person acting like a bigot, because they were perpetuating wide-scale harm and their hurt feelings are less important than the harm they were doing. Also, sometimes bigots will hide behind their hurt feelings by attempting to say “you hurt my feelings, so YOU’RE wrong”. Well, being told you’re acting like a bigot hurts. I’m white and cis, so PoC and trans people have told me I was acting like a bigot because, well, I was. I’ve internalized white supremacy and cissexism, and unlearning them is a process. Yeah, it hurt. But I was in the wrong and it was my responsibility as a moral human being to get over my feeling hurt and unlearn whatever toxic crap I was doing. And ohhh boy do I get neurotypicals pulling the “you hurt my feelings by calling me neurotypicalist, so YOU’RE wrong and I don’t have to change my behavior”. (This is why I have a “neurotypical tears” mug.) So to summarize this paragraph, I am talking about being attentive to the emotional needs of sensitive neurodivergent people in this entry, not those times when it may be necessary to hurt someone’s feelings in order to affect positive change.

Anyway, let me give an example. Well, an intersectional example. “Hysteria” used to be a mental illness. Women were actually diagnosed as “hysterical” for, well, having strong feelings. Specifically, these feelings included anxiety, irritability, and nervousness. Oh, and sexually forward behavior. The term “hysteria” was used because those dishing out the diagnosis literally believed that having a uterus caused the “mental illness”, and hysterectomies were sometimes carried out as treatment. (The idea of hysteria or a similar condition as a disease caused by the uterus was found in several cultures, but I’m mostly referring to what was happening to women in England and the States during the industrial era.) In any case, to this day, women are referred to as “hysterical” when we are upset in order to delegitimize our feelings. This is an example of misogynableism: the intersection between misogyny and ableism. The use of the insult “hysteria” is meant to undercut a woman’s experiences by insinuating that she is mentally ill, therefore her experiences and feelings about them can be ignored.

The idea that mental illness (or at least supposed irrationality related to such) and emotional sensitivity are inexorably related is pervasive. Mentally ill feelings are seen as Wrong, so they can be dismissed; on the flip side, “overly” sensitive emotional responses are seen as mentally ill so they can be categorized as Wrong. “You’re too sensitive” is not only an asshole thing to say in response to someone’s hurt feelings, but it also carries the hidden barb of “you’re crazy”. This is especially true when a woman’s feelings are being delegitimized; misogynableism is likely at play.

In short, everyone’s feelings are legitimate to them and should be respected, even if some might find them too extreme. Yes, that especially includes the feelings of mentally ill people, even if our disorders are causing those feelings; for example, my CPTSD-born belief that I deserve to suffer or die when I’m admonished for a social gaffe is irrational, but it’s certainly real. I can process that feeling much better when the fact that I’m feeling it is respected. High emotional sensitivity, like any other neurodivergent trait, needs to be accommodated, and that accommodation should lead to the curb-cutter effect and make life easier for neurotypical people who are highly sensitive. The world would be a better place for everyone if assholes would stop being assholes. Well, it might not be better for the assholes, but I don’t really care about them.

I might write more about sensitivity and radical softness later, but that might be all I have on the topic.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.'” I’m only picking this quote because I’m so out of spoons I want a depression nap, but I have to job-hunt instead.

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thisisforyoucarrie View All →

Mentally ill activist and angry Disabled loudmouth. Neuroqueer as hell.

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