The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him… a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – – – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.
Pearl S. Buck

This quote from Pearl S. Buck is one of my favourite descriptions of the emotional sensitivity I experience in my life and that I witness in my kids.

My children astound me with their emotional responses.

  • One son cried in his sleep for 6 months after a fish died in his classroom aquarium.
  • One son fretted for days because characters in a picture book were cruel to another character.
  • Small consequences for minor rule infractions lead to massive melt-downs and shame spirals.
  • A drawing that doesn’t show what the artist intended gets torn up, and before resuming the project, the artist rages through the house slamming doors and knocking down furniture.
  • Hugs are so intense that they knock the recipient down.
  • The vagaries of playground friendships become epic betrayals and melodramatic reunions.
  • A sunset stops us all in our paths as we gaze in silence together.
  • A pine cone becomes a beloved friend.
  • A favourite book is read and re-read and re-read; the cover falls off and we buy a new copy.
  • We weep when Dumbledore and Charlotte and Eponine die.
  • We laugh so hard we miss the next three jokes.
  • We cry over lyrics and are stopped short by poetry.
  • Music invades our bodies and forces us to dance.
  • We love hard, falling fast and deep, breaking inconsolably, and recover to do it again.
  • Our hearts break and rejoice with the pain and joys of others, friends and strangers alike.

We are emotional sensitivities walking this earth in physical bodies. Finely tuned receivers, we resonate with the frequencies of the world, amplifying sorrow and joy as they pass through us.

If we defend ourselves from the pain, we shut off our capacity for happiness. We must learn to accept that the price of being capable of feeling such joy is that we must also feel the deepest sorrows.

And what tools do we have to manage these extreme emotions?

To my children, I offer a willingness to feel to the depth of my being and the depth of theirs, to let it be acceptable to feel. I offer them my experience, compassion and empathy, a large collection of art supplies, music and drama lessons, and hugs.

Lots and lots of hugs.

Kate writes about creativity and story-telling as tools for making sense of the world at, where she has made available a companion piece: Emotional Intensity and Creativity.


21 thoughts on “Tender Hearts: The Gift of Emotional Sensitivity

  1. It is hard for me to fathom that only two people liked this, when it rings so true to life and has such passion. Great post. Someday your kids will read it and they will stop and smile and silently say to themselves … Yep, that was Mom.

    Nice job.


  2. Thank you Kate,
    Sometimes I forget there are others out there who feel things as I do. Unfortunately, as a child I did not have the safety to feel or express the intensity of my emotions. Sometimes I feel people like myself are forgotten. Being gifted and or intense with an abusive childhood brings a different dimension to say the least. Your post is comforting as it reminds me it’s ok to be myself now and that there are people who care.

  3. My children and I have shared many of the examples you gave for your children. 🙂 My DS6 who was about 4 or 5 at the time, found a tree nut on the ground in the park and named it nutty and kept it close to him. My DS12 will hug with such intensity…almost knocking you to the ground.
    Thank you for posting and making me smile. 🙂

  4. My oh-so-sensitive 9yo son is being excluded by the boys on his basketball team. I have to find strength in me to help him, but I feel it to the depths of my soul and want to cry for him. He’s holding out well, considering. I thought it was girls that got cliquey at this age…. It brings back so many emotions left unresolved from my own childhood.

  5. I can so relate to so many of those things! When my son was 4 and he would ever so slightly color outside the lines, he would bang his head on the ground in frustration. His twin sister, sitting right next to him would just be happily coloring away…lines? what lines? Who cares if the hair is green? Her brother had to use the exact right color for the buildings and the colors on Spiderman’s costume, etc.

    And why oh why did you have to mention Eponine?? Now I have a lump in my throat just thinking about her! I got verklempt the moment they began singing, “Look Down” and was crying by the time the priest gave Jean Val Jean the candlesticks. I was sobbing during “I Dreamed a Dream,” Wanted to get up and march to my death during, “Can you hear the People Sing?” And was a useless pile of sobbing goo when Enjolras died across the blockade in the iconic final battle scene –though there was added emotion for me, because the actor playing him was practically a doppelganger for my son.

  6. I cope with extreme emotional by writing. When I am writing fiction, my character can be feeling very upset about something totally different but somehow my own emotion gets channeled, however changed. It makes something useful of my emotion.


  7. Sorry about bringing up Les Miz. I always feel like a total sap as I fall apart when Eponine dies. Dying in the middle of the musical phrase is so trite, but it gets me every time. It doesn’t help that she is my favourite character in both the book and the musical – though she is cooler in the book.
    My husband and I haven’t bothered to try and see the film in the theatre because we know we’ll cry through so much of it that we’ll need to see it several times.

  8. Thanks for your quotes of Pearl Buck – “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive” etc. – these are very powerful, and while I appreciate her perspectives, there are parts I don’t agree with: What does “truly creative” even mean, and is she implying that only those who are highly sensitive qualify as “true” creators?

    Also, she says “inhumanly sensitive” as though it were some extreme condition – but research by psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD and others indicates the trait occurs with 15 – 20 % of people. – From my post: Being Highly Sensitive and Creative book.

  9. Dear Kate,

    as a recently understood part of my nature I am not able to put into words how much reading your post, especially the poem touched and moved me. But maybe a sudden summer rain with a warm, hugging bundle of sun rays on the skin is a good picture to paraphrase how it felt to read. Thank you. Now, at the age of 30 finally being a lawyer after fighting all kinds of monsters, I learned I am definitely highly sensitive, highly likely highly gifted but from the beginning punished and mistreated by parents and teachers and forced to live the colourful life only within – feeling dumb, anxious and unappreciated outside. I am thankful for people, present or not present, understanding and/or appreciating me for who I am. Without them, even if they did not know how to describe what they see in (humans like) me (how could they if even I was unable to know who or what my true self was), I would have probably given up on the idea of belief, humanity and love at a child’s age. It is so unbelievably good to know I am not a wrongful life. I can take that terrible pain now that I know where it comes from. Because the painting of my life now is slowly changing to all beautiful shades of colours, especially my favourite colour (sky) blue.

    Thank you and love,

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