What if what you perceive to be your biggest ‘flaw’ is actually your gateway to discovering and embodying your greatest gift? And what if all you need to understand this is a simple shift in perspective?
Ever since I can remember, I have always been acutely sensitive to my environment. As a result, when I was growing up I often felt as though there were no boundaries between myself and other people. It is hard to describe, but I frequently had the seemingly irrational feeling that all that was preventing me from being engulfed by those around me was a very thin and highly permeable membrane. In other words, I was highly attuned to other people’s energy. As most of us carry some emotional baggage, my acute receptivity to this caused me to absorb a lot of negativity. This toxic overload sometimes led me to experience feelings of complete overwhelm and acute distress. But, back then, I didn’t have the self-awareness to know what was causing my anxiety.
I continued to suffer the consequences of my sensitive nature for many years and it was only when I reached my early thirties that things began to change. By this stage, the depth of my discomfort had grown so strong that I decided to embark on an urgent quest for anything that might offer some relief. This in turn took me on a long journey of self-discovery and spiritual development. It was at some point in this process that I had the revelation that what appeared to be my biggest weakness was, in fact, my greatest strength. It’s not surprising that it took me a while to get this, because the way this gift was packaged made it look more like a curse!
Although I’ve learned to embrace this aspect of myself, there’s no denying that my ability to feel intensely is something of a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it gives me a strong empathy for the feelings of others, an almost psychic ability to read people and predict things before they happen, an acute awareness of what my body likes and doesn’t like, and a strong inclination for creative self-expression; on the other hand, it makes me acutely vulnerable emotionally, highly prone to getting ill (I have a delicate digestive system and a notoriously low tolerance for alcohol!), and inclined to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, being born into a household where I was the odd one out in a family that advocated the ‘stiff upper lip and get on with it’ attitude, did not help. I suspect that my father was more similar to me than he liked to admit as he was a sensitive soul, who often banged up against the rough edges of life. But, he grew up in an era when people were not encouraged to be introspective and there were few tools available to help him understand himself.
By comparison, I am lucky because I have had the opportunity to understand and embrace this aspect of myself. This has been a long and arduous process and it is by no means yet complete; in fact, it’s still very much a work in progress. But, I am learning to channel and redirect my sensitivity so that instead of being a thorn in my side, it is becoming a vehicle for my own healing and transformation.
But before I could get to this point, I had to learn how to protect myself from other people’s energy. This has been a vital lesson in self-preservation as it has enabled me to finally free myself from the psychic overwhelm that has plagued me for years. I have developed several techniques to help me achieve this, by drawing on a combination of Buddhist philosophy and the practice of Yoga. These tools have been invaluable in helping me learn to strengthen my boundaries, so that I no longer absorb what does not belong to me.
Another key stage in this process has been learning to ‘listen’ to my body by honouring and respecting the messages it conveys to me. For example, whenever I eat something that my digestive system can’t easily process, I get almost immediate physical feedback that this substance is toxic for me. When I was younger, I tended to ignore these messages, with the result that I suffered from acute IBS for many years. In the same way that my body alerts me to those things that it finds harmful, it also sends me a clear signal of what is needed to maintain my health. For example: if I become deficient in certain vitamins, I will experience strong cravings for foods that contain them. On a day to day level, this means that I have to monitor what I eat and drink with care. But this seems like a small price to pay for having a guidance system that lets me know exactly what I need (and don’t need) to stay healthy.
But the greatest blessing to come from learning to fully embrace my sensitive side has been the breaking open of my heart! For much of my life, I have been caught in a debilitating battle between my intellect (my logical mind) and my intuitive knowledge (my heart). This constant tug of war between my instinctive and analytical selves has frequently left me feeling confused and exhausted. It has also made it difficult for me to make decisions about the important things in my life: such as career and relationships. Unfortunately, it has taken a series of traumatic life events for this breaking open to occur – the death of both my parents and a close friend of mine, the loss of my former career and the disintegration of my marriage. Nonetheless, this personal transformation might have taken longer had it not been for these events. Experiencing so much loss in a short period of time has forced me to re-evaluate my life and this process has involved a slow and painful stripping away of the ‘ego.’ But this has been a gift in itself because the loss of my career has led me to understand that I am not what I do – therefore with or without a ‘job title’, I am still a valuable human being. Likewise, the loss of my parents and beloved husband has made me realise that I am still worthy of love whether or not I am someone’s wife or daughter. I believe that what is gradually emerging from the rubble at the end of this ‘phoenix process” is nothing less than my most honest, raw and vibrant self.
I have come to believe that the Universe is always conspiring to support our spiritual growth (even when it does not look that way) but when we are experiencing a lot of hardship it is easy to lose sight of this. So, whenever things are not going as I would like, I have learned to ask myself: where is the blessing or the gift in this?
This ties back in with the central premise at the beginning of this post: what if what we perceive to be our biggest ‘flaw’ is actually our greatest gift? I believe that even though it’s sometimes hard to see it this way, there are no ‘mistakes’ in life. I feel certain that the organising intelligence that governs everything (call it God, or whatever other name you choose) would not have brought us into the world without equipping us with the tools we need to navigate our way. Accordingly, we are all born with what we need to prosper and thrive – even if we don’t always recognise it.
So, next time your inner critic starts berating you for being ‘too much of this’ or ‘not enough of that’- take a breath, quieten your mind, and allow your heart to do the talking. Drop into stillness and find that age-old wisdom that lies buried beneath the ego and all its fragile defences. Ask yourself: how can I look at this differently? Is it possible that this ‘flaw’ could be a gift? If you make a practice of doing this, you may discover that the part of you that you have spent a lifetime rejecting is the gateway that leads directly to your greatest self.