Disclaimer: I am talking about a very particular use of the word sensitive.
When I use the word sensitive here, I am not talking about what some people may mean. If the intent in using the word “sensitive” is to say that someone has a kind soul, or that they’re very empathetic with others, along that vein, that is not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the lie that abusers use to cause their victims to question their perception of reality in order to keep them quiet about what’s happening.
Telling a child that they’re just being sensitive is a way for the abusive person to make the child question what they perceive and therefore question the pain that they are feeling whether it is physical, emotional or mental.
Usually this lie is told throughout the child’s life and it has an amazing ability to actually alter what the child thinks is normal or good. A child may initially think that being hit by a parent is a bad thing, that the parent is wrong. But, children also come into the world trusting the big people around them to take care of them and society teaches them that adults are always right.
Add to this mix an abusive adult telling the child that the harm being done to them isn’t harm at all but is instead, a product of the child’s “sensitivity”, and that child can be made to believe that any injury is in fact in their imagination. Because adults are always right. There must be something wrong with the child. Then the child internalizes that logic: something is wrong with me, and it changes the way that child sees the world.
Any verbal battery, or striking, or sexual abuse is interpreted with that idea in mind: something is wrong with me. I’m too sensitive. I see things wrong. I’m weak.
This also happens because children come into the world believing that their parents love them. So if a parent tells them that they’re too sensitive, well then, a loving parent would never lie to their child would they? The parent is only trying to help right?
A child whose world view has been altered in this way by an abusive adult ends up with core beliefs about themselves that are based on lies meant to protect the abuser from getting into trouble or from being confronted by those they have abused.
Children aren’t really able to reason that maybe the abusive person is lying to them. Not at a young age anyway unless they have a loving adult around to talk to who can correct their now incorrect perception. But how many kids in abusive situations have another adult around that they can trust? Not many.
For the record: A child who is being abused is not being “sensitive”. Telling them that they are sensitive is a way to brainwash that child into being silent, into protecting the secret that would get the adult into trouble. The fact that it damages the child on a very deep level does not matter to the abuser. As long as they can avoid confrontation; having to face what they’ve done and answer for it, they will continue to lie to that child.
The fact that the child will become an adult who will continue to think that their perception of life is faulty because they are “sensitive” does not matter to the abuser, especially if that abuser will continue to be around the child who is now an adult. It allows them to continue manipulating the adult.
It’s sad and it’s a shame. I’m tired of people calling children “sensitive” when it’s not the child at all who is at fault at all. Hopefully, someday the child/adult will be able to have their experience validated and realize that they were hurt by those who should have protected them.