The Myth of the Sensitive Child

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.


About CimmarianInk

Abuse Survivor Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) also known as Multiple Personalities
This entry was posted in dissociative identity disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, Sexual Abuse, Trauma and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Myth of the Sensitive Child

  1. Natalya says:

    You’re so right! I was always told I was “too sensitive” by my abusive mother. After enough years I believed it and felt truly worthless; thankfully therapy helped combat those lies. But it has done much damage to me too. I wish I’d been able to talk to someone about the abuse but I didn’t even see it as abuse until I was a teenager. Thanks for writing this and reminding me that I am not “too sensitive”! I was abused 😦

  2. Karen says:

    Eloquently and succinctly put, CI. This really ‘gets’ the nature of any type of child abuse; it’s the psychological effects that stay with you, and a core part of that is shifting the blame into the child. Accusations of sensitivity can really be at the core of that.

    Sending safe hugs ❤ xxx

    • CimmarianInk says:

      Hi Karen,

      You’re absolutely right, the effects of abuse scar the psyche more than the body typically and that can do as much harm or more.

      I’m glad the post made sense. Safe hugs to you as well. 🙂

  3. Meagan says:

    Good post. Well said! I’ve heard that I’m “sensitive” all my life. Nice little lie they like to tell, huh?

  4. Great post, being called sensitive is a major trigger for me, both the abusers and the other non-abusive adults (who survived by denying anything is wrong) called me sensitive.
    Thank you.

  5. castorgirl says:

    Hi Ci,

    Yes, consistently telling a child they are sensitive, or that they are a liar, is a great way to create doubt about the child, and what they say. I was called both, and it’s tantamount to another form of abuse…

    Good work on chipping away at those old, incorrect beliefs and messages 🙂

    Take care,

  6. twistedcharlotte says:

    Hello CL

    You certainly hit the nail on the head with your interpretation of the word “sensitive” in regards to child abuse. While I was reading your post I remembered my mother, who was my main abuser, telling me that a lot: “You’re too sensitive for your own good”. My mother would say this to me after she had given me a beating and I cried, and she would also tell me that she would give me something to cry for/about if I didn’t stop crying. What does that mean to a 5/6 year old child?

    I’m going to do some personal work on this topic to help me with my ‘Mother Demon’. Thanks for reminding me about it.


    Cee Jay

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