Character Trait Entry: Sensitive

DefinitionResponsive to stimuli; strongly susceptible to the attitudes and emotions of others 

Causes: Deep sense of empathy; feeling connected to people and the environment; a highly spiritual nature; a past emotional wound that one never recovered from; hormonal imbalance; low self esteem; having a strong affinity (love) for someone or something; a deep self-awareness & understanding of one's emotions

Characters in Literature: Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter); Jonas (The Giver); John Coffey (The Green Mile)

Positives: Sensitive characters, when their emotional armor is removed, are caring and trustworthy and will often do whatever they can to help or make another feel better. Because of their own need for acceptance and love, they are capable of great love and acceptance themselves. Naturally empathetic, Sensitives will often do whatever they can to alleviate the suffering of others, and are capable of a deep level of understanding and connectedness that is rarely found. Sensitives make strong confidants, true friends, and do well in supportive roles where they can advise and be there for the hero.

Negatives:  Sensitives can be viewed as weak by other dominant, insensitive types, which often places them in a situation where they are bullied, made fun of or used in some way. The necessity for survival is the adaptation of strong emotional armor that protects the Sensitive from being continually hurt. As a result, anger and resentment can build, creating a wall that few can breach. The Sensitive may also lash out, but almost always regrets it later because of their empathetic qualities, creating confusion within and a drop in self esteem. If a character is bombarded by stimulus and feels overwhelmed, they can 'shut down' mentally or leave the situation to escape. Those who think a character is over sensitive will often treat them with 'kid gloves' to avoid an emotional explosion. Other may view the Sensitive with pity and actively try to create distance from them in order to avoid being caught in the emotional wheel.

Common Portrayals: the geeky, quiet & socially inept male bullied by family members or peers; the sensitive girl with few or no friends; the character who prefers the company of animals/nature over people; the sensitive 'best friend' who pines over a love because they refused to act and declare their feelings

Cliches to Avoid: the 'mama's boy' ridiculed by an overbearing 'manly-man' male role model (a father, a muscle-bound gym teacher, a hard-ass principal); a homosexual male portrayed as emotionally melodramatic to the point of ridiculousness; the Mean Girls circle who pretend to care for a plain-jane sensitive girl to provide them cruel entertainment

Twists on the Traditional Sensitive:  
  • In most fiction, the sensitive character wishes to be different--less sensitive and more able to fit in. Show us a sensitive who is at peace with who they are.
  •  A common theme is characters who oppose a Sensitive view this trait as a weakness. I challenge you to have your character do something so worthy that even the most critical antagonist changes his mind about the sensitive trait!
  • Put your Sensitive in a role where this trait is not only a huge hindrance, it could negatively impact those he cares for. Let your Sensitive grow by mastering this trait to the point where he can achieve what he must, but still accept who he is.
Conflicting Characteristics to Make your Sensitive Unique or More Interesting: confident; visionary; brave; bossy; impulsive


Michelle Gregory said...

great entry. i would have to say that another negative for sensitives is that we can become easily overwhelmed by too much stimuli and it's easy for us to start to shut down. escaping the situation is sometimes the best way to take care of ourselves. also, seeing the pain around us can be overwhelming.

Traci Kenworth said...

Good one, ladies!!

Karen Lange said...

Good stuff. Thank you so much. :)

Happy weekend!

Martha Ramirez said...

Awww I LOVE the GREEN MILE! What a PERFECT comparison for the word sensitive.

Old Kitty said...

Aww love the tormented sensitive souls in art!! Just want to give them a big hug and make things all better for them! Take care

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post! The Green Mile is a good movie. The character definitely fits this character trait.

Jemi Fraser said...

Spooky timing on this! About an hour ago, I was talking with a friend about how to help her daughter who is a very sensitive child! Good descriptions as always :)

Laura Pauling said...

Any weakness can become a strength once we allow it not to rule us or we learn to control how it affects us. Sensitive protags make for a great character arc! :)


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