“You are too sensitive”
“You are so emotional”, “Lighten up”, “Get over it”, “What is wrong with you?” “Why are you avoiding me?” Any of these statements sound familiar?
I heard this all the time as a child and throughout my adult life. These comments ate at every part of my being and eventually led to an ultimate disconnect from my soul. I was given medications so I wouldn’t cry anymore, eventually I didn’t feel. I look at photos of myself back then and I was a shell of who I am. I was just a body operating on auto-pilot just trying to get through the day. This may sound drastic to some, but nearly 20% of the population feel the same way I do. I am not talking about depression, I am talking about being highly sensitive.
Years ago, someone I love dearly gave me a book called “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Dr. Elaine Aron. I took an assessment before reading the book to see if the topic would apply to me. After the first few questions I couldn’t wait to dive in.
Example Assessment Questions:
- Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby? Am I???! Are you kidding me!? Omg, anytime I see a fluorescent light I want to break it. Working in the corporate world underneath those giant life-sucking lights was horrendous. I finally spoke up and asked to turn them off and got lamps at my desk. And let’s talk about smells…unless it’s fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies or suntan lotion, I probably hate it. Mostly perfume or potpourri! Fabrics haven’t bothered me as much, except for wool sweaters…oh wait, my husband attempted to buy these luxury sheets for us and I ended up tearing them off the bed in the middle of the night because every so often I felt like I was being pricked with hay needles! Oh and loud noises, holy crap…sirens aren’t too bad because I know there is an end in sight and I was conditioned to pray every time I hear them. But put me in a room full of people talking with music and dishes clanging and kids screaming and crying…then I am usually about to boil over.
- Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time? Yes, always. However, I do work well under pressure….that’s my excuse.
- Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows? I didn’t but I do now! My first job out of college was a news producer. I got hired the day 9-11 happened. So for 4 years of my life, I spent 8 hours a day writing horror news stories. I then would come home and watch crime detective shows with my husband. Hmmmm, no wonder why I struggled so bad back then?
- Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation? YES! And then I got asked what was wrong with me…eventually was diagnosed with depression and then I BECAME depression.
- Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations? YES! One must avoid all conflict at all times. Do not make people mad. Do not upset them. Make everyone happy always. Do whatever you can to not stress anyone out. In this process, you will stress you out and you will become upset and overwhelmed but that is okay because the world around you is better, right?! OMG NO! This way of living was awful!!!
- Do you have a rich, complex inner life? Are you deeply moved by arts or music? Yes and sometimes I am moved to tears by art and music. I think and feel deeply and I often feel alone in my thoughts. I feel like I can connect with artists and musicians and feel every word or stroke of the brush!
- When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy? All the time. I wasn’t shy but definitely “too sensitive”. I learned to hide this trait quickly when I became the only girl on the guy’s soccer team. No tears allowed!
So those were just a few of the questions and as I dove into the book more, I realized there was nothing wrong with me. In fact, tens of thousands of people had this trait. Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is not a disorder. It is innate and has been found in over 100 species. This trait is part of our survival strategy. Our brains actually work a little differently by taking in all that is around us and processing on a deeper level before taking action. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t value sensitivity so many of us have grown up feeling weak or like something was wrong with us. It is essential to develop an awareness of this trait because if you do not fall on the Highly Sensitive scale, chances are your spouse, a loved one, or even your child does and your actions can negatively effect them. Once we see this as an amazing trait and not a disorder, we can utilize this gift and benefit ourselves and others.
How Being Highly Sensitive Has Helped Me and Others:
Greater Empathy – I can often tell how someone feels just by being in a room with them. I don’t even have to look at their expression or body language, I can feel it. I literally “feel” their emotions in my body. This can greatly benefit the healers and helpers of the world like nurses, doctors, teachers, and therapists. However, if you do not protect your own feelings and energy, you can find yourself struggling. It is necessary to learn and practice emotional boundaries so you can hold a place of love and positivity for those who are struggling and not meet their energy or it does not good. Too often, HSP’s take on a care taking role and try to fix people and the situation. This is not helpful, one must learn to nurture and extend love to help raise the energy and healing.
Highly Creative and Detailed – Those of us who are HSP’s are often very creative. Our attention to detail often lends people to calling us “perfectionists”. This quality has gotten me very far in my life both personally and professionally. We often “see” projects before even started and our minds race with ideas and we often get extremely excited when working on a project and in the flow. I used to be called “manic” when in my element but really I was just in alignment using my gifts and talents. As writers and artists, we can often step into the characters or subjects and experience their emotions and suffering.
Emotional Awareness – Once we understand this trait, we can really use it to our benefit to take care of ourselves. We often “feel” our emotions in our bodies. Physical pain can be more intense and we often say things like “I feel so deeply”. I have become extremely connected in mind, body, and spirit. So much so, that if my knees start to hurt or lower back, it usually is linked to an emotion or fear. Knee pain can be the fear of moving forward. Back pain is often fear of supporting oneself. When I feel emotions out of nowhere, I can stop and ask “Are these feelings mine?” or “What is this about?” If I do not protect myself in public or crowded spaces, I can quickly pick up other people’s emotions. This happened after leaving the movie “Annie” not long ago. I had a wonderful time at the theatre with my kids but when I got in the car I was overwhelmed with sadness. The feelings weren’t mine, I picked them up from others.
Connectedness and Oneness – Because we feel the emotions of others and are touched by their stories, their stories become part of us. This has helped me step into my purpose more. I feel a responsibility to share my gifts and help the world around me. We are all one and HSPs can help bridge that connection and make the world a better place.
So how to you make this awesome trait work for you?!? Well, you start by protecting your energy so you can be available for yourself and others. Find out how I survive and thrive as a highly sensitive person by downloading my HSP Survive & Thrive Guide.
More about this topic from Coaching with Kerry on Local 5 Live:
Here is Coaching with Kerry on WSBT