I stole the idea for this post from Ane Axford (highly sensitive person, therapist and someone who really gets it). I steal it lovingly. Her website Sensitive and Thriving* is full of warm, validating, and inspiring advice. Sensitive and Thriving — is it possible? She calls it a superpower. Can it be? Just the suggestion of it made me curious to find out for myself. Here are things that have made me feel less like a weirdo :
Let’s get Orchiding!
1. Reading David Dobbs’ article in The Atlantic called “The Science of Success.” (Check it out here.)
Basically, Dobbs offers proof in the form of the Orchid Hypothesis that you can be sensitive and thrive. There are conditions under which the highly sensitive person can bloom like an orchid. I call this “orchiding”. It helps if you are treated like an orchid in childhood but I figured out ways to do it even if you’re 38 years old like me.
2. Embracing (yuck)** my high sensitivity.
I used to freak out all the time. About everything. Going to the mall was a big deal. Then I would freak out about freaking out. Then I would try to go to the mall and not freak out.
But now that I understand my high sensitivity and how it works… I still freak out when I go to the mall (that’s not any better). But at least I know why.
I now think of high sensitivity as just an orientation that allows me to pick up information. Lots of information. Sometimes there’s way too much information, but knowing why I feel the way I do allows me to be kinder to myself and to take care of myself.
I can even use this sensitivity intentionally. I can go to a mall and just let the information in and I can become really aware of everything that’s going on. I can pay attention and pick up on interesting things. And then I can go home to a quiet room.
But, using sensitivity intentionally brings me to orchiding tip #3:
Something is always born of excess; great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. — Anais Nin
3. Doing something with all that information.
I choose to write. I pay attention and write about every aspect of my life. Sometimes all I do is sit and use all the things I feel and sense and think as fodder for my imagination. Lately, I’ve been trying to build up my intuition using all the information I absorb and it has made me worry less and trust myself more. The main thing is I don’t let all the excess information overwhelm me as much anymore. I give it an outlet. I make something out of the excess.
Take care of yourself right now. Befriend what’s happening , not just who you’re supposed to be or what the world should look like. This is where you are now, so how do you care for yourself this minute? — Bernie Glassman
4. Taking care of myself.
I haven’t mastered this. Not even a little bit. But, I’m sure that it’s probably the most important thing for highly sensitive people to do. For me to do. My old way of taking care of myself involved isolating myself and eating Doritos all the time. Now I just remain aware of how I’m feeling NOW and respond to that. Mostly it involves saying “no” a lot. I don’t know what else to do…yet. I’ll share whatever I do figure out.
5. Finding my people.
Hopefully, this blog will help me find my people and it’s one of the main reasons I started it. This is another thing I haven’t done but feel is really important. Having at least one person who doesn’t think you’re a weirdo makes being in the world bearable and even lovely. Right now that person is me.
Start running your life by taking charge of your pleasure. — Ane Axford
6. Following love.
Because taking care of myself involves saying “no” a lot, when I say “yes” those yeses are huge and exciting. I make those yeses and the pleasure I get out of them a priority. I intentionally seek out more information about the things I love and when I follow love, all the nos don’t matter. Sometimes being really sensitive is fucking great. Being passionate is so easy for sensitives.
The Manifesto Part
Here’s the “manifesto” part: the world is changing. (For proof read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind.) It’s going to need people exactly like us with exactly our strengths. So, we better get ready and that will only happen if we start taking care of our superpowers. I’m going to end with some hope from David Dobbs:
“If the orchid hypothesis is true, then perhaps a certain number of people who react extremely strongly to their environment, even if these reactions seem negative to our modern eyes, may be important to the flexibility and survival of our species.”
*January 2015 — Ane Axford has discontinued her site Sensitive and Thriving. If you click the link it will take you to her new site, Sensitive Leadership. I don’t know if the old articles on Sensitive and Thriving will be available on the new site.
**I hate the word “embrace.” It’s too new age-y, but there are no other words to describe it (I’ve tried to come up with one)