5 Things on High Sensitivity #5

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The Huffington Post published another list about HSP this week. In this edition of 5 Things, I share the experiences and world view of those living with the trait that the list leaves out.


I’m glad widely read sites like The Huffington Post are publishing articles that inform people about high sensitivity. A list like “16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People” probably introduced more people to the trait than anything else other than Elaine Aron’s book. More than anything, I hope these lists help those who have the trait and don’t know it.

The newest list isn’t for HSP but those who love them: “13 Things Anyone Who Loves a Highly Sensitive Person Should Know”. It is a basic primer for people who’ve never heard of the trait and may give them new insight into someone they care about, but it doesn’t come close to illuminating our awesomeness (just kidding…partially). I’ll sum the list up if you don’t like to click on links:

1. We cry a lot
2. Some of us are extroverts
3. Decisions are difficult
4. We notice stuff
5. We listen
6. Loud noises bother us
7. Finding the right work situation is difficult
8. We don’t like violent movies
9. We don’t like criticism
10. We take things personally
11. We can’t tolerate pain
12. We like deep relationships
13. We can’t change who we are.

If non-HSP want a more colorful, nuanced or complete picture of who HSP are they should read the words of these HSP I discovered around the internet and others who’ve figured us out.

1.  I wouldn’t think an article with the title “7 Steps to Finding the Perfect Intuitive Relationship” would have anything to say about highly sensitive people but the article’s author, Antonia Dodge (who I believe isn’t HS), managed to describe HSP, our desires, and our way of operating. It could have been titled “Life Advice for Highly Sensitive People”. Do you see yourself in this? Substitute “HSP” for every “Intuitive” mentioned:

As an Intuitive, you probably often find yourself feeling a little alien. A little on the edge of the room, a little on the edge of fitting in, a little on the edge of every relationship. It’s difficult to fully commit because it’s difficult to fully connect.

(…)

You’re an Intuitive. Rules are something other people have to worry about. You live life based upon deep insight and innovation. If that means following some rules sometimes, serendipity! But usually that means using rules as a guideline and throwing them out the moment they become contextually inappropriate.

(…)

What is your biggest unmet need? … Your biggest need (and probably unmet at this point) is regular, high quality, abstract, conceptual conversation. That’s it. That’s your biggest unmet need. It seems so simple, but without it you curl up, crawl into yourself and die a little inside. Finding someone who can engage and enjoy that kind of conversation is like finding an oasis in a desert, and sometimes you can see it as the only source you’re ever going to find.

(H/T to Brenda Knowles)

2. I liked how Rachael Rice described how she took care of herself as a highly sensitive person and warning any HSP and non-HSP in her life “I Will Disappoint You”:

I need lots of white space on either side of any social engagement.

I say no all the time. Because saying no to you means I’m saying YES to something else. I need my boundaries, and I do my best to be clear about them. That way I don’t flake or have to make up some bullshit about being under the weather (or even getting sick) because I said “yes” in order to avoid discomfort. And it means when I am present, I am there 100%, with all of myself, without resentment.

I’m not afraid to disappoint people, or have them be uncomfortable.

Also, I’m willing to be uncomfortable. NO ONE EVER DIED FROM BEING UNCOMFORTABLE. I’d rather be a little uncomfortable now than in some kind of pain later.

I ask for what I need and do my best to not be so precious about it that I inconvenience people. I just ask, and let the space hang there, and I don’t fill the space with apologies, explanations and chatter (see above on being uncomfortable).

I let other people take care of themselves, I don’t rescue them (anymore).

OK, I want to copy the whole thing because it explains why we act the way we act sometimes — seemingly distant, shut off, rude. We’re taking care of ourselves. It’s not personal.

3.  The Huffington Post list was right about us preferring deep relationships, but we may be experiencing them in a deeper way than our facial expressions or words can convey.

Ally, author of the blog Welcome to My Little Peace of Quiet, wrote about an instructor in college who assumed she hadn’t connected to her classmates in a way that she should have in the post “Explaining Myself”.  In Ally’s highly sensitive brain, she had:

When I heard (the instructor’s opinion), I was extremely confused. I considered myself close to my classmates. We weren’t all best friends, but I felt a strong connection to each of them. I was very comfortable talking with them, loved spending with them, and enjoyed our class get-togethers and parties.

In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. To my teacher, it didn’t look like I was connecting. It didn’t seem like I was getting to know my classmates. This was because I didn’t do so in an obvious way. I wasn’t loudly proclaiming how much these people meant to me because that’s not who I am.

Here’s the thing: we may care more than you will ever know.  The more I care, the more I keep to myself usually because I can tell most people couldn’t handle it if I told them how much I thought about them or appreciated them. This instructor and the people in my life who’ve judged me in the same way are odd.  Instead of simply asking “how’s the class?” or “what are your feelings about Susie?” or something like that, they assume there’s one way to care and one way to show it and if you don’t there’s something wrong with you.  It’s hard to trust yourself and believe in yourself and have confidence that you can make deep connections in the future when people are judging you for not caring or connecting in the right way.  Non-HSP:  if you don’t understand, ask.

4. Maybe the reason people make assumptions about HSP instead of asking questions is because we’re intimidating. There are so many people out there who get really defensive (and hostile) with sensitive people.  Another thing I get/don’t get.  Is it because we see, hear, sense, know things they don’t?:

Since sensitive people often have many emotions, especially intense ones, flowing through them, it can be intimidating or, at minimum, frustrating to work with them. It’s intimidating because they are likely aware of something that we aren’t. It’s frustrating because simple man-made creations like logic, numbers, rationale and reasons can’t alter the innate nature of emotions.

For sensitive people, this means working covertly with the rest of us. Sharing some of their emotions with us can be awkward, humiliating and even dangerous because often they can’t be quantified, reasoned, proven or even verbalized. Since we aren’t aware of the emotions running through all of us on an unconscious level like they are, sensitive people will find working with us similar to a sighted person working with blind folks. How do they explain what they see to us? Moreover, once we even sense they can see things we can’t, our defense mechanism kicks in.

Just something to consider from Mike Lehr, a change management specialist. I don’t know what a “change management specialist” is but his 9-part series of posts on Emotional Self- Defense for Sensitive People was thought-provoking.

5. Ane Axford, on what we want to say to every non-HSP out there:

Those who are hardier get to take their sensitivity for granted. And I think they often get offended when “high sensitivity” is mentioned because it sounds as if they are being told they are not sensitive. I WISH I WISH I WISH there was a way to say “this thing you take for granted is something that is turned way up for me and has been overwhelmingly affecting my life in intense ways since I was born”. 

I came to my own conclusion that handicaps seem to be “gifts” in this way. Not because they teach us or they make was struggle or work harder or get stronger or any of the other platitudes that are so often linked with pain, suffering, struggle, illness, trials, etc. I think they are a gift because they make us aware of the things that others take for granted. They are a gift because they are not given.

Thanks for reading.

MM

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