“I understand now that I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, ‘For the same reason I laugh so often – because I pay attention.’” – Glennon Doyle Melton
Wow, you guys.
First of all, I was more nervous to push the publish button on last week’s post than on any other post I’ve written. It showed a side of me that I generally don’t share with anyone, and I really appreciate all of your support.
Last week’s post made me think about the fact that perhaps I need to connect with other sensitive people. It’s like I finally understand when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture how truly sensitive I am. I know what you’re probably thinking. Duh Kristen.
I conducted a search for Facebook groups that mention sensitivity. My search led me to one such group called Highly Sensitive Moms. I’ve heard this highly sensitive term before, but I never really thought about researching whether I fall under this category.
The Facebook group had a link to a test that indicates if you are a highly sensitive person (HSP). I took the test, and it turns out that I am without question an HSP.
I kid you not that this discovery was like lifting the veil to uncover why I am who I am.
First, a little about the characteristics of an HSP:
- We have a rich and complex inner life
- We are deeply moved by the arts and music
- We get easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment
- We startle easily
- We are sensitive to pain, caffeine, and hunger
- We are aware of subtleties in our surroundings and process these subtleties more by reflecting, elaborating, and making associations that non-HSPs wouldn’t make.
All I could think when I read this list was, NO WONDER. No wonder I get annoyed when my husband plays loud music. No wonder I’ve had a lifelong fear of needles and pass out easier than most. No wonder I have to watch my caffeine intake. No wonder I awkwardly startle sometimes like a freak of nature. No wonder you don’t want to get near me when I’m hangry. No wonder I’m often in my head overanalyzing the world around me. NO WONDER.
People that are highly sensitive are born that way, and our brains are actually wired differently. The nervous system in an HSP is highly sensitive contributing to increased emotional reactivity and a lower threshold for sensory information.
Like anything in life, there is an upside and a downside to this trait. On the plus side, it can be linked to giftedness, creativity, and intuitiveness. On the negative side, an HSP is at a higher risk for depression and other mental illnesses. They also have a higher risk for burnout since they get easily overwhelmed.
The way HSPs’ brains are wired also contributes to their empathetic nature. While empathy is wonderful because it makes one a compassionate person, it can also feel burdensome to pick up on and feel others’ negative emotions.
Why share all of this information with my readers? Because it shapes who I am on every level. It explains why you may, or may not, relate to some of my posts.
Twenty percent of the population is considered to be an HSP. This means that it’s very likely that many of you reading this are highly sensitive, and if you aren’t, then you know someone that is.
I think that HSPs are generally misunderstood, particularly in American culture. I misunderstood myself before I learned this is who I am.
I can’t count the times I’ve heard in my life some version of, “You’re too sensitive” or, “You take things too personally.” I’ve often beat myself up over the fact that I don’t have a thicker skin, not realizing that this is literally the way that I am built.
I’ve felt ashamed about my sensitivity and interpreted it as weakness (contributing to my hesitancy to publish last week’s post).
But now I see sensitivity for what it really is: something that I have little control over that is neither a blessing nor a curse. It’s just part of who I am.
This week, my son’s soccer practice offered a great analogy for what it sometimes feels like as an HSP in this world. I’m not sure yet if my son is an HSP, but it’s possible. At times, he is very sensitive.
The soccer coach decided to play a game of tag while the kids practiced dribbling skills. The coach pretended to be an octopus going after the boys on the field, and my son ran directly off the field. I couldn’t tell if he was more afraid of the “octopus” or the chance of getting tagged out and feeling the defeat of failure. Either way, he wanted no part of it. All of the other little boys were laughing and having a blast.
In the game of life, as an HSP, sometimes it feels like the game isn’t designed with us in mind. We don’t fit in because we are in the minority. We fear failure more than the average person because we know the experience will be that much more excruciating for us, but it’s no excuse for us not to get in the game. I think self-awareness and self-acceptance are absolutely key for understanding our place in the world.
HSPs are not weak. If anything, this world requires of us a little more discomfort, a little more intensity with emotions, and a little more bravery.
I hugged my son and whispered in his ear, “Can you be brave?”
Get back out there, Parker.