I always knew I was sensitive. But I was surrounded by people who thought it was a fatal flaw. Toughen up…. don’t be so sensitive … you need to learn to cope with life … you are weak … insults around my sensitivity engulfed me. As I tried to process things like anger, sarcasm, violent movies and interpersonal drama, I struggled immensely.
I became depressed for the first time in my teens. All I wanted to do was hang out in my room, paint my nails and listen to my record player. Something was wrong with me, I told myself. How will I ever cope with my life? Why did God make me like this? Didn’t he know how hard this would be to live like this? I knew I couldn’t stop the “incoming” that was pushing my buttons everyday.
I eventually found alcohol and marijuana and started self-medicating. Of course that didn’t help either, but it helped me check out from the pressure of my overwhelming sensitivity to the world and its impact on my psyche. When I got sober in my mid-twenties, I found myself back in a world where I felt assaulted continuously. I really didn’t know how I would manage. It was just hard to be alive.
I don’t remember when I found the book The Highly Sensitive Person. I’m pretty sure a therapist recommended it to me. I finally recognized myself, and there was nothing wrong with me. I was just sensitive to my environment. Anger overwhelmed me. My feelings drowned me. I needed lots of downtime to decompress from what others might describe as day-to-day drama. And the author offered tools for self-care and living a normal life.
I don’t know about other countries, but our culture doesn’t accept sensitive people as an asset. If we aren’t tough and in your face, we are considered weak. If I am empathetic to others, I’m a snowflake. I had a coworker tell me once that he couldn’t even have a conversation with me because I didn’t watch TV or violent movies. I feel out of step with society at times because of the way I have to “lock down” the intrusions upon my world. In order for me to show up at work in a demanding job, take care of the many tasks that single people have to handle and manage the many personal relationships that an extrovert craves, I have to be really clear about my needs. I don’t function well when I’m overwhelmed. And I know my limits.
I think I’m a good writer because I’m sensitive. I notice little things that others don’t see. I find the words that describe the smallest details that make life special. I’m a good teacher because I sense when others don’t understand. I’m a good strategist because I see connections everywhere. I anticipate problems at work way before anyone else can see them because I’m always asking questions and trying to understand the needs of others. My affinity for being immersed in my inner life makes me unique … not weird.
If you think you might be a highly sensitive person, here are some resources for you. If you love someone who is a highly sensitive person, take a look at this material. Understand that there is nothing wrong with them, and they don’t have to “toughen up”. They just need to learn how to arrange their world so that they feel safe contributing. Our world needs more sensitive people. But we are often hiding under mushrooms. Make it safe for us to shine.
Resources for highly sensitive people can be found on this website. There’s even a quiz you can take. If you answer yes to 14 items on the quiz, you are highly sensitive. I had 23! And some areas have Meetup groups where you can meet others like you!