“I can’t be a super sensitive person! I’m not that sensitive.”
Read: I’m not that weak.
That’s what I thought for the longest time.
Is it any wonder in the world you and I grew up in where being called sensitive was an insult, let alone a Highly Sensitive Person. How is that supposed to be better when it is more of the thing that you do not want to be? I know I am not alone in having internalized the messaging that to feel or show vulnerability was weakness and should be fought against.
“Don’t be so sensitive!” How many times did you hear that growing up?
My persona was controlled. She functioned well and excelled with academia, research, and cold hard facts. Feelings? There was little time for those other than surface pleasantries and giggles. Go to therapy if you really have to, but leave your feelings there and get on with your life because we don’t have time for that here. Emotions get in the way, so keep those buried deep. This is the narrative I had running through my head for years.
There was a time in my life when I was pretty obsessed with the British sci-fi series, Doctor Who. There are these reappearing characters called Cybermen who all look the same and are very robotic and analytical. If they find you too much trouble, too variable, too in your feelings, too human – you will be deleted. There was a time in my life when I so hated my big sensitive heart that I thought maybe life would be better if I were kind of like the Cybermen. I hated how I felt such agony over failed attempts at romantic love. My heart would physically hurt so much, but it didn’t make sense to me because after all, most of the time, I had not even been with them. It didn’t really help that one of my favorite bands, Garbage, had a new song out at the time called Metal Heart. I thought, “that’s a really good point, I wish I had a metal heart too then life would be so much easier because feelings and emotions are so messy and confusing and exhausting and get in the way of my work.”
Ha ha. I did not know then that feelings were the work of being human and would play a huge role in my soul’s purpose.
It took time to go from disavowing my feelings, cursing myself, and deeply denying my true nature, to fully embracing and loving my identity as a Highly Sensitive Person. When I first heard of the term, I read that some psychologist, Dr. Elaine Aron, had coined it and had researched that HSPs made up about 20% of the population. I was feeling particularly isolated and grim at the time, so finding out I had another thing that set me apart from so-called normal people did not feel good to me at first.
But I picked up her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, and began to read. Whenever a wild animal, a predator like a big cat in particular, is injured but wanting to hide that fact, they will lash out in an attempt to protect themselves and be left alone with their pain. I kept yelling at Dr. Elaine Aron, “F*ck you! You don’t know me!” every single time she got too close to my wounds. I even threw the book across the room a few times. I was so upset and uncomfortable being seen. And also so upset and uncomfortable reading about more challenges HSPs face and interpreting what I read as a sentence for a torturous, abnormal life. I was already a bisexual woman who had faced bi-phobia and misunderstanding and separation because of her sexuality, and now I was finding out I had this other thing that set me even further apart from the crowd. I was highly sensitive and highly uncomfortable.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” – Gloria Steinam
Reading Dr. Elaine Aron took a while not because it was a particularly thick book, but because I needed time to be angry and sad, process that anger and sadness, and then be ready to learn more about what she had to say. When I finished reading the book, I felt validated on a level I had never experienced before. So much that had just felt wrong about me in the past, finally made sense. I actually WANTED to tell people I was a Highly Sensitive Person.
Now, I’ve become so comfortable with that part of my identity that when a guy I liked laughed when I told him I was a Highly Sensitive Person, I only felt a prick of pain, and then quickly thought “oh, you know nothing, Jon Snow. That’s fine,” and easily I remained firm in love and acceptance for myself.
As Glennon Doyle wrote in her memoir Love Warrior, us super sensitive folks are the “canaries in the coal mine.” We are meant to be different. We are valid how we are. We are worthy as we are. There is nothing wrong with us. We also serve an important role. By being more finely attuned to energy around us and the human sensory experience, we are able to more quickly alert others that something is off and things need not become catastrophic for someone to notice and correct the situation.
Sometimes Highly Sensitive People have heard “Oh my God you’re so sensitive!” so many times, they could afford a Malibu beach house if they got a dollar each time someone said that to them. And then they would probably go live in their Malibu beach house alone because they would so sick of people telling them they’re too sensitive, that they’re annoying, that they’re too intense, that they’re too much. Sometimes Highly Sensitive People have become very adept at suppressing themselves in an attempt to fit in better, that they begin to present physical symptoms stemming from this stress. It will still be noticeable to others that something is off, that someone is not being authentic even if you think you are good at “being normal.” The energy it takes to suppress your true nature is exhausting and unhealthy.
My wish is that everyone rethink what it means to be sensitive, consider when and why they used commentary about sensitivity to be an insult, and consider how Highly Sensitive People could be a real asset in the world. I’ll tell you one way now, by listening to HSPs, the general population and really the entire world can become a more aware place where everyone knows that everything is connected and everything is energy. I really do believe that HSPs are here to raise the vibration of the planet just by our simple existence and presence, whether or not we practice ritual or spirituality.
How to know you are a Highly Sensitive Person?
Here are some things to ask yourself:
How do you feel about colognes, perfumes, and artificial fragrances? Do you often sneeze around them and/or get headaches? How does your skin react?
Are there certain fabrics that you just cannot wear, even if they are on trend, because they are so uncomfortable you feel like you are screaming internally when you feel them on your skin?
Do you have any food sensitivities?
Are you often startled by loud noises?
Do certain sounds, that others thing are no big deal like eating, drive you crazy?
Do you prefer to avoid crowds and shopping malls?
Is your mood/energy level strongly affected by the weather and sunlight?
Do you get overwhelmed with work more often or quickly than your colleagues?
Do you have strong feelings when you view art – either very positive or viscerally negative?
Do you have any food allergies or sensitivities?
Do you have an auto-immune disorder or disease?
Do you feel like you have a strong intuition?
Have you been moved to tears by music?
Have you had lovers comment in awe how sensitive to pleasure you are?
Do you fall in love very deeply and very quickly?
Have you often been called too sensitive or too intense?
It is important to remember that there is nothing wrong with you and there is nothing to fix. Highly Sensitive People are perfect the way they are. I know it can be very difficult to navigate the often insensitive world when you are this sensitive, but it is made so much easier when you take the time and space to know yourself better and you learn tools and strategies that support you and your sensitivities and your energetic boundaries. We can and, I believe, should focus on our wellness and internal balance first and foremost. And then lead by example and support others in being better humans. I believe we HSPs serve an important role in raising the consciousness of the entire planet.
Are you an HSP too?
Welcome aboard, sensitive soul.
I am glad you are here.
Image from Unsplash, Eye on Ebony
First published in ROAR Fierce Feminine Rising Magazine April 2020
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