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24th May 2024 
Thoughts on sensitivity P.2. girlnature


How we carefully craft our own cage

Wouldn’t it have been good to have known what we now know about our high sensitivity, and to choose an authentic life from the beginning? I guess that younger generations might have some chance of that since information about high sensitivity, what it is, what it isn’t and what it’s for, will be better understood and supported. For those few who have always had the encouragement both as children and adults to follow their authentic sensitive desires, this is already a reality and a success story. But for a significant number of HSPs, life has been, and continues to be, very difficult. Highly sensitive people in particular often comment that whilst others seem to float along, enjoying life, managing full time jobs, children, home life, hobbies, extended families and a social life with ease, HSPs often feel that, in comparison, they are dragging themselves through life. They report a constant struggle for the quiet gentleness of deep and fulfilling sleep, for truly connected friendships and relationships, meaningful work experiences and will experience a fairly constant sense of agitation, exhaustion, restlessness or entrapment of the soul.

How can it be that we have such a hard time? To all intents and purposes, we have a brain that can be highly creative and empathic, our nervous system responds so deeply to what goes on around us that it gives us the capability to notice and meet the needs of others with such detailed awareness, but when it comes to ourselves, what goes wrong?

It’s hard to pinpoint where this begins, but if we start at the genetic level, it’s clear that we are programmed to respond strongly to our environment. That environment includes the culture we grow up in. One of the first things that happens is that we are influenced by the constructs, values and goals of the dominant (non-HSP) culture. Even if we wonder, as children, about the point of these goals, the constant repetition of what we ‘must’ do, ‘must obtain’ gradually convinces us that others know best, that as young people, we need to ignore our instinctive knowing and follow the majority plan. Grownups who do their life differently than the majority might often be pointed to by significant people in our home or school life as ‘weird’, ‘failing’ or ‘weak’. Even when we notice others finding fulfilment differently, we can sense that it’s not a good idea to join them, know them or follow them. This means we can end up feeling quite lonely - being aware we don’t really experience the fulfilment that the majority seem to, but also disconnected from those with whom we might find some kind of bond. We conform to survive. This is how the trap starts.

Then what happens? Once we have been persuaded that the dominant culture is probably right, we start to get ‘comparison-itis’. We compare everything about ourselves - our wants, our needs, our goals - with what we see the majority pursuing. So off we go - we ‘work hard’ in school because we have to show we are qualified (for something), we choose topics of study that the majority judge to be relevant. Thus, education can be quite a conflicting experience. We follow the majority through a curriculum that might not entirely meet our needs (and probably not our authentic goals) - and we do this full time, often exhausted but trying to hide it. Afterward, limping to an acceptable level of education, we go out into the world of work where we chase full-time work that is often paced at a faster rate than we can realistically manage and strive towards values that don’t always sit well with us. But again we ‘get on with it’, hiding from others that even as we progress ‘up the ladder’, we are still not happy. The trouble is, we are not sure what will make us happy! All we know is we have to keep ‘doing stuff’ and ‘getting stuff’ and it’s exhausting.

If we continue in this vein, without knowledge of our trait and without role models who are living authentically, what then? We might find friends and a partner who are part of the dominant culture in terms of goals and values. Dominant-culture life is working well for them, so we promise to our partner and ourselves that we will give them the best on offer from that culture. We continue to work super-hard to get what they want and where they want to go. We unconsciously influence our children that they should have the best, they can’t possibly have anything less and we do this in the most well-meaning way, hoping that they will fare better than us in the world. Further into the rat race we all go, even more exhausted, less and less fulfilled, yet we can’t do anything else because we don’t know how to get that fulfilment any other way. We respond to the needs and desires of others like our life depends on it. Like me, need me, value me, make my life feel worthwhile because I can’t seem to do that for myself.

But just imagine that we do, at some point, after providing all these things for others and not for ourselves, see a chink of light? Perhaps we read about how things could be different, or through ill health or circumstance end up with a lengthy time to re-evaluate our lives - then we might begin to have some insight into our true identity and an idea of what an authentic sensitive life might be.

This is when we become aware of the cage we have built for ourselves. We start to see a different way forward, but it doesn’t feel comfortable leaving our familiar path. We begin to suffer from a huge dread of ‘disappointing others’. How can we tell our spouse we want to downsize so we can work fewer hours to have more quality of life? How can we tell the children, that we have led to value all that money or education can buy, that it’s time to accept less, or something different, or find another way? That fear of disappointing and potential loss looms darkly ahead. Our empathic capability turns against us as we feel their disappointment like it’s our own, even before we have raised the topic with them. The cage becomes a bit clearer and starker. Then the next experience arises: we don’t want to disappoint ourselves At least if we carried on doing all the things that don’t make us happy, the dominant majority will look at us and approve – we feel like, on some level, that we are a success. Even though we have to wear a mask every day, somehow, that can seem better than leaving the majority path and risking the temporary loneliness of difference. Of course, disappointment brings with it the process of grief for the life we thought we would have, the future we believed was the right one - in order to find a new path we need to let this go - so we then wrestle with the powerful emotions of regret and grief. Grief for all the suffering we have put ourselves through, grief for the loss of the old goals and expectations that we promised ourselves would one day deliver happiness. We have to grieve before we can move on toward genuine contentment.

And finally, the last hurdle - confusion about our legacy. If doing all that I’ve previously done, if owning all this stuff, if giving my partner or child all the things he/she wants isn’t going to make me happy and ultimately going to feed my soul, what legacy exactly do I want to leave? How can I live and what will I leave behind that I will feel is authentic and meaningful in terms of my legacy here as a highly sensitive person?

This is where a full evaluation takes place. We have to search for areas of our life so far that have met with our authentic self. This might be that even though we have been wearing a mask, we have still managed to instill some values in our children that feel genuine. Perhaps we did manage one hobby through which we revealed our true self, or had one friendship where we were able to be fully seen, truly vulnerable and known as the authentic sensitive person we are. Maybe we were able to make even a small part of our work life meet our need for meaningful work.

Finally, we might be ready to look at how we can even gradually bring more and more into our lives that truly represents who we are and what we value. We develop the ability to speak, give ourselves permission to change our mind, share our true beliefs and feelings about what we want from life. Slowly the cage door opens and we step through it, sometimes with loved ones following us, sometimes to meet new friends and family on the outside.

For those of us who feel the need to “get off highway 101” (J Strickland), in search of your most fulfilling life, know that you are not alone and that once on the path, you will find others who are walking the same way and have pieces of the map to your destination. You will have so much to offer in return, as your authentic Self.
Good luck with your journey, whatever map you choose to follow 🙂



Thoughts on sensitivity P.2. girlnature


Is over-stimulation a natural state for HSPs?

Most HSPs will be familiar with one of the experiences that we read about in Elaine Aron’s descriptions of HSPs - over-stimulation. However, what is not often recognised is that this state of being is not a permanent state of affairs. When reading some of the literature and online content out there in the ether, it can seem that this overstimulation is the most identifiable experience for HSPs, along with emotional overwhelm. But, is focus on those two kinds of experience actually helpful and is this how it is for all HSPs?

Elaine Aron’s D.O.E.S. (depth of processing, over-arousal, emotional depth and sensitivity to subtleties) describes four recognizable aspects of our trait within the context of our current culture. Yet, we seem to focus mostly on the O – whether that is overstimulation from data processing in the nervous system, or overarousal from emotional overwhelm. When we realise that most of the popular content globally is written for HSPs who recognise overstimulation and over-arousal as experiences that are upsetting daily occurrences, it is easy to miss (a) that these are not the most defining aspect of being highly sensitive and (b) in the minority of us who suffer the most with this, there are supportive and helpful ways to manage and dissipate the experience and effects of over-stimulation and overwhelm – leaving room then, for experiencing something leading to growth and one’s calling, whatever that happens to be.

Additionally, due to the complexity of how each of us comes together genetically to form individuals, it also sometimes involves some work to become aware of what truly does potentially overwhelm or overstimulate each of us, and it’s not always our trait of high sensitivity - sometimes there are other, completely separate factors at play that need attention, for example ADHD or a severe anxiety related disorder, OCD, or history of trauma or neglect. Making assumptions that everything negative we experience is ‘caused’ by being highly sensitive is an over-simplification at best and not always logical - and also is a serious distraction from pursuing an authentic sensitive life – not just for us HSPs but for the professionals that work with us.

Overstimulation is not just ‘overwhelm caused by lights, noise, a surfeit of empathy’. To think like this can cause us to confuse ourselves and others about diagnoses that tend to characterize other types of struggles that have nothing to do with our trait. Our own natural processes cause stimulation and emotional response - deep thinking itself creates stimulation, yet this is a good thing. Dealing with lots of intricate nuances and occurrences around us takes work and processing and needs stillness to work effectively. What over-stimulates us is when we do not have time in our lives built in to accommodate this very necessary processing and we can sometimes complicate things even more by allowing ourselves to go into over-drive, to get into rumination or circular thinking (fuelled by anxiety). Belief systems that leave no room for your own natural trait and instead lead to a life of forcing oneself to do everything according to the ways of the dominant culture, often lead to anxiety and rumination as our powerful HSP mind tries to find a way do things unnaturally without suffering the consequences. The problem – and the truth - is, there is no such way. No amount of thinking, cogitating, creativity or striving will remove the suffering that an over-stimulated HSP in a concrete jungle, working 60 hours a week and raising a young family will endure. We are not over-stimulated creatures by nature, those of us who are unhappy HSPs are humans that struggle to learn to be real, to be ourselves and to look to our own inner wisdom to work out how to live, what matters and where our future roles lie.

The single thing that most defines HSPs is Depth of Processing - it is this that amplifies and deepens our experience and also our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It is this that we bring to the world, this is a resource that is there for us, our families and for our community. We need that depth of processing and the nervous system that supports it to be at our service, rather than to feel victims of it. We need to allow it to work.

And this brings us to one of the conundrums and miracles of high sensitivity. The development of our HSP wisdom is partly to do with sheer capacity. The thing that underpins and most enables us to deal with incoming stimulation and information is ‘capacity’. And honestly, we have huge capacity – we handle so much more detailed data than most - the issue only arises if that huge capacity is over-reached. If you every wonder if you are not as able as the other 80%, just watch what happens to them when a topic goes really deep, really fast – we do that so easily, they often really struggle.

Our sensitivity to subtleties, (the S in DOES) collects and stores a lot at once, we process those subtleties, those details, in more depth. We are amazing at that! That ability of processing and reflection underpins our natural and profound wisdom. The information and subtleties we pick up come from both internal and external traffic. Both our internal and external environment are sources of stimulation and vital information and the choices we make for ourselves around flow of those two things are so important that they end up defining the quality and meaning of our lives and will be the things that are the foundation stones and potential for health, maturity, purpose and meaning.

The main causes of overstimulation are - overwork, not enough sleep, not enough time between tasks, not enough time for reflection (to make better decisions), going along with lifestyles that do not match our nature, failing to remove ourselves from negative environments or practices or patterns, failing to challenge ourselves or pursue what truly makes us happy. All of those things waste our potential for wisdom and to gift the world with insight and compassion.

Furthermore, just to complicate matters, failure to take into account a nervous system that might in a minority of cases also be coping with a ‘diagnosis’ of some kind - and then lumping the effects of this into ‘being highly sensitive’, simply separates us from the solutions. What overstimulates will be different for each individual, but what we do have in common is the necessity to take into account our overwhelm, our environment and our inner world, our individual temperament and our individual genetic variances. We need to be careful not to view every challenge framed with the same assumptions, that would only end in failure and lead us further from the path of authenticity and congruence.


On a larger scale, awareness of the real power of culture to exert an influence on us is key to undoing unhelpful habits and expectations. A world that is currently designed by the majority, naturally has an impact on the minority - however, so often we do not realise that it is the unquestioning acceptance of the dominant culture that undermines our opportunities to live a more contented life. Even more importantly, that blind acceptance is a distraction from fulfilling our natural role in the family or society in which we live. It’s not ok for this to go on indefinitely –one has only to look around the world to see how very much our particular skills of depth processing, reflection and compassion are needed.

So, what do we do, if we want to respond better to over-arousal or overstimulation, or if we need to become more thoughtful about how we use the resource of our high sensitivity, our depth processing and our understanding of the bigger picture? We can use reading material from knowledgeable sources, good friends, a therapist, a specialist if necessary, time out to reflect, to help unpick which challenges are about our nervous system, which are about something separate from our sensitivity and what might be about beliefs that are keeping us in an unhealthy environment, or doing things in unhelpful ways. We can begin the process of recognizing the normal and natural needs of highly sensitive people and starting to make daily decisions, in small or large ways, to follow our intuition.

The normal and natural way of being for an HSP really does not include overstimulation or over-arousal on a daily basis.




Thoughts on sensitivity P.2. girlnature

 

 

Why we sometimes don’t share our HSP thoughts

I think one of the saddest things that happens in the world, is when the majority end up missing out on all the rich and complex things that go through the mind of that significant minority, highly sensitive people, even in one single day. Elaine Aron, PhD talks about our ‘rich inner life’, indeed she asks about this in the self-test she created to help HSPs identify their trait. Part of that rich, inner life is the way in which we experience intensely our sensory world, part of it is our emotional response to situations, but a huge part of it is that we often think, process and reflect on complex world situations, human behaviour, ideas for change, for improvement and yes, even world peace. In fact, sometimes, all this thought and wondering and creative musing goes on completely within the HSP’s mind and fails to make it to the outside world.

I have wondered many times, when confronted by a client who is concerned about their anxious ruminations, whether this is simply a sign that they have nowhere for this huge mental processing to go – they are constantly triggered to think and process complex situations, but don’t always feel in a position to put that great, rich thinking process into useful practice. Sometimes, its that in rejecting what they share, others don’t realize just how much our HSP feelings are hurt, since they are tied up with our ideas – often the one triggers or motivates the other, it’s a process, so it’s not like we can separate them out entirely. If we don’t manage to deal with how we feel when others don’t ‘get’ us, we learn to hold back from speaking our truth for fear of judgment. So we might feel unhappy, both in their situation and with ourselves and then ruminate on that unhappiness or powerlessness instead. We might worry we are not a good enough person, or feel a failure because we are getting more and more nervous, and sometimes, even secretive.

Why has this topic come to the forefront for me at the moment in time? I was reflecting on a situation that comes up for me a fair amount when I’m spending time with my husband. He is not an HSP, he is hardy and a high sensation seeker, his dominant way of meeting the world is through thinking. I’m sure many of you can remember that very romantic thing when the object of your love sees you lost in thought and asks you what is on your mind, or ‘penny for your thoughts’. Such a lovely scenario isn’t it? Full of promise to bring you closer together right? Well…no, not necessarily! Not everyone is enthralled with the kinds of things we as HSPs think on every day. They wont be thinking months ahead about what’s going on with the children’s emotional development, why the shop-keeper is looking sad, or if it might be a good idea to sell up in the city and move to a forest. In fact, due to having a different brain structure, the other 80% can sometimes be disturbed by what they might find out is going on ‘innocently’ in our brains while we wash dishes, or walk to work. They may not be able to imagine or experience the intense feelings of connection to nature, or joy at the sight of a single spring flower, or even have ever wondered what would happen if the whole human population sang the same song at the same time. Why would they, its not the first thing on their minds, they are wonderfully capable of concentrating on being productive, thinking more in the ‘now’, and even spending time ‘not thinking’ – yes that is a thing.

So when they ask innocently for you to share your thoughts, it would be understandable if you were to hesitate. If my husband asks me what I’m thinking about, should I tell him, for instance, I was wondering hypothetically about the efficacy of kidnapping all world leaders, locking them into a university and not letting them out until they had thoroughly learned the skill of Non-Violent Communication and the Meaning of Integrity – (oh, and would people miss them while they were being re-trained, could we supply temps to take their place)? Am I morally bad to be even wondering about forcing someone to do something good? Is that idea in fact an example of doing something violent, in which case the whole idea is hypocritical….hmmm? Is there a way to get them to enter such a university voluntarily? Should we just add NVC and Integrity 101 to all high school exams? Lots of thoughts, and lots of sub-sub-thoughts. More to the point, if I shared my musings, would my husband’s eyes start to glaze over, or would he stand back with a frown on his face and wonder if his wife is thinking of becoming a kidnapper, terrorist or activist – what the hell is going on in that innocent little brain all day long?! If I’m lucky, will he just tell me, like I’ve heard on many occasions from others, that what I’m hoping for or just thinking about, wouldn’t be popular or possible – ‘you can’t change people’. Hmm, is it really that, or do those without high sensitivity find it even harder than us sometimes to change their mindset without a big push?

So, often when I’m lost in thought, wondering what kinds of names spiders would choose for themselves if they could talk to us, or if there is a faster, less provocative way to remove lies from the internet, I do not share what I’m thinking. If what I'm thinking makes me sad, I don't share that either. And yet, I feel that somehow, I am not fulfilling my role in the world if I don’t share at least some of what goes on in my mind. After all, HSPs have a role to play in evolutionary terms, in preserving and developing our species. How many of you have thought about something, an invention, kept it to yourself and then a few years later, seen it developed and out there. ‘New innovation’, ‘new idea’ in the papers and you think – ‘but I already knew that’, or ‘I thought of that 15 years ago’. Yes, I think our minds are made for innovation, big picture thinking, complex planning. But so often, we hesitate to speak or share those ideas and thoughts because we are concerned about the reception. Sometimes it almost feels like we are waiting for someone’s permission to speak our truth. If we are waiting for the nod, we might wait a long time, since most leaders are not HSPs, so they don’t know they are even missing out. It might mean we have to step forward as quiet leaders (see Dr Tracy Cooper’s recent blog on Elaine Aron’s website www.hsperson.com). That can feel very scary sometimes, ‘leading’. I notice that when I say that word to myself, I get a little fearful palpitation. I know, as a self-aware HSP, that it’s ok to lead, ok to speak up, and I do – sometimes. But leading can be rather tiring, especially when your mind is constantly replaying scenarios, re-inventing ideas, worrying about those you lead.

So, where does this lead us? Well, I guess perhaps all we can do is start sharing a little bit more and try not to take others’ reactions too personally. We are a bit different, so it is natural that others might take a while to appreciate our views, our thinking and our ideas. That’s ok. We can also do the work of becoming stronger and more resilient in terms of managing our feelings and staying in our own integrity if others disagree or can’t see what we mean straight away. We can also look harder to find suitable spaces to work or communicate where our complex brains feel at home or are appreciated. One of the keys is patience, with ourselves and others. Learning not to judge others, not to judge ourselves, or our idea. Simply to share neutrally. Yes, easier said than done, but we can do it little by little.

So, enjoy all your complex, sensitive and ‘apparently crazy’ thoughts, remembering that often what was seen as mad in the past is now accepted as current thought – anyone read how people said travelling by train would kill people if they went over 20mph? Clearly not true, but someone had to show them it was ok and not get put off. It still tickles me that back in the 1970s I used to watch the TV series ‘Star Trek’ and think their communication screens, where you could talk and see the person at the same time, were so amazing – I had no idea I would actually have one in my home in 2020. Someone conceived of it and showed the way all that time ago, even before Star Trek was thought of, but it took until recently for us to have to tools to implement it.

I think as HSPs, we have a unique capacity to show the way on many levels, from how to create better and cheaper medicines, how to achieve peace, how to treat all our fellow humans as equals and how to train leaders to fulfill a role with integrity and respect. It’s not right to leave all that to those who are not highly sensitive, we need to work with them.

Since we are here, I was just wondering if its more practical to teach people to need less ‘stuff’ (that inevitably ends up with a carbon footprint to get to us)? In fact would it not make sense to forbid anyone to explore outer space further until they have shown us how they will carefully dispose of the masses of rubbish that their projects will inevitably leave trailing behind their space craft in space or on previously pristine planets? I wonder if I should mention that to my husband next time he looks remotely interested in what’s going on in my complex, HSP mind – hmmmm……



Thoughts on sensitivity P.2. mannature


PERSONAL ASSESSMENT FOR HSPs

If you are new to the concept of High Sensitivity, consider spending some time with me here for a personal assessment. I will help you to make an assessment through the lens of high sensitivity of: Your physical health, sleep, nutrition and fitness; Your lifestyle, career choices and interests; Your emotional health, relationships and wellbeing. You will come away with some advice, tips and inspiration, plus a better idea of how High Sensitivity fits with a better future for yourself and the important people in your life. Call or email to book some time, this usually takes about two hours. Please take into consideration that most HSPs function best in daylight hours, so a daytime appointment is advised where possible. My usual working hours are weekdays, 10am to 4pm and I work from two venues, one in Andover, Hampshire, the other in Pendeen, Cornwall.  These assessments can be done online, but you might get more from this by attending in person, even if you then choose follow up later for a mentoring session online.