Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Thoughts on finding your true self....

I am always stunned (and a little distressed) by the vast numbers of HSPs who feel utterly lost, drifting aimlessly, lonely, friendless, depressed, living marginal half-lives they are well aware lack depth and meaning.

I regularly see buzzwords and sound bite phrases from culture:

"I need to get more friends"
"If only I had lots of friends and were popular"
"I need better drugs"
"I need to see a counselor"
"I need to contribute, somehow"
"I need a REAL job"
"If only I weren't broke"
"I wish I had a boyfriend/girlfriend"

These, of course, are not "HSP-specific phrases"-- everybody has these thoughts, at one time or another. We HSPs, however, tend to dwell very deeply on them and then take them to heart with great conviction.

I find myself wondering "How much of this is real?"

Now, before anyone in the peanut gallery gets their underwear in an uproar, I am NOT questioning the sincerity of anyone's feelings and/or anguish. Sometimes life is just plain hard. But I AM wondering how much we are responding to the cultural images of "how we're supposed to live life," vs. what we actually want in our lives. And I have to question the somewhat contradictory wisdom of embracing that, as HSPs, we're a "breed apart" while also lamenting that we don't fit seamlessly into the mainstream of life. "Uniqueness" and "group-think" do not readily fit in the same space.

Some years ago, I came to the realization that much of my anguish about "not being like others" and "not being successful" was thoroughly based on comparing myself to someone else's "script" for life. By "script," I mean the set of actions, ambitions, aspirations and activities that add up to a "whole" life, for a given person.

It is surely central to the process of finding our niche that we must learn how to filter what is "our script" from what is "someone else's script." I think it is also important that we distinguish between our desire to be "helpers" and "people pleasers" and our apparent (in)ability to find happiness when trying to live up to someone else's sense of "What We Should Be." I firmly believe that you can "serve" AND still maintain your own identity.

Many Psychologists talk about the need to "re-frame" statements and concepts from our lives. Elaine Aron, author of "The Highly Sensitive Person," even touches on this in her books. Re-framing is, perhaps, the "filter" we need to separate the wheat from the chaff, to get rid of the "noise" that keeps us from finding our true selves.

Somewhere along the way, I went through my own process of Finding Out What Really Matters; examining my sources of discontent:

"If only I weren't broke" Actually, I had enough to live (my script) on, on my terms. I was broke because I bought into (society's script) that I "should" have a large house and new cars.

"I need to get more friends" + "If only I had lots of friends and were popular." Well, actually, I like deep and meaningful friendships (my script) and I'm an introvert and enjoy a fair amount of solitude (my script) so lots of friends (society's script) would require more bandwidth than I have to give, and essentially cause me stress, rather than happiness. Besides, I am "popular," with a few select people I choose to call "friends."

"I need to contribute, somehow." Honestly, I agree 100% with that statement. The problem with it is that we often feel trapped by the "idea" that contributions have to be "BIG" in order to matter. Feed 1000s of starving children in Africa. Find a cure for AIDS. Invent the next Windows operating system. Buying into society's script ends up "devaluing" the many contributions we already make; taking care of an elderly person; feeding homeless animals; taking ours and our neighbor's cans to the recycling center, etc. A "contribution" doesn't have to make the national news in order to have "value."

And so on, and so forth.

Examining perceived "shortcomings" and putting them in "sincere context" (at least for me) went a hell of a long way towards feeling more content with where I was in life. I continue to fine-tune it.

I am not claiming this to be "the answer" to anything, merely a "puzzle-piece." A perspective. I'm no "guru," no therapist, no sage-- just a regular person, trying to muddle my way through this thing we call "life."

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