Wednesday, December 19, 2012

High Sensitivity is not an "Illness:" Framing our lives in a more positive fashion

Being a Highly Sensitive Person "means" a number of different things in our lives.

Fundamentally, it means that we feel more, and we feel more deeply. In a sense we're more acutely "tuned in" to life and everything in it. As a result, it's easy for HSPs to get to a point of feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated.

Dr. Elaine Aron (author of "The Highly Sensitive Person) repeatedly emphasizes that high sensitivity-- as the inborn trait that it is... is a neutral trait. It has its pluses and minuses... but they all average out to being neutral. Unfortunately, many HSPs don't perceive themselves thus... they see themselves, how they are, and everything around them in a very negative light, often to their own detriment.

The rock of Gibraltar, from a beach in southern Spain
Much of my inspiration for this blog comes from hearing and reading what others say-- in their blogs, on web message boards, in email lists as well as in person. Recently, I have been noticing just how many HSPs see the trait as a distinct drawback, something they wish they were without, or could "cure"... and I wanted to examine that, and hopefully offer a gentle suggestion to adopt a different approach.

Some things I have heard/read recently include HSPs wanting to "be on disability" because they are highly sensitive. Others claim that the reason they can't "make a living" is because they are highly sensitive. Some insist their depression exists solely because they are HSPs. Similar claims can be applied to a variety of conditions, from shyness to being Bipolar, to ADHD.

Yet another group is made up of those who openly ask for support and help to-- allegedly-- be more capable of dealing with their sensitivities. That's certainly an excellent idea-- we can all use a little help and guidance-- but sometimes that's not exactly everything that's going on. Many workable suggestions are offered-- tips successfully used by other HSPs to make their lives easier-- but the people in question categorically reject everything that's suggested. No matter what, none of the suggestions "will work" or are "good enough."

After a while, it becomes quite clear that the person asking for help to deal with their sensitivity is actually asking for ways to get RID of their sensitivity. Which, of course, is not possible.

Much has been written about "creating our own reality," in the self-development and metaphysics industries. Whether you believe in creating reality, or the power of intent, or "positive affirmations," experience has taught me that it is just as easy to "create" a negative outcome as a positive one. It's all a matter of where you choose to focus your energy. Sadly, the HSPs who always seem to focus on the negative aspects of being highly sensitive also seem to get caught in a cycle of things "going badly" for them.

How do you make things turn out better... when everything feels so gloomy and depressing?

I'll be the first to admit that overstimulation, and feeling like life is just "too much" is not a lot of fun. Nor is criticism from those around you that you are "too this..." and "too that..." However, we have to start digging ourselves out of our (frequently) self-made holes of misery, somewhere. And since it's very unlikely to start with other people, it has to start with us.

Hillside water tank, near California Hot Springs
A good place to begin is with taking a completely honest inventory of what being a Highly Sensitive Person "means," in our lives-- and becoming fully accountable for what is ailing us. And along with that, recognizing what it doesn't mean to be an HSP-- including a number of illnesses and conditions-- even though we may be "attributing" such things to sensitivity.

Such honesty is not easy-- but it's important, when we truly want to heal and become strong and empowered individuals. We must reframe our negative self-perceptions... and work towards addressing and healing the actual issues at hand. For example:

You are not depressed because you are an HSP. You're depressed because something bad happened/is happening in your life... or because you have a chemical imbalance. Being an HSP may cause you to feel it more, but it didn't cause the depression.

You are not unable to make a living because you are an HSP. You're unable to make a living perhaps because you repeatedly choose jobs that suit you poorly, perhaps because you are trying to live up to other people's expectations, not your own, perhaps for some other reason. Being an HSP didn't cause you to be broke, but it may have made you more aware of your negative feelings towards work.

You are not shy or socially anxious because you are an HSP. Those are learned conditions that happened as a result of some negative social interactions you experienced in your past. Perhaps you're not either of those things, at all-- just aware that people easily overstimulate you, so you desire more time by yourself. Either way, being highly sensitive didn't cause your shyness, although it may have made you more tuned into feeling uncomfortable in certain situations.

One of the pieces of advice I most often offer my fellow HSPs is to "avoid comparisons," and to avoid letting other people define what's normal or not-normal... for YOU. The root word in "self-definition" is self. If you get overstimulated after two hours at a noisy party, then that's YOUR limit, and it's nobody else's business to define whether or not that makes you "abnormal" or not. It's not easy to shut out other people's opinions, and HSPs do tend to be very sensitive to criticism... but ultimately, we'll experience nothing but pain if we try to live by what other people think we "should" be able to do/handle/cope with or whatever.

In a sense, we must declare our own independence!

Once we separate out what our sensitivity truly is and stop trying to "repair" that part of us (which is futile, anyway!), we can attend to healing those parts of us that can be healed... whether it's "social anxiety" or a toxic relationship with work. And the beauty is... because we are HSPs, we'll experience the healing more strongly, as well!

Talk Back! Do you-- or have you-- "blamed" high sensitivity (which is not "fixable") for "causing" problems or conditions in your life (which are fixable)? Do you have a clear sense of where your sensitivity ends, and other "issues" begin? Have you ever tried to "cure" your sensitivity? If so, what did you learn? Share with others-- please leave a comment!

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  1. I like the article on one hand because I know I am not alone. But on the other hand it made me realize that I have a lot of work to do, and that's overwhelming. I know there is a balance somewhere, I just need to keep trying to find it. Thanks for the info, keep it coming.

  2. Peter,
    Thank you for your blog, your involvement in the HSP community and your lovely beach glass. This post caught my attention because in the past I have blamed my high sensitivity for many things. The most challenging area has been educating my family & partner, giving myself enough solitude time (but not too much) and finding out what work is right for me.

    I do experience depression, anxiety & "SAD" and have thankfully known that these are seperate from my HSP trait. These are challenging "disorders", and yet I have had a lot of time to work on them and have gained so much insight in the process.

    Lately it has been tough being a HSP. The Holidays are hard for HSP's and I've experienced this for years. Expectations, rushing, parties, gift giving, excess noise, etc... have been very intense for me this year. Honestly, I have wanted to "cure" my sensitivity and "be like everyone else". Acceptance comes and goes. I do know that if I try to "be like everyone else" I can become anxious, exhausted, over-welmed, depressed, angry @ myself and angry @ other people for not accepting me, etc... Right now I do feel acute sensitivity and just want to sleep and shut out everything. Hiding can become a dangerous place for me so I must watch myself and more importantly be compassionate and loving. It's the last two that are challenging when I have so many expectations for myself. Fortunately these expectations are slowly changing and adapting as I accept myself more and more.

    That's about it for now, and again much Gratitude for your inspirational words!


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