Saturday, February 02, 2013
Childhood Memory: A Highly Sensitive Boy's Relationship with "Excitement"
"You know, like a memoir, or something that happened to you," they then add... perhaps since pretty much everything I write here is "personal." I did actually start in on some more "personal" stories a couple of years ago... and, in all fairness, my post "Perceptions and Reality: Childhood, Part I" was about my early life. I intended to write a series of such articles, but got bogged down after thinking it was a little too self-indulgent.
One of the things I realized was that one of the ways I always seemed like an oddball among my peers was that I really was never interested in doing "exciting" things. And that was true of me, from a very young age. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that "exciting things" simply didn't feel "exciting" to me; I didn't want to be any part of them, I wanted to do "safe and comforting" things. Or maybe it was more a case of the feeling we call "exciting" not actually feeling good/positive the way it does for many people.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I didn't want to "do" things-- I just found almost all forms of (what I perceived to be) "risky" behavior to be stupid. I don't have all that many memories from being six or younger, but I do remember that I would almost always engage in "critical analysis" of things, back then. If someone said "let go do 'something'," I would not only want to feel assured that this "something" have a high likelihood of a pleasant outcome, but I wanted to feel confident that any "collateral damage" resulting from the possibility of failure was minimal.
That's "fancy speak" for not engaging in risky things, and not being impulsive.
So when some of the other neighborhood kids would come along and say "let's jump over the fence, steal some apples and beat on the window so the neighbor's dog starts barking, and then run away really fast!" I was never onboard with it. And even if I hesitantly agreed to go along, I'd be so beset by anxiety that I had no possibility of enjoying the experience. All I could "see" was the potential trouble at the other end... there would be the neighbor's anger at us, then the phone call to my parents, followed by a lecture from my mom, then a different kind of lecture from my dad.
My mother's primary form of punishment was that she would sit me down and spend about an hour (at least that's what it felt like!) lecturing me about what it meant to be "good" and "obedient," and what shame I was bringing on the family with my actions, and how I must be ashamed of my ways... and she had a manner of forcing me to sit through an age of droning on about the same thing said 30 different ways. There were no beatings, no "time out," no grounding... just my mother talking, and asking sharp questions about once a minute-- which I'd better have the answer to-- or the lecture would just be prolonged because I "hadn't been paying attention."
Yes, I was extremely gullible, as a child. In many ways, I still am.
Anyway, I literally did think like this, as a small boy and teenager, and my "risk-reward analyses" never came out in favor of "excitement." It's a way of thinking that has never left me. Some thirty years later, I learned about High Sensitivity... and deeply related to something Elaine Aron once said about HSPs being like the "cautious deer" observed among wild deer populations.
Of course, I didn't just think this way about "illicit" excitement-- I also thought this way about "endorsed" excitement, from riding rollercoasters to jumping in the water from a high springboard. If it looked like it could "go wrong" or "be painful" I wanted no part of it. I was never a candidate for "Stupid Human Tricks."
I have often been told that my reticence is fear-based. Whereas there might be a slight truth to that, there's more at play here. So-called exciting activities don't feel good. I feel "jangled" for an extremely long time, afterwards. Shaky, out of sorts. Like the shot of adrenaline we get in response to an "exciting event" stays with me for many hours, where it dissipates in minutes for most people. It's not a "good feeling" when I'm still "jittery" from the "thrill" of riding the rollercoaster... six hours "after the fact." Giving rise to the question of whether my avoidance of "excitement" is genuinely fear, or merely reasonable life management....
But here's an odd thing, as I wind this up: At the same time as being excitement avoidant, I was always very open to doing things that most others-- including my childhood peers-- rejected because they were "extremely/too difficult." From an early age, I excelled at accomplishing things many wouldn't even attempt, let alone succeed at. Need a giant tree cut down, and all you have is a steak knife? Give it to me, I'll get it done. Car has broken down at the summer cabin and someone needs to ride twenty miles on their bicycle to the store for milk and bread, and then twenty miles back? No problem, I'll go.
This strange marriage of extreme caution and extreme stick-to-it-iveness defined me until I became an adult... and remains with me, although in a milder form than 30+ years ago.
A past therapist once psychoanalyzed this as being a reflection of my self-perceived shortcomings at "outwitting" people made up for by "outlasting" them, instead.
Not sure I buy that. But it sounded plausible, at the time...
In retrospect, I feel increasingly sure that my pervasive childhood and teenage nickname "grandpa" was more earned as a result of my retiring nature and careful approach to life than from my mother's penchant for dressing her young son in clothes befitting a 60-year old. I used to blame being treated as a "weirdo" and "misfit" on my "grandpa pants" but I'm not so sure, anymore...
Caution and risk aversion is-- of course-- not in the nature of all HSPs, nor is a tightly controlled impulsivity. However, my years of introspection and self-inquiry tell me that in my case, it's more a reflection of my HSP nature, as opposed to "learned fears." Even when I was an infant in my crib, I had little interest in bright shiny objects, "noisemakers" and general interaction. From the anecdotal evidence I've gathered over the years, it wasn't that I was afraid, just that I seemed not interested.
That's my story, and I am sticking to it!
Talk Back! What was your relationship with "excitement," as a kid and youngster? How is it, today? Have you-- and do you-- generally have a different perception than other people as to what "excitement" feels like? Do you consider yourself risk-averse? Share your experience-- leave a comment!
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