“You’re too sensitive.”
“You need to grow a tougher skin.”
“You’re made of sterner stuff than this.”
These phrases have been a part of my life experience and I genuinely thought something was wrong with me that I felt everything so deeply.
So what were some of the things that I experienced as a child that might have hinted at this trait?
- I would walk into friends’ houses and sometimes the smells would cause me to want to leave
- Small throwaway comments or feedback would hit deep and I would feel washed with embarrassment and shame and be overcome by the desire to hide
- Trivial conversations would bore me
- I would love talking to the adults
- I would take myself off walking in nature when things got too much
- I was highly adaptive and could fit into most social groupings
- I needed to understand all the aspects of things and couldn’t just learn and regurgitate facts
In my forties I came across Dr. Elaine Aaron’s research on the highly sensitive person. It was through this work that I came to understand my depth of processing was related to my thinking about the meaning of life and it explained why I can take a long time to decide things and how my feelings were easily hurt.
Dr. Aaron shares the following easy way to remember the definition of the trait:
- D – depth of processing
- O – easily overstimulated
- E – stronger emotional reactions
- S – aware of subtle stimuli
Learning about this trait freed me in many ways to reframe my sensitivity from a weakness to a gift. It helped me reframe the limiting belief that something was wrong with me. This in turn supported me to embrace how I love to work and pull my experience and insight into a book about how to live courageously (as you are).
The challenge for me (and it’s an ongoing one) has been how to articulate the depth of my feelings. My feelings are the parts of me that are deeply introverted within me. In truth, I have often kept them hidden. I need to spend time sitting with them so that I can name them accurately. Then I am at choice whether I confront my fears and share them. It’s an edge for me because of those fears of being identified as “too sensitive.”
I now see that not everyone feels things as deeply as I do but it’s that depth of feeling that supports my clients because I notice the small emotional shifts and signals in them that they don’t. I can invite them to slow down, pause and notice what just happened. This in turn helps them connect and know themselves more deeply.
The more I have accepted my sensitivity, the more I’ve recognised my need for deep relationship and real conversation. It doesn’t mean I’m heavy all the time. My nature is light and deep, so embracing that range has helped me take ownership of the depth within me. I can be playful, creative and deep all at the same time.
I also have started to recognise in my body when I’m overstimulated. Instead of pushing through which was my learned behaviour, I am improving at allowing myself space, recovery and rest. Sometimes I just need to unplug, get in nature, move or sleep.
Feedback has always been a challenge for me. In the past I would simply accept it and allow it to reinforce my own belief that there was something wrong with me. Part of my ongoing journey is discerning whether the feedback is valid or is motivated by some other factor like anger or jealousy. Not simply absorbing it like a sponge is key for me and it’s what is helping me to claim my own authority.
In knowing my sensitivity, I am learning to stand up for myself more. I realise that it’s my sensitivity that means people share hard things with me, but if others expect me to be sensitive to their needs I must own my own energy systems and recognise I do not have unlimited energy and resilience. If I truly want to be of service, I need to allow myself to unplug and recharge. Knowing this helps me support my own needs.
So how can you embrace your sensitivity?
You can begin by learning more about it and taking the HSP assessment here.
Next, begin the journey of honouring this trait within you. It might start by watching out for the assumption that everyone is like you. You are magnificently unique and it’s courageous to look within to discover that brilliance within you. In knowing who you truly are, you can reframe past hurt and design a life that’s compatible to you.
And if you’re curious about my story and other women’s stories my upcoming book will be out soon. Learn more about it and stay tuned for updates here.