My original working title for this piece was, “The Adventures of an Insanely Sensitive Person”. The title was meant to poke fun at myself and not to be insensitive toward other highly sensitive persons, but it occurred to me that using the word insanely instead of highly serves no one in the end. The HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) is still so terribly misunderstood that such self-deprecating humor would only serve to encourage more criticism.
HSPs are gaining more and more understanding due to increased awareness but there’s still a huge stigma to overcome.
Traditionally we’ve been called too or overly sensitive, cry babies, too/overly emotional, touchy, thin-skinned, etc.
We’re accused of not being able to take a joke, of not knowing when somebody was “just kidding” or “being playful”, of taking things too personally or of not being able to recognize sarcasm.
The truth is that a HSP is the one who is least likely to laugh when you fall, the most likely to respect your dignity when your crooked toupee falls off your head at the Dollar General store and the most likely to empathize with you during a moment of humiliation or pain.
I would venture to say that most of us regard the janitor with the same level of respect as the CEO. We’re not easily impressed by titles, fame, wealth, physical perfection or nice things. We’re impressed by and value integrity, authenticity and fairness.
We rarely have to be reminded to “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes. We live our lives constantly trying on other people’s shoes and are deeply affected by it.
Our feelings get hurt – personally – when we see a disabled person being mocked and ridiculed – especially when there’s an audience of spectators looking on – or when we see anyone being treated unfairly or inhumanely – especially as the result of prejudice, arrogance, sheer hatred, etc.
We despise those who consider themselves to be superior or chosen and therefore “more deserving” than others “beneath” them.
Cruelty, insensitivity, egotism and narcissism are our kryptonite.
We just want everyone to be kind to one another – to work out differences calmly and peacefully. We tend to have extreme negative emotional reactions to name-calling, fighting, screaming, bullying, etc.
Thus is the plight of the highly sensitive person.
To give a real-life example of how such a sensitive nature affects a HSP, I’ll use a recent example from my own life in regard to a friend’s misfortune.
I have a friend who I shall refer to as C.F., short for “Canadian Friend”.
But what if I ever decide to mention any of my other Canadian friends in my blog?
I can’t call them all C.F. That would be too confusing to my readers – all ten or fifteen of them.
Maybe I should go provincial.
No, Canadian provinces are pretty large.
Perhaps I should just personalize their secret identities.
Yes! That’s what I’ll do!
On second thought, scratch C.F. I shall now refer to her as L.M., for reasons which will be made clear in the following paragraphs.
L.M. and I have never met in person. We’ve been Facebook friends for nearly four years but have only started having real conversations during the last couple months.
Because I don’t do small talk. I don’t think she does either. I think we both needed a conversation starter, which turned out to be her unwillingness to watch the movie, “Titanic”. I needed to know why, which opened the door to further chats.
Last summer I lost all three of my senior cats – aged from 13 to 15 years old – so when L.M. told me recently that her beloved 22-year-old cat’s health was failing, I instantly empathized.
Her cat’s name was Lassie, which makes my friend “Lassie’s Mom” or L.M.
On March 8th Lassie passed away. L.M. had mentioned that someone in her life didn’t understand the bond between human and furry friend so I wanted her to know that someone did understand. I checked in with her daily, just in case she needed a shoulder. I understood that she wouldn’t feel like chatting but that was okay – I didn’t expect her to.
A side effect of all this is that I’ve been afraid to mention the word “cat”. For the last two weeks I have dropped the word out of my vocabulary in regard to public posts.
Not only have I felt obligated to avoid the word – I have also avoided any posting of cat cartoons, photos, videos, etc. I have them all stored away in my “saved” file for future use. I did accidentally share a St. Gertrude of Nivelles (the patron saint of cats, travelers and gardeners) image on St. Patrick’s Day. I meant to hide it so L.M. couldn’t see it but I forgot to do so and the next day, once I realized she may have seen it, I emotionally punished myself for being so insensitive.
Then, a few days ago on my “Just Plain Vicki” Facebook page, I posted one of a series of fictitious text messages with my imaginary robot in which the robot asked for a kitten. (Side note: I am not crazy! You’ll just have to check out the page to fully appreciate these bizarre texts.) It wasn’t until L.M. made reference to that text that I realized what I had done. Her response to the text was positive, however, and my heart rate returned to normal after realizing I hadn’t destroyed her.
So this is what it’s like to be highly sensitive. In some ways the torture we put ourselves through is somewhat amusing. It’s not all about being a cry baby or taking things too personally. It’s about being wired in such a way that we’re emotionally pained to the core when we feel or sense pain … especially when we’re able to relate. We don’t simply get over things. We learn how to live with the pain inflicted upon us – whether intentionally or unintentionally – and we are changed because of it. It’s not about being thin-skinned – it’s about feeling deeply.
There are episodes of “I Love Lucy” I simply cannot watch, for instance, because of the perceived humiliating situations Lucy gets herself into. The same goes for many other sitcoms which notoriously use humiliating situations to get laughs. Likewise, every episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos features so-called “funny” clips of people getting hurt, falling off of trampolines, crashing into trees, being pranked, etc. I’m aware of the fact that many people find these situations to be funny, but in most cases I simply don’t understand why. Pain and humiliation simply aren’t funny to me.
I used to hate being so sensitive. It was particularly excruciating in my teens. Besides being highly sensitive, I also had an extremely low self-esteem and socially awkward tendencies that made me the perfect target for bullies. It’s not so bad in the adult world, but every HSP has had to deal with the occasional friend, family member or coworker who finds the need to point out that they are sensitive to a fault.
In recent months I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and self-exploration. I have come to realize that the sensitive souls in this world are not the problem.
The real problem is that we live in a world that has little tolerance for gentleness and way too much tolerance for hardness, coldness, arrogance, boastfulness, prejudice, insults, the infliction of humiliation and bullying.
This seems awfully backward to me.
Instead of advising gentle souls to toughen up, we should be encouraging the more calloused souls to gentle up.
I have more respect for the gentle soul who’s easily bruised than I have for the calloused soul who thinks nothing of bruising others to boost his own ego.