Okay little Thoughts, stay here and play for a while. Have fun and don’t hurt each other. You’ve all been cooped up in my brain far too long. Brainy needs a good airing!
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.
I hate small talk. Most introverts do. But the worst kind of small talk, in my opinion, is the kind in which you feel obligated to participate but weren’t prepared for.
The unexpected meeting!
A while back I had gone to Subway to get a sandwich and ran into an old coworker I hadn’t seen in about 15 years. She recognized me, I recognized her, both of our brains kicked in and remembered past shared experiences – so naturally, we both felt obligated to speak to one another.
Commence mandatory small talk!
She: Oh my gosh! It’s been so long! How are you doing, Vicki?
Me: Oh, hey! Fine, and you?
She: Good! What have you been up to?
Me: Not much … and you?
She: What are you doing now? Where are you working? Do you have a girlfriend? What’s been going on?
Me: I have some cats. That’s about it. How about you?
She probably thought I no longer liked her. We were never terribly close but I never disliked her. We simply have nothing in common with the exception of our old job.
If one attends a party, a reunion or some other social affair, one expects to interact with others. I tend to avoid such get-togethers to avoid the inevitable, but if I were to attend such a function, at least I’d know it was expected of me. The only speaking I was prepared to do that day was to recite my sandwich order which I was busy repeating over and over in my head so that when my turn came up, I wouldn’t hold up the line.
But when I ran into my old coworker, which was a completely unexpected meeting, I panicked. My sandwich order was on a continual loop in my brain and I didn’t have much room left for new thoughts, nor did I have time to construct a mental script for the occasion.
I felt bad that I couldn’t fill my old coworker in on the last 15 years but she was either going to have to settle for a four-hour conversation or “I have cats”. The second choice seemed more humane than to hold her hostage for four hours during her 30-minute lunch break.
Social media is one of an introverts favorite ways to socialize. The usual stressors which are present when spending physical time with people are greatly diminished in the social media world … but that doesn’t mean it’s completely stress free.
Social media offers its own unique brand of stress, leaving the sensitive introvert with enough stress to cause her (or him) to feel like a social experience has been had, without having to leave the house or see anybody!
Let me demonstrate by taking you along with me for a condensed tour of a fairly typical Facebook session.
My internal monologue is in blue italics.
(Opens Google Chrome. Clicks on Facebook shortcut.)
Oh my goodness! 33 notifications!
I think I’ll do a quick scroll-through before checking my notifications.
(Scrolls through newsfeed)
Oh, look! Jane’s in a relationship … for the third time this year … and we’re just in the first week of March.
Should I congratulate her or wait until next week when men are dogs and she’ll never waste her time on another one again?
I think I’ll wait. Maybe I’ll just pretend I never saw it. She could be single again by lunch time.
At least when I say I’m through with love, I tend to wait for three to eight years before I embarrass myself again.
(Scrolls through newsfeed)
(Scrolls through newsfeed)
Why do people have to be so mean? I don’t like Trump one single bit, but I don’t go around insulting people who do. I simply hide their posts so I don’t have to see them.
How did we end up here?
How were our only two choices Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
When are people going to realize his character has never been honorable? Even when he was featured in the media back in the 80s he was arrogant … and he’s always been a braggart.
And when are people going to realize that defending his behavior isn’t winning any converts?
Why do people have to be so mean? Why can’t people just be nice?
I’m glad my mother’s not having to live through this. Character meant everything to her.
I can’t believe she’s been gone for 25 years now!
I wonder what she would think of me today. I wonder if she’d be…
I need a tissue.
(Blows nose. Scrolls through newsfeed)
Oh, cool! Somebody started a share-your-favorite-childhood-photo thread. I think I’ll post one.
Scott was so much cuter than I was.
Aww, Shadow was such a good cat. I still can’t believe he dragged a 22-pound turkey from the kitchen to the front door!
I sure loved those overalls.
(Scrolls through photos)
Hmmm… I don’t really know these people but there are some really cool photos here.
I think I’ll like this one …
and this one and…
THIS one’s so cool! I’d bet it was taken between 1948 and 1952.
Let’s see if I’m right. …
What? Why didn’t they post a date?
History needs to be documented!
(Sighs. Continues scrolling through photos.)
Oh my gosh! What an ugly kid! I’ll bet she wasn’t very popular in school. She was probably teased and bullied and came home crying every day and felt worthless and ugly and…
Poor thing!!! I sure hope she grew into herself … or at least developed a good sense of humor!
Nobody has even bothered to like her snapshot! Some of the others have 15 and 20 likes.
There! I hope that makes her feel better. I need to go back through and like the other ugly kids.
(Reviews photos again, liking all of the ugly kids or those who haven’t received any likes yet. Continues scrolling through newsfeed.)
Sandra just posted a video – says it’s hilarious. I guess I’ll check it out.
(Watches clip of kittens being cute and acrobatic…)
Aww! It’s not hilarious but it’s cute!
(The next clip on the video shows a man sledding down a hill and is stopped suddenly when he accidentally scissors a tree)
“NOOOO! NOT FUNNY! No! No! No! That’s awful!”
(Stops video one-third of the way through.)
Oh my gosh! Poor guy! I wonder if he’s okay. How can people think people getting hurt is hilarious? He could have died!
I need another tissue.
(Scrolls through newsfeed)
If they didn’t turn these images into dares by adding “Share if” I might just share some of them, but I’ll be a fire hydrant in Dogland before I let some meme tell me I don’t love God because I didn’t share.
When did one’s loyalties start being defined this way? It’s like a 21st century digital chain letter that uses guilt and bandwagon techniques to get you to prove love, loyalty or memory simply by clicking a five-letter word.
How did we prove that we loved God before Facebook? It’s not like we sent postcards to all our friends twice a week reminding them that we love God!
God knows how I feel without having to…
(Scrolls through newsfeed)
Oh, look! Laura just posted in our introvert group. Let’s see what she has to say…
What the ****?
Somebody just insulted her! Her comment wasn’t even offensive!
That’s not fair!
That’s just wrong!
I better say something to this bully before Laura has to read this crap!
(Leaves comment for bully. Firmly puts her in her place, without being unnecessarily mean – but just enough so she should feel ashamed of herself.)
I sure hope Laura doesn’t get her feelings too awfully hurt. Poor Laura! She didn’t deserve that! Why do people have to be so mean?
I’m so mad I’m shaking!
I can’t do this! I’ll check my notifications later.
I need to go on a bike ride or something.
(Logs out of Facebook. Spends next two hours obsessing over the troubling Facebook posts. Decides to post the experience on blog and returns home to write.)
Back in the 90s, while living in Dallas, I received a rather strange phone call one day.
“You have a really sexy voice,” the strange man replied.
“You made that determination from ‘hello’?”
“I would love to suck your toes,” he continued.
“Um, no, I don’t think you would. They’re kind of crusty right now and I have ingrown toenails.”
“Maybe we could get together some time,” he suggested.
“I don’t know whether you’ve realized it yet or not, but you have the wrong number.”
I suppose that was rather mild as far as obscene phone calls go, but it brings up the point that I’m gearing toward – that some people take naturally to dirty talk, whereas some of us are quite uncomfortable with it.
The year was 1996, I believe, and I had been dating a woman who I shall refer to as Jade. I was working as a security officer and one night, while at my post near Dallas’ Love Field, Jade called me up at work.
“Talk to me,” she said, in a low, sexy voice.
I laughed uncomfortably and asked, “What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t care,” she said, “just talk to me.”
“Well, you must have something in mind. You don’t just call people up and command them to speak. You state your reason, then the other person has something to go on.”
“I just miss you,” she said. “I love the sound of your voice. C’mon, talk to me.”
The sound of her voice had a strong twinge of frustration in it when she repeated, “Just talk to me.”
Rather than continuing to argue, I quickly consulted my memory bank and finally found the perfect thing to share with Jade.
” We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility…”
I recited the entire Preamble of the Constitution and after uttering the last words, I proudly asked, “How’s that?”
“Jade? Are you there?”
I think she just hung up on me.
The dial tone, which followed, was a clear indication that she had indeed disconnected.
I placed the phone back in its cradle and replayed the last few minutes for clarity.
Okay, Jade called me … said ‘talk to me’ … but wouldn’t tell me what she wanted me to say … “Just talk to me,” she said … So I talked. I can’t imagine why she’d have a problem with the Preamble. I guess I could have recited The Gettysburg Address instead … or The Lord’s Prayer … or some lines from The Sound of Music … or My Fair Lady…
I spent hours in a state of confusion. I had no clue as to why Jade was upset. I tried calling her back but all she would say was “good night” before hanging up again.
A couple of days later I was talking with one of my neighbors and presented the puzzle to her.
“People actually do that?” I asked. “Like an obscene phone call … but with someone you actually know?”
“She’s your girlfriend! She was wanting you to turn her on.”
“Well, I guess The Gettysburg Address wouldn’t have worked either, huh?”
“You’re hopeless,” Teri exclaimed as she walked away.
I’m still not comfortable with such things. A dirty text is one thing but a dirty vocal performance just feels awkward. One needs to be in a certain sort of mood to utter such things … a mood which generally requires foreplay. To be asked to produce such a performance on command will cause me to experience a mild panic attack … and possibly break into show tunes.
Afternote: I am proud to finally be able to say, at the age of 48, that I am not alone in my inability to grasp the basics of love and romance.
I recently joined a group for women with the INFP personality type … one of the rarest of personality types of the Myers-Briggs index. After taking part in a discussion on love and romance it would seem that between 80% and 90% of us are also inept in such matters … to one degree or another. We all share a certain type of awkwardness and an inability to flirt properly … or to realize when we’re the target of flirtation. We’re all basically clueless regarding the language of love, how to use our feminine wiles, etc. Class, race, age and sexuality made no difference – it simply seems that INFP women (and probably INFP men, as well) are just rather clueless in such matters.
We all agreed that we long for deep emotional and intellectual connections, often causing us to invest months, or even years in someone before sex is even regarded as an issue. Casual sex is something we tend to avoid due to the feelings of disgust or humiliation we’re left with after such an encounter … meaning that many of us make it to our 30s, 40s, 50s, etc., having had far fewer partners than seems to be the norm in our culture. Many of us are quite unlucky in love due to our “handicaps”, though quite a few have experienced successful relationships/marriage.
Most of us, it would seem, fall into the categories of demisexual, sapiosexual or asexual regardless of sexual preference or lack thereof. We’re basically just a clueless bunch of introverted nerds who will attempt to win over the object of our affection with historic recitations, odd facts, strange references, alarming awkwardness or cold, blank stares that are meant to be alluring but in fact give the recipient the impression that he/she is greatly feared. At this point we will either run away due to fear or humiliation, or said recipient will walk away before the gazer has the chance to accuse the recipient of being a homicidal maniac.
We’re a quirky lot, but in spite of our many quirks, we are typically a quite lovable bunch of misfits.
If you were a flower, what type of flower would you be and why?
I think most people would answer this question by choosing the flower they believe to be the most beautiful, possessing the nicest scent, or perhaps the flower that reminded them of childhood, their mother or of happier times.
Personally, I’ve never had a favorite flower. I’m not a “flower person”. I don’t understand the attraction to uprooting or cutting a living thing – regardless of how beautiful it may be – to stick it in a vase and admire its corpse. I never have understood that. Sure, flowers are pretty – or at least they can be – but if I have a yearning to look at a flower, I’d rather go find the place where it lives and admire it there. Perhaps I’d bring a book along … or pen and paper … and read, write or dream, leaving the flower to continue living its life after I’m gone.
Make no mistake; I am not advocating for rights of plants over people or animals – I simply think it’s kind of cruel to kill a living thing for no other purpose than to admire its beauty, while watching it decompose in a vase – withering, wilting, turning brown and brittle – until it’s no longer beautiful enough to serve the purpose of being admired – then tossed out in the trash along with rotting food, plastic packaging, burned-out light bulbs, coffee grounds and other bits of miscellaneous household rubbish.
The question remains: if I were a flower, what kind of flower would I be?
I certainly wouldn’t be what one might call a pretty flower. I would probably be a much-overlooked flower … one that goes virtually unnoticed, or perhaps a flower that’s considered undesirable. If you were to look closely, you would have to admit that I am indeed a flower, but you’d probably be more comfortable calling me a weed. That way it wouldn’t weigh so heavy on your conscience when you uprooted me and tossed me aside.
If I were a flower my uses would be plentiful. I would be beneficial to both body and soul. I would add beauty to my environment and enrich the soil. If you paid very close attention, you would see my beauty, however fleeting it might be. Then, after reaching maturity, I would share parts of myself with the world, spreading my seed with the wind. But that wouldn’t be the end of me. I would return next year and the year after that, sharing my unique beauty and gifts until my life cycle was complete.
If I were a flower, you would never expect to see me in a florist’s shop. You would never expect to see me displayed upon an admirer’s table. Few would ever pick me for my beauty. If I were picked at all, the motive would probably be to pass the time or to seek a few seconds of novelty rather than to admire me. If you found me growing in your garden, you would probably mistake me as a weed – a useless pest that needed to be destroyed.
If I were a flower, I would be the kind of flower that our great-great grandparents celebrated and found both useful and essential, but whose attributes had been long forgotten in our modern culture where beauty is judged solely on the surface. A century or two ago you would find me being cultivated in both town and country. People would admire me for my humble beauty and for my many other gifts. You would find me being sold at grocer’s markets and at roadside stands. Your great-great grandmother would have known how nourishing I am and would have served me to her family every day throughout the spring and summer months. Your great-great grandfather, if he was one to partake of “spirits”, would have known that I have the ability to intoxicate. Your great-great grandmother would have also known that I have the ability to heal many ailments and she would have used me in both teas and tonics. Children would have used me to make toys – dolls, necklaces, straws and other assorted playthings. The simple, wise folks from days gone by would have seen my full potential and would have been grateful for the gifts I offered.
But if I were a flower, modern man would no longer be aware of my benefits. I would have been replaced with convenience foods that offer little nutrition. I would have been replaced with overpriced, mass-produced wines and the pharmaceutical companies would have replaced me with drugs that are highly questionable at best and highly toxic and dangerous at worst. Children now prefer their toys to require batteries or to sport a character from television or motion pictures, so I would no longer even be able to serve useful as a child’s plaything.
If I were a flower I would be plain and unappreciated by those who believe that the purpose of a flower is to have a strong, pleasing aroma and to add immense beauty to its surroundings. My uses, although plentiful, would have been long forgotten by modern civilization.
If I were a flower my simple yet valuable gifts would be considered insignificant. My usefulness would be unknown. My beauty would be ignored. My demand would be nonexistent. I would have no monetary value whatsoever in modern civilization.
Now that I think about it, I do have a favorite flower. I greatly admire my flower counterpart for its many valuable gifts. I also empathize with her. How lost and forgotten she must feel knowing what a great impact she could make if only she weren’t so invisible and unknown to those she could most benefit. Her constitution doesn’t allow for her to make herself known. She’s not an attention-seeker. She doesn’t glorify with her beauty. She grows in solitude in some of the loneliest places on the face of the earth. She’s quiet, humble and unassuming. Her nature is gentle but her value is great! If she were a beautiful rose people would flock to her, but her humility and gentle nature cause her to go virtually unnoticed.
If I were a flower, I would be a dandelion.