I want to be clear – I love highly sensitive people. I am one…so of course I love them. And I think we have a lot to offer this crazy-goofy-highly-stimulating-action-addicted world. We see our surroundings a little differently, and our slice of reality is valid. Every time we share our experience of the world, we take Brene Brown’s challenge of daring greatly...and being vulnerable. Every time we push back on the assumption that success must always look loud and flashy, we take Andy Mort up on his invitation to become gentle rebels – often influencing our world in positive ways.
All that stuff is true.
But let’s be real, here. We also have the capacity to be a collective pain in the a$$. While it is important to have a language around our sensitive trait to communicate our needs with others…We need to be careful not to confuse a healthy understanding of our limitations and needs with an excuse to back out of life’s challenges.
Below are a few things that we HSP would be well served to look out for in ourselves and in our fellow sensitive brethren.
- Excuse #1: I just can’t deal with this fight right now… This is a popular line that sensitive people give when conflict arises. Highly sensitive people really don’t like conflict. It sets off all sorts of alarm bells. No one likes to feel angry or sad or frustrated. And no one likes it when another person comes up and says “hey! You messed up back there!” It doesn’t feel good. When you’re highly sensitive…it feels physically PAINFUL. But running away every time serves no one. Of course, I’m not talking about those moments where, in the thick of an argument, you feel overwhelmed and say to your partner/friend/family member “I’m sorry…I’m just feeling a little overloaded. Give me a moment or two to soak this in.” Or “I really want to work through this, but I need to get outside to get some air.” That stuff is just plain old fashioned effective communication. No – I’m talking about when you flat-out AVOID a conflict because it’s uncomfortable. You don’t voice your grievances because it’s icky. Or when someone comes to you with a grievance, you skirt away and say “this is too much!” Okay guys…we might be highly sensitive, but we aren’t children. Put your big boy/girl panties on and face the music. Running away only builds resentment for everyone.
- Excuse #2: I’m Unhappy…But Changing it Would be Too Hard: Because we sensitive folks can get overstimulated relatively easily, making a life change feels particularly difficult. For example, let’s say you hate your job, but the only way to advance or move into a different career is to go back to school. But you also have to eat every day. So for a while, you not only would have to keep your job, but you would ALSO have to go to school at nights. No way! Too hard! At least that is the narrative we tell ourselves. I’ve got news for you – a victim narrative helps no one. Not you. Not the people you complain to. Nobody. What you can do is take things a little more slowly. You don’t have to go to school full time. Maybe you just take one class at a time and move at a different pace. Maybe you break down your job applications to only doing one each week. Whatever works for you. But do something. If you’re unhappy, the only person who has the power to change it is you.
- Excuse # 3: The reason I’m tired and Exhausted is Because Everyone Simply Demands Too Much From Me. Why Can’t They Give Me a Break? Ahhhh yes. The martyr. Everyone loves a martyr. Highly Sensitive People tend to be pretty good at figuring out what people around them want/need. I make no claim to being a mind reader. I just pay attention to subtle cues and nuances that others might possibly miss. I notice when you put your frowny-face on. I notice your sigh and the arch of the eyebrows. I really don’t like disappointing people. So I do what I can to ease your discomfort…often at the expense of my own. After doing that enough, I find myself exhausted. Whose fault is that? MINE. Why? Because I didn’t communicate my needs. Many HSP I know have a tendency to take on too much. At some point, they either build resentment for the expectations laid upon them OR, they keep up the charade until their system crashes…at which point we have to say “I’m so sorry to cancel at the last minute…but I’m kinda having a nervous breakdown…” Whose fault is this when it happens? It’s mine. I didn’t create the time and space my system needed for optimal functioning. I didn’t say no when I needed to. Stop blaming other people for their expectations of you and start being clear about what your expectations are for yourself.
- Excuse #4: Networking? Socializing? That’s Dumb. Those Extroverted Non-Sensitives Are Superficial. They Are Beneath Me. It’s bizarre how often I have heard this. As if extroverted people had a lower IQ or something. I have friends who are HSP, and friends who don’t identify as being an HSP. Some of my friends are introverts. Others are social butterflies. They are all intelligent people. They all have wonderful things to offer. It’s great to gently challenge our culture and those around us to see the world as we might see it. We can bring a new perspective to a loud and flashy space. BUT – we are JUST as well served learning from others not like ourselves. In watching my extroverted friends, I see that they aren’t superficial people. They just know how to softly initiate a conversation. Not everyone wants us to go straight into the vulnerable places of his/her soul. Some folks want to be warmed up a little. Does it really kill you to ask a few questions about the weather? If it does – I’m sorry but…wow.
- Excuse #5: That Job/Task is Beneath Me – I Don’t Find Meaning In It: HSP tend to be particularly ill-served working in jobs that they don’t feel connected to. Given that it constitutes 40 hours of a week, it makes sense that a person who think deeply about most things would feel particularly burned out by rote work. But my dear friend…be careful. If you are turning down good work and a steady paycheck just because you want to wait for that “perfect job” that exists in some fantasy place of unicorns and lolly-pop trees…you’ll be sitting on the couch indefinitely. No job is perfect. All experience teaches us something. Absolutely keep looking for a way to integrate your passion and work together in a way that feeds you. But doing that takes time. While you wait, get off your butt. Food costs money, and you need to eat every day. Your stomach doesn’t much care about your highly sensitive sensibilities around a paycheck.
As I said earlier…I LOVE my fellow HSP. Most of them are hard workers who do their best to navigate in a world that isn’t exactly built for them. But I can’t help but notice that we all, sometimes, have a tendency to back out of life when we really are better served stepping up. We all need to be careful to discern between times when we actually need to slow down and give ourselves a break…and those times when we are simply using our composition as an excuse to back away from an opportunity for real growth.