I think about Holocaust victims Anne Frank and her family nearly every day.
I don’t totally understand why.
Aside from that I’ve come to understand I am an “HSP” — Highly Sensitive Person. Did you know such a title exists?
Yes, it seems like there is a label and category for every type of person today, but educating myself on how I’m wired has helped me understand myself more. Knowing the reasoning when I was younger would have helped me make sense of the weight of emotions I’ve always wrestled with.
I am a curious person, so the other day I was asking my husband if he ever feels so hopeless and sad by the pain of others.
He furrowed his brow. “Not really”, he replied. “I’m not proud of that, but I don’t think most people feel it like you do.”
I continued, “So you never think of Anne Frank and how she was stuck in that apartment for like 2 years with her family with no privacy, freedom or fresh air only to be ratted out by a neighbor after living in constant fear?”
He exhaled, “Wow. No. I don’t think of that on a daily basis.”
I added, “Then you probably never think about how terrible it must have been on the Titanic, especially for the parents to see their kids suffer.”
These are recurring thoughts for me. I think of past events that have nothing to do with me, but I feel as though they are sewn into me.
I think of those who are currently suffering.
Kids who are being abused.
Moms who are struggling to feed their kids.
It literally hurts my innards. Probably most of all because I can’t fix it all, and I have to make peace that it all exists while I type this in my mom-van at a McDonald’s parking lot using their free wifi while I wait for my daughter to finish her cross country practice.
The imbalanced scales gnaw at my sanity.
I came across the definition of an HSP a couple of years ago and my eyes widened that there exists a psychological label for people like me who feel things so deeply it can pull them down. Seeing my type of brain being defined as different from the norm was validating.
I always sensed I feel the enormity of life more than most people. I guess it was just nice to know that’s okay.
I’ve never had a boyfriend NOT tell me I’m too sensitive. I always tried to change it and blamed myself for letting feelings land too intensely in me and letting thoughts simmer too long.
There is truly never a day that goes by where my thoughts don’t slip away to painful or powerful things in my life, but mostly other people’s lives. People I’ve never even met or who are long gone.
It’s like empathy on cocaine.
I saw a mom pushing her son in a wheelchair the other day and got stuck on that image the whole day and kept thinking about them.
I saw a post on Facebook about a toddler with cancer, and I instantly got overwhelmed knowing someone out there is watching her baby struggle.
I think about injustices a lot. Then I feel them and they change me, even when they are far removed from my circle.
This doesn’t mean I’m moping around with a dark cloud above my head. I’m ironically an extremely positive person who laughs a lot. I make it a point to dig in hard each day and put my best effort forth and plant myself in gratitude and joy.
I have a crass sense of humor and love to joke around. Being highly sensitive doesn’t have to mean being afraid, depressed or sad all the time. But there is a constant riptide of deep emotions that run under the joy, reminding me to be alert and look outward.
Sounds exhausting, right? It can be.
I’ve learned to be honest about what it means to be an HSP and what I can do to make life a little less overwhelming and to give myself grace when it is overwhelming.
My goal is to find balance without numbing the rawness that comes with feeling it all. I’ve found some ways to help me navigate life better, now that I have some clarity about who I am.
Let It All In but Chill out
I try pretty hard to not let things fester inside of me, but changing who I am entirely?
I cannot flip a switch and suddenly be a person who isn’t bothered by issues. I have purposely avoided watching the news to avoid feeling it, and that feels even worse, like I’m not doing my part to be aware.
So I accept who I am: An HSP whose senses are heightened for whatever reason.
Does this make me a superhero? No. Does this make me a pain in the ass? Sort of.
I can be “a lot.” I know this. But the same wiring that makes me be a lot to take is the same wiring that makes me love fiercely and generously and to look out not just for my people, but for yours also.
I no longer try to change who I am, but like anyone who is interested in living their best life, I challenge myself daily to chill out a little and not hide behind a label. I don’t go around saying, “Well, I’m an HSP” and make any excuses for when I treat others unfairly.
I try to take a deep breath, relax and take it down a notch. And I often fail because there’s no denying the hypersensitive wiring in me that puts my nerves and reactions so close to igniting at the surface.
Yes, there’s a lot to feel, but those waves don’t have to knock me over.
Know Your Triggers
The word “trigger” seems to be everywhere now, but it’s good to know what gets in your brain and stirs things up. For an HSP, I’m finding unexpected things festering and planting roots in me that I’d rather forget about.
My husband and I were watching the show “Ozark” and in one of the scenes, a man had a gun to actor Jason Bateman’s head. Jason’s character said, “Wait. Please let me say goodbye to my kids first.”
I started sobbing and shaking and told my husband, “Turn it off right now! I can’t do this!”
Even as I type this, I’m tearing up.
Fictional shows make my stomach turn if they’re too harsh and touch on my fears. That scene triggered my biggest fear of me dying early and having to leave my kids. Then I go down the rabbit hole of feeling empathy for anyone who actually has lost a child or a parent at a young age.
A night of snuggling up on the couch can easily turn into me staying awake for hours feeling helpless if I’m not careful, so it takes some planning.
Noise Can be Too Much
As I read more about what an HSP is, it became a relief that I wasn’t just odd, as I assumed.
Noises can drive me out of my mind.
Someone clicking their pen over and over and over in a meeting?
Forget it. I can’t.
Someone chewing with their mouth open? I hear it a mile away and clench my jaw in discomfort.
These aren’t huge obstacles for me to overcome, but it helps to have the knowledge behind why they bother me and make peace with how I’m wired.
I liken it to a microphone being turned up. It’s going to pick up a lot of sound and spit out feedback when it’s too much.
I breathe a little easier when I know why I’m reacting a certain way, and I can tell myself to roll with it.
If I’m in the car and the radio is on, my son is in the front seat with me talking and my daughter is in the backseat with a friend laughing and I’m trying to look for a street sign, I start to feel so overwhelmed at how much is going on that I have to ask everyone to please stop for a minute to let me brain find its way again.
It’s safe to say most people can feel bombarded by sounds, but I find my bar to be much lower.
If the television is too loud, my eyes start to blink rapidly. I love a good party, but if it gets too loud, I need to find a quiet room and escape because the noise makes me almost nauseous.
Again, had I understood this about myself years ago, I could have avoided a lot of situations that caused discomfort. I could have been honest about who I am instead of trying to convince myself to be like everyone else.
You Might Never Be Loved the Way You Wish to be
This one is a doozy.
Since I live in bright colors and heightened emotions, I assume everyone operates from this hyper platform.
While I’ve come to embrace who I genuinely am, I also know how important it is to embrace who others genuinely are. Just because they’re not gushing over me with love and crying from emotion, it doesn’t mean I’m not loved or that they are unloving jerkwads.
It means I am loved in the way they love, and they don’t have the same circuitry that I have.
I can’t force my brain on others in the same way they can’t force theirs on me.
I’ve landed in disagreements with every man I’ve dated with me wondering why they aren’t more expressive, emotive or joyful about me and life in general. My humble experiences have taught me the one constant in these arguments is me and how I have put the bar so high it’s impossible for most people to reach.
Maybe this sounds like I’m talking myself into settling for less, but it’s different from that. It’s me knowing who I am and stopping myself from making a selfish assumption that everyone should be just like me.
Just because I’m more expressive than the average person doesn’t mean I’ll tamp it down to fit in. It does mean I can remind myself to not discount every gesture of emotion and love from others because it’s not as deep or colorful as I think they should be.
That’s not fair and does nothing but intimidates people from trying.
Look, I’m no expert. I am just a middle-aged woman who is relieved to know how I was designed is nothing to try to figure out, change or run from.
Maybe letting it all in is pointing me towards not just feeling but towards doing, even when the action feels small. By learning about my personality type, it’s helped me embrace that action often soothes the unrest in my brain.
Instead of getting stuck on how much pain is out there, I’ve narrowed my focus to start helping a few, one at a time.
By sponsoring a child in another country.
By mentoring a troubled teen in my town.
By finding ways here and there to show people I see them.
Focusing on the light I can bring because of the darkness I sense is the strength of an HSP.
Society is zoning out too much to be affected. We’re binge-watching and scrolling on screens while real people need our attention, even though it’s harder than tuning out.
The HSP is the one who can rally others who aren’t tuned in and point out where help is needed.
We are the ones who have the radar to sense.
And, yes, we’re the ones who will annoy you when we tell you to close your mouth when you chew and turn down the television. It’s all part of it.
Knowing that there’s a category of personality that matches who I am somehow validates me. I don’t use it as an excuse, but when I have knowledge and understanding of things, I feel less controlled by them.
I know not to watch violent movies because they’ll stay in my head too long and cause deep sadness.
I know to let the real-life tragedies in because I am just the person who should be listening and not plugging her ears.
I know every time I drop my kids off at school, I will think of all the parents who have lost their kids in school shootings. As I watch them walk into the building, I can feel a slice of other parents’ sadness, even though I have no exposure or insight into it. Every single time I am flooded with sadness and deep gratitude at the same time.
Housing an HSP brain is a tug-of-war between sadness, joy, and everything in between. Every day brings surprising depths I don’t fully understand, but I’m beginning to.
It’s a lot.
But the day it becomes easy is the day I know I’m not awake.