HSP Struggles with Perfectionism

I’m having a hard time maintaining this blog because my head keeps struggling ahead of my heart.

Just write who I am and say what I need to say. Share who I am as a highly sensitive person and don’t worry about all the mechanics and structure and technological housekeeping.

But then the other part of me (the perfectionism speaking) says I have to get it right. I have to have a schedule for my blog posts I have to keep up with the things that I originally planned to do.

I’ve made the mistake of reading articles about what it means to be a successful introverted blogger and how to create a successful blog.

For so much of my life – and even now sometimes – I felt alone about the way I absorbed and processed and looked at life.

And I hope to make that same difference and bring that same hope to others … to anyone who might happen upon this blog for introverts and HSPs.

No Restaurants? No Problem!

It’s taken me a while to figure this out, but I don’t like eating out.

Just as it has taken a while to realize this, it has also taken time to determine why I don’t like eating out at restaurants. 

The realization came to me when a friend casually mentioned a restaurant that was still open, but wasn’t advertising that fact. 

Kind of a clandestine, word-of-mouth situation. If people knew the right people, they could find out where to go if they wanted to eat out and sit in an actual restaurant to dine.

I found myself suddenly worried that my partner would ask if I wanted to eat out. When that realization dawned in my conscious mind, as an HSP who deeply ponders pretty much every conscious thought that rises, I wondered where it had come from.

Why was I suddenly hesitant at the thought of eating out? After all, I’d dined at restaurants plenty of times in the past. 

But it occurred to me that COVID-19 and the resultant inability to eat in restaurants has actually felt like a relief to me.

If you consider yourself a highly sensitive person, maybe the lack of options to eat out has felt the same for you.

When reflecting on it, I came up with three reasons as to why I’m content without the chance to eat out at restaurants.

I feel uncomfortable having people wait on me

Naturally, it’s the job of serving staff at a restaurant to wait on patrons. That’s why they have traditionally been called waiters and waitresses.

But it has always made me feel a little bit uncomfortable having a person wait on me. Having a person serve me.

It just never felt right. At home, if I want something, I’ll get up and get it myself. A glass of water or more ice tea. Having another person serving me just goes against my HSP grain … I’m still not sure why.

I don’t feel comfortable eating in public

Honestly, I have no idea if this is an HSP thing or not, but I don’t like eating in public.

This could have something to do with a job I had as a teenager that involved me being dressed up in outlandish clothes and makeup. 

Whenever I went for lunch break in the mall where I worked, I would get stares … lots of them. I hated it and usually ended up not eating at all because I couldn’t handle the attention.

Even though it’s been years since I held that job, I still sometimes feel like, as soon as I sit down to eat, people are watching me.

I don’t like making orders

Whether it is standing at the counter at a fast-food eatery, or ordering from a menu at a casual sit-down diner, this is my least favorite part of eating out.

Especially when I need to order for a group, such as my family. And for some reason, it always feels like I’m the one expected to gather and take the order for the group I’m with. 

Every person’s indecision or every extra minute they take to decide what to eat weighs on me. I feel like I’m holding up the line (and sometimes I am, when at an ordering counter) and can feel the glares of everyone behind me … whether or not they really are glaring.

More often than not, I feel like I make a mistake with the order. This might not actually happen, but it feels that way. 

The stress of making a food order is something I would rather do without … and I don’t have to worry about it when the restaurants are closed due to COVID-19.

I don’t like spending money when I can save it

I consider myself an okay cook … a pretty good one, in fact.

I’m no chef, but I can fix a variety of passable dishes … from lasagna to spaghetti (with homemade sauce and hand-rolled meatballs), from chicken and coconut curry to chicken pot pie with homemade crust. 

Like anyone, I enjoy indulging on the occasional burger and fries (ahem … and milkshake), but when I eat at a sit-down restaurant and end up with a huge bill, I can’t help but thinking to myself, “I could have made this at home for a fraction of the cost.”

This likely has to do with my background and upbringing … when we ate out so seldom that visiting my aunt and uncle in another town was the best news ever because it meant I would get a trip to Wendy’s or McDonald’s. 

To this day, eating out in my perspective remains something to do on a special occasion. Restaurant eating too often wastes both the pocketbook and the taste buds.

NO RESTAURANTS? NO PROBLEM!

Now, if COVID-19 ended tomorrow and all the restaurants opened again, I would probably eat out. I might even enjoy it … for the most part. 

But I do appreciate this time — this distance, if I could call it that — as an opportunity to gain some clarity about this difficulty I have with eating out, and the reasons why.

I think it will help in the future when someone says, “Hey, let’s eat out,” and I feel that immediate hesitation. It’s not that I’ll turn down the offer … but I might find a table in the corner and insist that someone else make the order. 

Church, Coronavirus, and the Comfort Level of an HSP

On Sunday, I went back to church for the first time since early March. My husband had been attending for several weeks now, along with whichever of our kids wanted to go. I stayed back with whoever did not want to go.

In truth, I did not want to go to church.

Maybe it’s because I’m a highly sensitive person, but the idea of gathering together again, wearing a face mask for safety and the comfort level of other attendees, practice social distancing all the while, feels to me like an exercise in futility. After all, the messages have been made available on social media and we have been watching regularly as a family.

It actually turned into a fun Sunday tradition: watching the Sunday School message at 10:00 am, making a special brunch at 10:30, and eating while tuning into the 11:00 message.

In all honesty, the last few months have been totally my “worship style.”

As an HSP, tuning into inspirational podcasts at my leisure while working out or tidying up, listening to contemporary Christian bands on YouTube when organizing, and watching sermons online are simply easier for me.

I find it more natural to connect with God and to receive from the song or the message or the text when I can focus on it completely. And I can more completely focus when I am not surrounded by people.

At church, I automatically tune into people’s actions or reactions … or the noises they’re making … or their interactions with others. Or I tune more into my children and trying to make sure they’re not disturbing anyone.

These months of staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic have been challenging for many; they have been challenging for me, too. But church from home has been a blessing in disguise.

Obligation and Depth of Processing Information

Then, our church started gathering again: face masks and social distancing in place, but still there at church. And although I skipped a few times, I have simultaneously felt obligated to attend because of my family.

And at the same time, I have felt guilty because attending church feels like an obligation rather than a joy. What is wrong with me? I wondered.

As a highly sensitive person, I have a different makeup … different ways of processing information. I get overwhelmed easily, and even a small church can cause those overwhelming feelings. I can’t deal with crowds. Feel anxiety rising if I don’t immediately see a place for myself and my family to sit. Hate walking through what I have dubbed “the gauntlet” — a group of people standing around outside waiting to “greet” people as they walk into church.

The Power of Introverts, The Tension of Introverts

Not long ago, I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking , where she discusses this very problem. The book provides amazing insight and helped me understand myself as an introvert far better than ever before.

It also helped me feel a little less guilty about my ambivalence regarding going to church as an HSP with a strong depth of processing. Of course, that’s not what the whole book is about; she only discusses churchgoing and evangelicals briefly, but that part had stood out to me because it spoke to that part of me that has always struggled on Sunday mornings. One quote states:

“Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.”

Now, I support the idea that fellowship and gathering with other people of the same faith can be a positive experience. (I also believe that respectfully connecting and gathering with people who have very different beliefs and walk different paths is a hugely important aspect of growth and empathy … but that’s for another post.)

The Inner Tension of Church Attendance

But what I mean by the above comment about attending church seeming like an exercise in futility is that in some ways, for some people or groups of people, the idea of attending church during COVID-19 has become yet another politically-charged event. It has turned into a “freedom” cry … and the kind of freedom being cried out does not feel much like the message Jesus gave when he walked the earth.

Of course, that’s getting into a whole ‘nother topic … and I don’t really want to go there. What I do want to do is get to the heart of this tension within myself – my desire to go along with my family and simply enjoy gathering together with others at church, against the all-too-frequent reality that I don’t usually enjoy it.

I get so much more out of a Bible passage or message I listen to on headphones from my phone while I’m out walking our two dogs.

And I don’t think I’ll figure this out any time soon. In the meantime, I will get up and get dressed and smile and greet others; I will chat and those who see me doing so will never guess how much of a struggle it is, as a highly sensitive person, to do this week after week.

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

Maybe there’s a special blessing in store for HSPs who make that extra effort to gather with people.

Maybe it is nothing more than an exercise in futility.

I hope that, if nothing else, I am providing for my children a place where they learn to call home and feel comfortable with people they know and love … which is the main reason I return to church week after week.

I did not have that “place of belonging” when I was growing up … and I feel that it is far better to feel a place of belonging, even though it comes with awkwardness and discomfort, than to have no such place.

Chronic Pain, Bane or Blessing?

Although I don’t like to talk about my chronic pain much, I recently mentioned it to my uncle, as I had to decline on yet another offer of his to join him in hiking around the Rocky Mountains. He takes these trips regularly and it’s a wonder that he is so fit for being nearly 70 years old.

I love hiking and nature and felt bad for turning him down yet again. I told him as much when he offered last week. He mentioned that when he was about my age, roughly 30 years ago, he was dealing with similar pain and was desperate for some kind of fix.

Pain and Painkillers

Like me, he was not is not a proponent of painkillers. I will take painkillers if I need to. I’m not going to suffer in agony just for the sake of personal pride; at the same time, I will not pop a pill at the first sign of pain. I prefer to understand where the pain is coming from and what natural things I might do to get rid of it.

For instance, headaches in my life are often a simple result of not enough sleep. With a good night’s sleep, I’m usually feeling much better. Then I don’t have to take a pill at all.

With this chronic pain I’ve been facing, I felt similarly. Back pain can be quite intense, but I knew there was a core reason for it, and I didn’t want to harm my body further by taking a pill to dull the pain and then damaging myself because I couldn’t feel it.

My uncle told me that his pain got so bad, he finally went to the chiropractor. Previously, he did not have much confidence in chiropractors and avoided them completely, but at this point, he didn’t have a choice.

I suppose he went to a good one because his back problems rectified. The chiropractor also gave him a set of exercises to do, which he practices religiously to this day. I believe those exercises are the main reason he has not dealt with severe back pain since that time. He said as much to me when we chatted over the phone and recommended that I find a good set of exercises and stick to them.

HSPs and Running on Inspiration

I find it a challenge to stick to pretty much anything. I know that running on inspiration can be good but it can also have its drawbacks.

I have grown accustomed to the drawbacks but I still for the most part run on inspiration. In other words, I stick with something for a week or two or maybe even 40 days, but at some point, the interest wanes and I generally find myself neglecting whatever it is I have chosen to do.

I do not know if this is common to highly sensitive people or if it is simply a weak area of mine. If it is common to highly sensitive people – running on inspiration that is – it is likely because of the fact that we put our whole minds and hearts into the things that we do and into the relationships that we carry. As such, there are only so many things we can maintain inspiration for. Beyond that, we tend to lose our focus and inspiration. And yet another aspiration falls to the ground.

But I know my uncle is right in his recommendation and I have indeed begun a series of stretches and back exercises that are gentle enough to not cause too much pain. I believe it might work to ease the pain and hopefully also strengthen my back.

Who knows? Perhaps 30 years from now, I will be contacting a younger niece nephew or niece and inviting them to scale mountains at the age of 70.

The Importance of Pain

No one likes feeling pain but I believe that we often neglect to realize just how important pain can be. Without this chronic pain, I would let another five or ten years go by in which I do not strength in my own body through regular exercise and stretches, which some people might not need, but which my body clearly does need.

The body that houses us does not have a voice, and thus it speaks to us, and quite possibly the most common medium uses to indicate danger is pain. It would do us good to stop and listen rather than to ignore it and continue on with what we are doing or mask the pain with painkillers that might control the symptoms and sensations, but not the cause.

The problem of pain is a problem, to be sure, but it is also a blessing.

I might have mentioned a book I read in a previous post by Philip Yancey and Paul Brand, Where Is God When It Hurts? about pain and its importance. Without pain, one does not feel and may end up with serious problems that they might have avoided completely if they had felt the pain of a broken finger or a bruised heel.

This is the essence of the disease of leprosy. Although someone might wish to not feel pain and think of it as a gift to have deadened senses, that is what the disease of leprosy is; not feeling pain can cause far more damage then one might imagine and even lead to fatalities, as does eventually happen with the disease of leprosy.

In Closing

Few people today if any, seek out pain. And those who do seek out physical pain are likely masking another type of pain, emotional or spiritual or mental. (That is a topic for another post.)

But although we do not seek it out, do not need to always run from it. We might learn, if we are open, the blessing of pain and not always consider it a bane.