An Introvert in Disguise

Even though you are an introvert, you are undoubtedly capable of acting in the world in an extroverted way when you need to. But if it goes on for an extended period of time, you will probably be tired afterwards.

Ilse Sand in On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person

Did I ever tell you about the time I tried to teach elementary school?

Actually, that season lasted a lot longer than it should have because another thing introverts are good at is saying yes when they really want to say no.

(I guess another way of saying that is introverts are bad at saying no.)

So there I was, teaching third graders.

I have a theory about children below the age of 10 and that is, the more of them that you have together, their volume is increased exponentially. It’s not one plus one plus one equals three.

The energy and volume of children increase exponentially, especially when they’re involved in doing something I’m not so good at, such as crafts or art projects.

They all seem to want to talk at the same time and none of them seem to have been taught the concept of “inside voice”.

Okay, I know that’s not really the case, and those kids were each wonderful in their own way.

Some of them, I could tell, were introverted or even highly sensitive people because of the way they interacted with others. They observed rather than joining in wholeheartedly to the noise and clamor of an elementary school classroom.

It wasn’t all noise and insanity (and I’m pretty sure the kids actually did learn), but some days it felt like nothing but noise and insanity due to my highly sensitive processing.

And while I was a teacher’s aide most of the time, there was a season (due to the main teacher’s health) that I had to step in full-time.

Although I could play the “extrovert” roll, when I got home each day, I was exhausted.

I was also angry with myself for feeling so exhausted and overwhelmed, and stressed at everything else I encountered because it was just too much on top of those hours I spent teaching and feeling overwhelmed by so many children.

I got sick, actually the sickest I’d ever been, because of the stress.

And while it’s hard for me to say no because it’s been grilled in me from a young age to embrace every opportunity that comes my way, even if it’s a poor fit, I learned that I had to protect myself from pretending to be an extrovert over the long-term.

It was harming me physically and hurting my relationships with those closest to me.

Are you an introvert?

A highly sensitive person?

Are you working at a job that completely exhausts you because it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole or a round peg into a square hole?

This isn’t the type of tiredness that comes from a long day of good work, but the exhaustion of trying to fit where you really don’t.

If you find yourself more stressed and anxious on a regular basis than you know you should be, maybe it’s time to look at your lifestyle or your type of work and see if there isn’t some better approach that fits better for your personality type.

Ilse Sand, whom I quoted above, in her book On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person, mentioned working as a pastor of a parish. There were expectations for her to do things that the previous pastor (who had been an obvious extrovert) had done.

It was only after realizing and finding grace with herself for being an introvert that she was able to then find a workplace and work style that fit her far better.

Often, in this culture, we are all expected to be extroverted and put on our best face and be highly interactive and eager about all of it …

But that’s not the best fit for all of us, especially those of us who would define ourselves as introverted and highly sensitive.

I think sometimes the best thing we can do is find grace with ourselves and accept ourselves (and each other) for who we are and then find a way of living and operating that fits our personalities.

On Personality Types and Accepting Each Other

When you divide people into types, it is important to remember that nobody fits 100% into the description of a particular type. Every human being is far more than his or her type, and every human being is capable of developing over the course of a lifetime.

With that said, it can be helpful to find and come to know your own type and understand yourself and other people better. When you read about other types that are different from you, you realize how many different ways there are to exist in the world. You become aware that, when other people react differently than you would have, it need not be because there is something wrong with that person or yourself. Both of you are okay as you are, but you belong to different types.

Ilse Sand in On Being An Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person

My first thought on reading the above paragraphs, which come at the beginning of the first chapter of Sand’s book, is that only a highly sensitive person could have written it.

Much of my life, I have been surrounded by people who are not highly sensitive, to say the least …

And their approach to life has often been “My way or the highway.”

As such, it has been difficult for me to navigate life, to figure out who I am, and to realize that there really isn’t something foundationally wrong with me for being both introverted and highly sensitive.

For much of my life, my shyness and introversion were seen by some of those closest to me as standoffishness, arrogance, and a lack of affection and concern toward people.

My sensitivity was seen as … well, sensitivity, but that was considered a very negative thing and I had to try as much as possible to suppress it or hide it or ignore it.

I often had to push past it and show myself as a “stronger” and less sensitive person.

This is why learning that there was such a thing as introversion (and even more, a type of people considered highly sensitive) has been so important to me.

That’s why I created this website …

So that I could continue to explore as well as help to normalize what it means to be highly sensitive, especially in the aggressive and insensitive world we live in.

But I do also recognize and wholeheartedly agree with Sand’s comment in her book, On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person, that “every human being is far more than his or her type” and that each individual is also “capable of developing over the course of a lifetime.”

There was a time in my mid-twenties when I was more of an ambivert than the introvert I am today; I enjoyed meeting new people and even going to the occasional party far more than I do today.

While part of it might have been because these kinds of interests were expected of me as a “normal” young adult, part of it was me … the person I was at that point in time.

(It could have been due to the fact that I had two small children and just needed to get out of the house, so I didn’t mind going out even if it meant meeting new people and doing things I was not familiar with.)

But today, I am a different person.

Or … I am the same person but I appreciate different things than I did at that time.

Today, the idea of going out dancing would be at the very bottom of the list of things I would like to do. And while I’ve enjoyed a few concerts in the past decade, I think I would just end up with a really bad headache.

I’d prefer to listen to some music on my headphones while doing a project at home.

I also so much appreciate the paragraphs above by Sand, because learning about other types of people and realizing how many different ways there are to exist in the world is something that I think we all need more of.

I recently wrote a short post about politics and people being expected to fall into the polar opposites of Republican or Democrat.

This is another place where there are so many more different ways to exist in the world than a single political party.

The fact that so many people are aligning so deeply with one party or the other to the neglect of every other interest and way of being is dangerous and disconcerting to me.

In closing, there are so many different ways of being in the world and I think we could all use a little more understanding of each other and our different ways of thinking, processing, learning, and doing.

When I interact with people, especially new people in new settings, I need time to process that.

Even when I go about just my normal daily routine, I need time in the middle of the day to rest in order to let my mind go blank for a few minutes, to recalibrate so that I can then be refreshed for the second half of the day.

That is just one way my high sensitivity manifests itself and I appreciate those who understand this about me and do not expect me to go full steam ahead all day long.

At the same time, I understand that there are people who operate and do life differently. They might go full steam ahead all week long, pulling 10 or 12 or 14-hour days, but at the end of the week, they need the whole weekend to recover and do nothing.

Other people might have entire seasons of busyness because they process information and work differently.

I admit, those kinds of people are people stronger — physically and probably even mentally and emotionally — than me.

If my being a highly sensitive person makes me a “weaker vessel,” I will accept that and live with it.

But I do have different strengths, emotionally, spiritually, and sensitively.

We all need each other, and the way our strengths and weaknesses can be used to uphold and accept one another can truly be a beautiful thing if we learn how to make it happen.

This is what it means to understand different types and accept them and love them.

Republican or Democrat? No, a Poet.

In her new book, Bittersweet, bestselling author and speaking Susan Cain narrates a story that took place during the civil war that left Sarajevo a shell of its former beauty.

A journalist/correspondent watches as close to 50,000 displaced people emerge from a forest after escaping an attack.

The correspondent asks an elderly man if he is a Muslim or a Croat.

“I am a musician,” the man responds.

I have written little during these days of extreme political polarity, little because so many are writing so much about it, little because I can do so little about it.

At least, that is how I often feel.

But is it true?

The journalist who asked the question was haunted by the man’s response years afterward. Haunted and humbled.

“I am a musician.”

And me? I am no musician, but I am a thinker. I am a poet. I am a highly sensitive person.

I grieve at the polarity and the tension, the anger that runs hot and the lack of true dialog and discourse and understanding between one side and the other.

How quickly anger and disrespect can turn to violence.

Is this what we are waiting for?

Is this what we want?

I believe that some people think so, but these must be those who do not truly think it through, just how much damage can be done in such a short amount of time.

And how such damage is, in most cases, irrevocable.

It cannot be undone.

Am I a Republican or a Democrat?

No, I am not.

And I feel that we have done and are doing a great disservice to a nation and to its peoples and to the deep and nuanced issues we face as its people by thinking that we can so easily cut any one matter into just two sides …

And assume that a person must stand so easily on one side or the other.

And assume that if a person feels strongly about one thing that is considered a Republican value, then they must feel the same about every single thing that is pushed forward by the Republican agenda …

And the same for the Democrats.

How simplistic and shallow we must be if we think that everything cuts so cleanly, so surgically, and falls so easily to one side or the other.

What if, instead, we chose different words in our dialog?

Claimed different words for ourselves and our beliefs?

Are you a Republican or a Democrat?

I am a musician. I am a poet. I am a highly sensitive person.

I am a teacher. I am a lover. I am a parent.

I am a human, a feeler, a thinker, a believer.

Are you not as well?

Why I’m Writing about Anxiety

I recently posted about helping a loved one through a time of serious anxiety and depression.

A time that took me a way down that same road of anxiety, though not to the same degree.

And though my loved one is doing a lot better, I feel compelled to write about it, and to write about ways to reduce anxiety in a series of posts.

Why?

Because I know he’s not the only one going through these things.

A few days ago, I talked to a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. Her husband and teenage son both had Covid several months earlier, and she began telling me about the problems her son has been having …

Serious depression, the inability to focus on classes, hopelessness, anxiety.

I shared with her about the difficulties my loved one had in the months after “recovering” from Covid, that although he didn’t have official long Covid — no physical symptoms — his emotions and mental state were a wreck and he couldn’t function.

And then, just yesterday, I ran into an acquaintance whose husband had been in the hospital with a serious bout of Covid.

Although it’s been nearly a year since his “recovery” — he hasn’t returned to work. The woman told me she might have to reenter the workforce in order to support their family … because her husband is just not in a state where he can.

While you read this, you might have dealt with Covid, and perhaps you know others who have as well …

And maybe none of them have suffered post-Covid difficulties such as anxiety or depression.

But I think these after-effects of anxiety and depression are more common than some of us realize …

And than some of us may care to talk about aloud.

One post I read when researching the issue makes this statement:

Anxiety is considered one of the longer-term symptoms of Post-COVID syndrome (PCS), aka Long-COVID — a recently identified diagnosis.

Research shows that between 23% and 26% of people have mental health challenges (including anxiety) after recovering from the disease, particularly females.

Some studies place that figure higher, hovering closer to the 50% mark.

Psych Central

I spoke with two guys, months back, who both admitted to going through a weird (albeit brief) stretch of depression and anxiety just after getting hit with Covid.

So, it is happening, even if the reasons behind it are not yet known or understood.

And if you’ve been able to get by so far without coming down with Covid, please try to stay safe. Please take precautions.

This is not a political thing. It is a sickness that is affecting people the world over, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity, religion, or anything else.

And many people are dealing with long-term side effects that are not only physical.

If you or someone you love is suffering in some way, I can’t stress enough the importance of self-care — whatever that means for you and them.

Sometimes it means meditation, and sometimes other mindfulness practices. Sometimes it means just finding a good distraction, and other times it means getting more rest or getting some exercise or spending time in nature.

Do what you need to find healing and regain your health.

And know that you’re not alone.

Sometimes it just helps to know that you’re not the only one going through it …

That it’s not “just” you.

It’s not.

So hang in there. Don’t give up.

There is hope and there is healing. When my loved one was in the middle of his struggles with anxiety and depression, like I mentioned in my last post, I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Even after he was pulling out of it, I worried that something would bring him right back down.

I still worry about it sometimes.

But today, he’s okay. Today, there is peace.

And I hope that, today, you find your space of peace as well.

Finding Peace in an Unexpected Storm

Is this the eye of the storm?

A brief respite before all hell seems to break loose once more?

I have no way of knowing, but at least there’s peace for the moment.

This storm came unexpectedly, although with all the uncertainty around, I might have expected it.

I might have realized that I would be one of those engulfed in the waves of uncertainty. But I held my breath and I thought that perhaps it would pass me by.

It didn’t.

I place a high value on peace, perhaps too much value.

I can’t help it. With a very unsettling and uncertain childhood, peace was hard to come by and so I search it out these days.

And if I cannot find peace, life grows hard for me as a highly sensitive person, perhaps more than most.

I have a hard time finding ways to deal with the lack of peace.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here is how this storm happened.

The year 2020 was a challenge for everyone, and a lot of people had it far worse than I.

I faced job loss and a resultant change in finances, yet I and those I love escaped from the immediate health concerns that so many others dealt with.

Perhaps I took it for granted.

I know I took it for granted.

Assumed my age or my position in life or my faith or something would have brought me and all those I know through unscathed.

The next year, 2021, passed much the same way. A hit in finances due to another job loss, but otherwise, we were okay.

Then in the first month of 2022, it hit.

Covid.

I was pretty sick for several days and the brain fog, the exhaustion, lasted longer.

But I expected that.

What I did not expect was for one of my close loved ones to end up with a strange form of long covid that affected not only his body but his mind.

He was hit with anxiety and depression

The worst stretches are something out of a shadow dream.

He could focus on nothing but the fears in his mind, the anxiety that welled up so strongly that when he wasn’t overwhelmed by it, he was overwhelmed by sadness.

During some stretches, all he could say was I’m scared and I’m sad.

Other times, he would enumerate the fears, the thoughts that overwhelmed him more clearly, and I tried so hard to reason with him but reasoning didn’t help.

And then I was the one who was scared and sad …

Because what do you do when someone you love so much has lost their center and has nothing to hold on to?

When they are the ones drowning in a raging sea, seeking the eye of the storm and unable to find even the smallest break in the wind in the rain?

I confess that some days I envisioned myself dealing with it forever …

A lifetime of helping this loved one through the struggle.

I saw the wisdom of the advice to take it one day at a time because anything else could be a reason to lose hope.

In fact, it was that very fear of the future that was making my loved one lose hope and be so overwhelmed with anxiety.

Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Facing Anxiety or Helping Someone with It?

Maybe you are the one with anxiety …

Or maybe you’re the one safe place for the person struggling with it and finding yourself overwhelmed with their difficulties.

What is your safe place?

Now before I talk about some of the things that helped me while I was in the middle of the storm, things that might help you find your peace or balance, let me iterate that I am not a doctor or a scientist.

I’ve never studied the brain or the synapses between the mind and the parts of the body.

I do not know what makes some things overfire and flare up and cause such grief and anxiety.

I don’t know why something like Covid could cause someone to somehow flip a switch in their mind and make it so difficult for them to be able to process or move out of fear or hopelessness.

I wish I knew where those invisible links are between mind and body and spirit or soul, how the connections work and how to strengthen them when they are weak …

How to speak hope into someone’s very soul when they are finding it hard to cling to anything but sorrow.

What I’m trying to say is, I really hope some of these things work for you. Above all, I really hope that you do find hope, peace, and the ability to focus on something other than the anxiety that threatens to overwhelm you.

Here are some ways to find peace in the midst of a storm:

  • Mindfulness
  • Exercise
  • Time in nature
  • The love of a pet
  • An entertaining distraction
  • A good night’s rest
  • Meditation
  • Natural forms of medication
  • Volunteering and helping someone else
  • Prayer and other faith practices
  • Journaling
  • Learning a new skill (such as an instrument)

For now, these are just points, but I will be writing separate blog posts on each of them, as I have a few stories to share with you of ways they helped me.

One last suggestion, please get help in whatever way works for you.

It might be counseling or prescribed medication or a combination of them along with several natural methods …

But do get the help you need!

The world needs you and it needs you as whole as you can be.

None of us will ever be completely whole.

Those people who look the strongest are in some ways possibly the most broken.

But you have something beautiful to show the world …

So don’t lose sight of that even when the clouds don’t let up and the rain seems like it will go on forever.

There is a rainbow. There is sunshine. There is grass glistening with the rain that has passed and the scent of petrichor on the rain-washed air.

There is hope.

A Political Post from a Highly Sensitive Person

The more I think about it, the more I feel that highly sensitive people should make themselves heard in this current (far too heated) political climate.

Because we HSPs think deeply on things and process information more deeply than most, we go beyond the binary.

The HSP’s depth of processing is described this way by Dr. Elaine Aron:

At the foundation of the trait of high sensitivity is the tendency to process information more deeply … HSPs simply process everything more, relating and comparing what they notice to their past experience with other similar things. They do it whether they are aware of it or not. …
Studies supporting the depth of processing aspect of the trait have compared the brain activation of sensitive and non-sensitive people doing various perceptual tasks. [Research has found] that the highly sensitive use more of those parts of the brain associated with “deeper” processing of information, especially on tasks that involve noticing subtleties.
In another study, by ourselves and others, sensitive and non-sensitive persons were given perceptual tasks that were already known to be difficult (require more brain activation or effort) depending on the culture a person is from.
The non-sensitive persons showed the usual difficulty, but the highly sensitive subjects’ brains apparently did not have this difficulty, regardless of their culture. It was as if they found it natural to look beyond their cultural expectations to how things “really are.” 

Dr. Elaine Aron, in The Highly Sensitive Person

When it comes to the political system, this depth of processing that highly sensitive people have often means we do not default to the current (and highly divisive) structures of the two-party system that has become so unhealthy and even dangerous for our nation.

Because this two-party system – the Republicans and the Democrats, the conservatives and the liberals, the red and the blue, the right and the left – has grown so pervasive in recent years, it seems as though this is the way it has always been and the way it must be.

But it’s not.

And as difficult as it might be for some to grasp this, there are ways of looking at things that fall outside the two binary categories.

It is deeply flawed thinking to assume that just because a person aligns with some aspects of one part of the party system that they must align with every aspect of it.

It’s like saying that because you enjoy eating blueberries, you must therefore like everything that is blue, including blue cheese and blue raspberry ices and any other food that is blue.

Okay, so that wasn’t the greatest analogy, but I hope you understand …

And if you are also a highly sensitive person, I trust you understand what I’m trying to say.

A person can be more than either pro-life or pro-choice.

More than either pro same-sex marriage or homophobic.

More than either pro Trump or pro Biden.

And if we neglect to see this, then we are not thinking deeply about matters that will be affecting our world our nation for years to come.

We have grown far too used to strawman arguments and one-sided simplistic explanations.

We have grown far to use to casting doubt on “the other side” and throwing everything about that other side under the bus, when there is so much more to life than two sides.

I know, when it comes down to voting, it is said that if you choose to vote for a third option, rather than the most popular Republican and Democrat in any political race, you’re throwing away your vote.

And I know that votes are important because they help to determine what direction the nation goes in overall.

Yes, I’ve heard it all before, but forgive me if I admit that I don’t agree with it at all.

This is why I have never voted and why I never will unless something changes about this current political system. It is limited, and flat out wrong.

What about a person who is anti-war yet pro-life?

Or someone who believes that two people can love each other, no matter who they are, and who agrees with more gun laws and free education for all, but who also understands the concerns of the more conservative among us?

I have never watched a presidential debate, as they are too intense and anxiety-producing for a highly sensitive person like me to view, but I do remember thinking this when hearing some people talk about how much mud-slinging there was during one such debate:

Why should the future of a nation depend on how well someone argues?

There is so much more to life than arguing.

Why not ask the candidates to write a poem? Or require them to spend a couple of hours playing with preschoolers or volunteering at an old folks home? Why not have them play an instrument or choreograph a dance or paint a picture?

How has one of the most advanced nations in the world become one known for arguments and an inability to move forward because of the deeply divided political climate?

It has been said that a house divided against itself cannot stand …

How much longer can such a divided nation continue on?

But all is not lost, and I am hopeful …

Hopeful that the emotional and the sensitive among us will find our voices and be willing to speak out for options that do not fall into one or another binary.

Hopeful that we who learn who we are – with our sensitivity and our tears, our depth of processing and our longing for beauty – will learn to inspire others to also seek these things.

I am hopeful that we will be able to use the gifts we have to share a desire for peace and beauty and a better world with others.

And who knows … maybe one day someone who identifies as a highly sensitive person will hold the highest office.

Maybe one day, presidency will be determined by poetry and music rather than mud-slinging and arguments.

What have we if not hope?

And where there is life, there is always hope.

Does Higher Education Encourage Creativity… Or Quench It?

I’ve sometimes wondered how my education has affected my creativity as an artist and writer.

I wonder if my degree in higher learning has curbed my enthusiasm for writing and other forms of creativity.

In my college years, it felt like I was always jotting ideas down between classes or using longer stretches of time write up some story’s plot line or scene or dialogue while other students passed me by on the way to their classes.

This is the time of year I often think of new ideas in stories.

The ideas are still there, but something isn’t. Something is missing. Maybe it’s the passion and enthusiasm … or perhaps it’s just the energy.

Years have passed, after all, since those college seasons.

Maybe it’s the space that I lack. Perhaps any space really is creative space.

But then I also wonder if it is all the reading and education, at least in part, that has caused my creativity to wane.

With so much reading and learning, which I love and which I continue to do, I’ve realized in part just how much is really out there.

So many styles of writing and art. So many genres.

With so many niches, I’ve learned just how difficult it is to establish one’s space as a writer or artist.

It seems as though even every niche and subgenre and sub-subcategory has been not only written about and taken … but extensively (and many times uncreatively).

It feels sometimes like the people with the marketing degrees are the ones who make it as writers and artists … not because they have the greatest skill in the art of creativity but because they know how to put themselves out there in this modern context and culture.

Of course, some good writers can be marketers and some marketers can be good writers. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

But in this modern culture of needing to have a large platform or regular speaking events and using SEO (to reach not people but spider bots I think they’re called), much of writing and much of making it as an artist is not the creative act itself but the building of one’s brand and platform and marketing oneself.

For me, as a highly sensitive person and an introvert, that takes the heart out of writing.

It steals the joy out of it.

I know there are extroverted writers and artist out there and perhaps some marketing experts who are also introverts or even highly sensitive. I don’t know.

The statistics say that 70% of highly sensitive people are introverts and I know that many introverts do work that involves interacting with people and they just muscle through it.

In my professional life, I do the same.

But that one-on-one social interaction takes all the energy I have and I don’t have more left over to think about setting up speaking engagements or writing SEO articles or figuring out every social media platform in order to build my platform.

Several years ago, I completed a manuscript.

It went through a number of drafts and revisions, beta readers, and editors.

Then I sent it out to both agents and independent publishing companies, all of which got back to me with pretty much the same thing.

You’re a good writer and this material is solid, but you don’t have a platform.

Maybe I’m just sensitive, highly sensitive at that, but something either broke or died inside of me since then.

I’ve continued reading and studying and honing the craft of writing, but some part of the enthusiasm, the hope, faded.

Some introverts, like Susan Cain, while embracing and teaching on the power of quiet has still had to play the game of the extrovert world …

Speaking and engaging in order to get the message out.

Perhaps I have not educated myself too much.

Perhaps it is not the scores of classes or the passing of years that has caused me to set down my pen and pencil for a time.

Perhaps it is not even the overthinking that we HSPs are so prone to doing.

Is not the knowledge itself, but what I have chosen to do with it.

In this case, unfortunately, I have chosen to grow discouraged and let that keep me from writing …

At least from seriously writing toward a specific end.

Maybe this very knowledge or realization will be enough to get me out of this funk, this furlough, this neglect, of writing.

So I overthink. I’m a highly sensitive person, after all.

So I don’t have a platform that is worthy of our modern culture’s attention.

But I still have a gift.

I still find joy in writing and art.

And because of this combination of skill and joy, I think I have a calling.

And I think I can no longer ignore it.

I think it is time to write.

The Inner Tension of a Highly Sensitive Person

There’s so much stigma around the idea of being sensitive.

As a highly sensitive person, even among the people who love me, so much of the time I feel like I cannot fully be myself because I’m afraid I will not be accepted if they know:

  • Just how sensitive I am
  • How much I overthink things
  • How deeply I feel certain things
  • And how hard it is to let some things go

I deeply appreciate them and my time with them …

But I sometimes wish I could just have some time to myself and go on a retreat or hole up in a monastery somewhere and not emerge until I feel like I have found the part of myself that I want to be.

And then I feel guilty and selfish for wanting these things (and even feeling like I need them) but I also feel frustrated that I never get them.

Never get, it feels like, sometimes even a moment to think deeply and reflect and process.

I wonder how much I am missing.

Missing out on the person I could be because I am instead so engulfed and consumed by what is going on around me.

And then, at times, missing out on what is going on around me by disappearing into my dream world, the world of the imagination or of story … just to get a few minutes of release or peace.

I’m feeling guilty by this constant tension that is going on inside me and wearied by it. So tired, so much of the time.

I come from a large family and a mother who was anything but highly sensitive.

She reminisces about how she went years in motherhood without a single day off, and it’s true. She did.

For so long I felt so guilty wondering how she did it and why I couldn’t function at that same level.

It’s taken me a long time to realize and accept (and sometimes I still don’t accept) that I’m just a different person.

That I am a highly sensitive person.

And that that’s okay.

Sensitivity and Self-Acceptance

Acceptance of ourselves is so important, especially as highly sensitive people, but it’s one of the things that we find the hardest to do:

To accept ourselves for who we are and embrace that and choose to belong …

… whether we necessarily feel like we belong or not.

This is the task before me, and if it is the task before you as a highly sensitive person, I hope that you will also find the strength to embrace it.

I hope you will find strength to accept yourself as the complex and deep and sometimes shadowed and sometimes bright whole of the person that you are.

Because that person is beautiful.

How to Celebrate an HSP’s Birthday

Last week, I wrote about three things not to do for a highly sensitive person on their birthday.

I promised to follow it up with a post about things that you can do for an HSP’s birthday …

Before we jump in, though …

Thank you!

Thank you for being concerned enough about your HSP friend or loved one to want to learn how best to celebrate them!

Small story as to why I’m so grateful:

When I was a teenager, I lived with foster parents in a group home.

One birthday I remember vividly (because it was one of the worst birthdays ever), each time I entered a room with others, they began singing the happy birthday song to me.

After I had suffered through it about a dozen times, I went and tried to find safety in the room that I shared with four other girls.

Somehow, the foster dad found out that I was being “anti-social” and sought me out.

He told me in no uncertain terms that birthdays were for other people, not the birthday person, and that I should get off my high horse and let them have fun by singing to me.

I got no cake that year.

No gifts.

But a lot of unwanted “happy birthday to you” songs.

So, for a long time, I thought that I, as a highly sensitive person, had to suffer through whatever other people wanted to do on my birthday …

Like the surprise birthday party I mentioned in my last post.

And it was only recently that I began to realize that, no, my birthday is my day. And I should be allowed to enjoy myself on that day.

The highly sensitive person in your life deserves to enjoy their special day and not feel obliged to throw a party (or accept a party on their behalf).

So, thank you for being interested and wanting to know how best to celebrate the HSP in your life on their special day.

Here we go …

Ask them what they want to do.

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I know, it sounds almost too easy, doesn’t it?

It’s surprising, then, that so few people do this.

Lots of people just assume that whatever they like to do is the same thing that their HSP loved one would like to do.

“I like going out to eat, so I’ll take them out to eat on their birthday.”

“I enjoy big parties, so I’ll throw a big party for this HSP.”

Even if there are things that your HSP spouse or family member has enjoyed doing on their birthday in the past, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily want to do it again.

(Maybe they were just being accomodating last time they said yes to the birthday activity.)

So, a few weeks before their birthday, ask them what they would like to do.

Why a few weeks before their birthday? Because they might need a bit of time to think about and process the options before they come up with an answer.

And listen to their answer.

Highly sensitive people tend to be gentle.

This means they can be easily intimidated by people with stronger personalities.

So, don’t ask them what they want to do on their birthday if you don’t plan to truly listen to their answer.

One of the worst things you could do is have them respond, and then give a “suggestion” of something “better.”

“A candlelit dinner at home sounds nice, but don’t you want to check out that new restaurant uptown?”

A highly sensitive person tends to second guess himself and will often defer to your suggestions…

Even if it’s not what he really wants to do.

Offer something that fits their love language.

You’ve likely heard about love languages, made popular by author Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages.

The five main love languages outlined in the book are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time

There are online quizzes by which you can figure out your love language, and just as importantly, the love language of your highly sensitive friend or partner.

If they like words of affirmation, maybe try writing them a poem …

Or give them a card that says all the right things.

If they like quality time, set aside time in your schedule to do something special together … something that they would want to do.

If receiving gifts is their love language, get them a gift …

But keep this next point in mind:

Buy a gift according to their interests.

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For years, my partner gave me jewelry or perfume on my birthday …

Although I rarely wear either.

I would try to wear the necklace for a few days, but it was for his sake and usually I’d take it off before a shower, forget about it, and never put it on again.

Then one year, he got me an Ansel Adams print.

I nearly cried when I opened it

… not just because I love photography and Ansel Adams is a photographer I absolutely worship …

… but because that gift showed me that my partner knew who I was.

He understood me by recognizing my passions and giving me something in accordance with my interests.

Sometimes it’s difficult. I understand.

You might know a highly sensitive person who has few interests, or whom you don’t know well enough to know what they like.

If that’s the case, though, return to the first point:

Ask them.

Just knowing that you care enough to ask will be meaningful to them, even if you don’t get it completely right.

Closing Thoughts

Maybe you’re a highly sensitive person reading this post.

And if so, you might be thinking to yourself, “I wish my friend/spouse/family member would read something like this.”

Send it to them (or give them a printout).

Or offer them suggestions, even if they don’t ask.

If your sister loves taking you out every birthday for a night on the town (but in reality, you hate it), before your next birthday, say something like this:

“Hey, I love that you like to celebrate my birthday with me and make it special. This year, what I really want to do is spend a few hours checking out used bookstores. You are more than welcome to come along.”

Whether HSP or non-HSP, I think we all mean well, and are trying to do the best we can for each other.

Sometimes, though, it’s almost like we’re speaking different languages, and it takes time to learn to understand one another.

I hope this post offers a step in understanding …

And in helping you create a more accepting and sensitive world.

Three Ways to Never Celebrate an HSP’s Birthday

If you have a highly sensitive person in your life, there is a question that will come up often (once every year at least).

What to do for the HSP’s birthday.

Now you might think that what you, as a non-highly-sensitive person, enjoy will be perfect for the highly sensitive person.

Don’t think that!

It will invariably wind up causing difficulties and maybe even serious misunderstandings down the line.

The thing is, you probably even won’t know or realize it because a highly sensitive person will empathize with you.

They will understand the time and effort that you put into anything you do for them and will be hesitant to say anything negative about it.

They know how hard you worked for it.

So consider this post (and this inside information) a favor …

… not just for highly sensitive people but for those who love them.

Here are three things you should never do for a highly sensitive person’s birthday.

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1: Throwing a Surprise Party for an HSP

I’m speaking from experience and can tell you that this is one of the worst things you could do for an HSP on their birthday.

Not only will it leave them in a very uncomfortable situation on the day itself, but it will also make them think you really don’t understand them (if you assume that a big, surprise birthday party is something they would actually enjoy).

I was in my mid-20s when a couple of roommates/work acquaintances decided to throw me a surprise birthday party.

Although my partner was not directly involved in the planning, he was aware of it and the two of us arrived home after an outing on my birthday to a house full of people.

I was immediately overwhelmed and ready to turn around and run the other way.

I quickly forged through all the people into my room and pretended to be on the phone with a work call (on a Saturday evening) just to give myself time to adjust to the overwhelming circumstances that I was suddenly surrounded by.

I had imagined a quiet evening and suddenly there were about 30 people in the house, half of whom I had never even met.

I tried to say something to my partner but his stance was that my “friends” had put so much time and effort into it that I should appreciate what they’d done and “just go out there and have fun.”

I really did try.

At least, I did go out there, but I did not have fun.

The whole evening was torturous. It stands among my top worst birthdays ever.

Even worse is that, afterwards, my housemates thought I had a great time and expected to be thanked when in reality the evening was miserable.

I was hurt that they misunderstood me so much that they thought I would actually enjoy a surprise birthday party, crowds of people, and loud music rather than what I had been expecting: a quiet evening at home with my partner.

Keep this on the top on your mental list of what not to do on a highly sensitive person’s birthday.

Stay away from surprise birthday parties.

2. Inviting Friends (Even If It’s Not a Surprise)

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By now you are convinced it would not be a good idea to throw a surprise birthday party for your HSP loved one.

But here is another thing you don’t want to do:

You don’t want to invite a big group of people over to your HSP friend’s or loved one’s house (even if they know about it).

For years, it has been a thing where my partner throws a birthday party for me and does the cooking so it seems like a decent trade-off …

But in all honesty, it’s not.

I’m invariably the one who needs to clean up the house in advance and make it “guest ready” as well as clean up the cooking mess …

And, of course, clean up after everyone leaves, too.

This does not equate to a peaceful and relaxing HSP birthday.

Because as a highly sensitive person, I’m so attuned to other people’s desires and wishes, I have always gone along with the plan.

When my partner says, “Hey let’s invite these friends over for your birthday and I’ll pick up the cake and make some food,” I usually say yes.

At the end of my birthday, I’m always so exhausted and feel like it just hasn’t been my day, but I’ve always been hesitant to say anything about it.

Last year, however, we weren’t able to invite anyone over for my birthday because … guess what … COVID.

It was a quiet day at home and my partner did make the food and pick up a cake but there was not a lot of clean up required in advance and not a lot of entertaining of guests.

None, in fact, and I didn’t have to clean up afterwards.

It was a great day.

I’ve decided that this is the way I want to do it from now on.

This year, I will kindly yet firmly till my partner, “Thanks but no thanks,” when he suggests having guests over for my birthday.

I’ll tell him he can invite the guests for his birthday not mine.

3. Tickets to a Crowded Public Event

Now, this is not going to be the case for every highly sensitive person.

In fact, only 70% of HSPs are introverts so some highly sensitive people might appreciate something like this.

However, even if they are extroverts, they are still highly sensitive …

And this means they are easily overwhelmed by strong stimuli such as crowded environments and loud noises.

This is why it’s generally not a good idea to present a highly sensitive person with birthday tickets to a ball game or a rock concert.

Even if it’s a band they like or a sports team they love, make sure you know in advance whether or not they actually want to go see that event live.

When I was in my mid to late 20s, I went to a few concerts.

Invariably, the next day I was exhausted and had a bad headache and it took me several days to recover.

Because I wasn’t familiar with what a highly sensitive person is, I didn’t know what was wrong with me.

I have never been to a ball game and never would want to go …

But over the last few years when I had the opportunity to do go to a concert, I declined.

Movie theaters are about as loud and crowded of an outing as I will willingly go to.

Last Thoughts

So the question you have now might be this:

What can you do for your HSP loved one if you want to treat them on their birthday?

What can you do that they will actually appreciate and enjoy?

That will be the subject of our next blog post.