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.

Photo by jasmin chew on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

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)

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

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.

HSPs and Decisions, Decisions

I don’t like being pressured into making decisions.

For this reason, I think, I rarely answer simply, “Yes” or “No,” which frequently bothers my children who often want a simple answer.

My answers are rarely simple because life is rarely simple and situations always have more going on than what warrants a simple yes or no.

Decisions carry a risk.

As a highly sensitive person, I like having enough time to think about a situation and make a decision.

Decisions and Dad, an HSP

Interestingly, when thinking back about it, I realize my dad was exactly the same way. My sisters and I would run to ask him something like, “Can we have a dollar for the ice cream truck?”

He would hesitate.

A pensive or thoughtful expression would cross his face. More often than not, he would ask for more information. “Have you eaten a healthy lunch?” “When was the last time you bought something from the ice cream truck?”

By the time we got an answer, a decision from my HSP father, the ice cream truck would be long gone.

It frustrated me to no end … funny that I’m the same way now.

I tend to consider the risk of decisions and take that risk seriously.

Perhaps we grow more into ourselves as highly sensitive people as we grow older?

In any case, I have grown into my general avoidance of making snap decisions. I believe, in thinking about it, that this avoidance does not have to do with fear of the decision itself, or getting things wrong, but more to do with my desire to understand a situation fully before committing myself.

Thinking about it now, I realize that I have never been a “yes or no” type of person. I have always been the type to want more information or to simply discuss the pros and cons of a decision rather than simply laying out an answer.

I am not risk-averse in my decision making, but risk-considerate.

I can probably count on one hand the times I have answered “because I said so” when my children have asked why. I have never been that type of parent.

Children, Discussions, and Decisions

I believe that a child, as much as anyone, deserves to understand a situation before being expected to respond.

Obviously, there are exceptions and you do not want to have to explain to your child why they should get out of a busy street with a long discussion. They should obey without question.

But overall, I believe it is a healthy thing for a child to be able to discuss and understand situations. It is part of them growing up and learning to make decisions themselves.

Decision-Making — A Hereditary Gene?

Back to my father and his general hesitation in committing to decisions, I do not know if I got that directly from him, or tapped into it myself as part of what it is to be a highly sensitive person.

I wonder what he would say about my tendency to now consider all sides before making a decision.

It is not easy, especially as a parent to defer in making a snap decision when a child wants an answer right away.

As my children grow older though, I believe that not only does it help them to learn to consider things before jumping in, but also to eventually understand, even if it frustrates them at times, that they are not just getting a quick response, but are getting an answer that has been thought through and considered.

It is part of consideration to do this, I believe.

If nothing else, it is part of my makeup as an HSP, and it’s probably not changing any time soon.

So This Is 2021

A new year has begun.

Some years, December 31st passes into January 1st without a lot of fanfare, it seems.

I mean, there are always potential parties to attend, places to go, and other ways to ring in the New Year.

(But we HSPs generally don’t go for those things anyway … big crowds and small talk are the kinds of prospects that make us want to turn and run the other way.)

But this year was different. The turning of the year gave us all a little more reason to celebrate (even if we needed to do so from home in order to safely socially distance).

This past year was 2020, and I need say no more. We all know what transpired in 2020. We also all know we’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re still going forward one day at a time. (What other choice do we have?)

But while we all “know” what happened in 2020, we don’t. Not really. Because each of us has seen the year through our own eyes, none of us know the whole story. The story that is all of us but is also each of us.

It has been a lonely year for me.

Strange, because I actually have had less alone time than usual due to my particular circumstances. But it has been lonely in that I have felt in some ways forgotten, neglected, pushed aside (again, due to certain things that took place in my particular circumstances).

I have found that loneliness isn’t exactly a state of being. It’s a state of mind. A state of feeling.

And as a highly sensitive person, I realize now that loneliness is something I have struggled with nearly all my life in some way.

Perhaps the struggle for you has been similar. Or maybe you have faced something else.

  • Insecurity due to losing a job.
  • Sorrow and grief with the loss of a loved one.
  • The pressure of trying to provide for a family in an uncertain economy.

Your struggle has been part of your story this year.

Your story and no one else’s. I think part of the loneliness I have felt was that I didn’t have anyone to share my story with.

I mean, I could vent some things to a couple of family members, or share other challenges with my partner, but perhaps it is part of my “beingness” as a highly sensitive person that makes it difficult for me to truly share just how difficult some things have been.

How hurt I have felt by friends failing to stay in touch when I needed them most. How frustrated I feel because of the lack of space and solitude (which is different from loneliness and something I, as an HSP, deeply need).

Yet a new year begins. It is 2021 now.

The days before me spread, unlived, unmarred.

How will they unfold? What story will I find written on the pages?

There is much out of my control, but also much that I can control. Little things, mainly.

  • Taking a few moments outside, even if the weather is too cold for my liking … just to get a bit of space (and some needed exercise).
  • Or waking up a little earlier than I would otherwise to fit in a bit of reading.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing to make a big difference, does it?

Maybe it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

I don’t know if my sharing these few thoughts has helped you, the one reading this, in any way. But I hope it has.

I hope it has offered a little bit of clarity, perhaps, to your own feelings or experiences of this past year.

More than likely, your year was also more challenging than the average year. Lonely. Stressful. Even grievous.

But it is a new year, and I wish you moments of peace, bucketsful of hope, and skies of bluest blue.

Let us make this journey together.

Overwhelmed – An HSP Writer’s Trials

Do you ever feel both inspired and overwhelmed at the same time?

I spent the morning organizing an area that I have not organized for a while. Some files and writings and documents, some of which I haven’t looked at for years.

They’re all unfinished, things that I’ve started and plan to finish one day and set aside and have done nothing with.

Part of me wonders if the better idea is to delete a majority of the old ideas and documents and thoughts and just start over with a clean slate so to speak

Another, part of me, the emotional HSP part, fondly clings to these old ideas and storylines and outlines.

I know I want to do something with these writings, even if I’ve grown out of some of them. I’m not sure how to proceed.

Do I make a writing plan? A publishing plan?

Even if I plan to completely two books a year, one nonfiction and one fiction, it would take me 55 years just to finish the story ideas I currently have.

And if I only wrote one book a year, unless my lifespan happens to be 150 years, I won’t get it done.

Perhaps I’m fooling myself to think I will even finish all these stories at all.

After all, I haven’t yet. What makes me think I will suddenly become organized and motivated and start cranking them out?

And even if I do, there are just so many books and posts and papers out there already. What makes me think anyone will read what I write and publish?

Is that the HSP writer part of me again? Or is every hopeful writer also riddled with fears at the same time?

To write or not to write …

I spent the morning organizing these because I know I need to start and I need to get somewhere with my writing. I made space in my schedule specifically for this …

But instead of writing, I spent it organizing and getting overwhelmed.

I have begun so many writing projects and finished so few.

Lack of time.

Perfectionism.

Fear and anxiety about getting it wrong … and about nobody really caring whether I do this thing called writing or not.

At the same time, strangely, it remains a passion … something I not only love to do but feel somehow bidden to do.

If I somehow decided not to write, I would feel a part of me was gone …

An important part of me …

One of the deepest parts of who I am as a highly sensitive writer.

But upon what do I set my focus?

Writing? Revisions?

At this point, I just don’t know. Maybe it will grow clear now that I created time in my schedule to focus.

Or maybe I just make a more concrete writing schedule and stick to it whether I feel like it or not.

Focus on a particular story and work with it until it’s done.

But regardless of what I choose to write about, specifically and where I choose to take my stories (or where they take me), I am going to keep on writing.

I am a highly sensitive writer and I believe the world needs that. The world needs writings and stories and essays and poetry by people who process the world in a deeper and richer way.

For much of my life, and even now sometimes, I struggle with the thought of being “too sensitive.” I think all of us who are highly sensitive people face this.

But maybe it’s time to use that sensitivity to try to capture and even create beauty through words.

God knows we need more beauty in the world.

While California Burns, I Find Myself Planting

Thousands of acres in California are burning. Trees and plants, homes and fields. It tends to happen at this time in the year when the land is dry and rains have not come for months on end. But this year stands as one of the worst for California fires in recent history.

This morning I found that friends of mine are evacuating from a small town less than an hour’s drive from where I live. With more than two million acres laid waste to fire, the devastation is vast.

My child commented yesterday about how many years it will take for these places to recover, to begin to grow again.

Yet also this morning I knelt before the ground and planted seeds. I took a small succulent that has been soaking in water in my kitchen, slowly growing roots, over the past week, and set it into a clay pot. It had broken from the larger plant and would have shriveled and died if not placed in water.

Now it stands on my windowsill. Beyond the window, the sky looms gray. It has looked that way for weeks. We need rain to quench the fires of California, rain to clear the sky. 

Who knows how long until that rain finally arrives? Who knows how long firefighters in California by the thousands will work day and night to protect land and fields and homes and people? 

A part of me grieves for the loss. Pictures the wildlife seeking safety and unable to find it. Sees children and parents leaving places they’ve called home for years, not knowing if they will see those places again. 

Part of me feels distant from the loss and the grief because I am not personally affected by it. For this, I feel guilty. For it does affect all of us, the strings unseen that pull and stretch and break, touching us all in some way whether we recognize it or not.

I say a prayer for my friends and for strangers who have lost their homes to the fires, and for those who continue to battle the flames. And I feel ashamed that the prayer is not long enough, not deep enough, does not have the heart it might if I and my household were in the direct path of the flames.

Yet I planted the seeds, and I hope they will grow. I potted the succulent and I smile at its small beauty.

I recall that some seeds of some trees need fire before they will finally begin to grow. It takes the heat of flames for them to break open, awaken, grow root and take root.

But after the fires fade and the rains finally, mercifully, fall … under some scorched ground, seed will meet rain and the light of the sun. 

It will spread and root and take in water and life.

It will unfurl and grow toward the sky.

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.

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.

The HSP Trigger of Pressure

I get more frustrated then I should as a highly sensitive person when my forward movement is interrupted in some way. For example, when I am walking down a busy sidewalk and someone is walking more slowly than usual … usually because they are texting or doing something on their phone, and then they stop altogether and I have to go around them.

It irks me terribly.

I have wondered why it bothers me so much. As a highly sensitive person, I should be able to understand that the person is doing something that is engaging them completely. It’s not like it interrupts my entire day by having to slow down a few steps or maneuver my way around them.

HSPs and Checkout Counters

Perhaps part of the reason it bothers me so much is that I am a highly sensitive person. I am hyper-aware of the people around me and what is going on. One of the absolute worst things in my semi-regular schedule is standing in line at a checkout counter.

I dislike this scenario so much I usually avoid shopping in grocery stores until I absolutely have to, which means that my cart is generally absolutely full every time I go shopping. This means that it takes me a while, as quickly as I try to move, to get all the groceries onto the conveyor belt and then to bag them afterward. That part is not difficult.

The difficult part is the people waiting behind me.

I hate making people wait. It is a trigger for me and I will suddenly become very short-tempered and anxious because of this. I frequently take my children shopping with me and one of my kids often helps to begin bagging the groceries while I wait to pay. This child is invariably never even halfway done by the time I’m done paying; by then there are usually two or three or more people in line behind me.

I try to keep my anxiety low while I briskly takeover in bagging things, more often than not putting some fragile or bruise-able items underneath some heavy item just to get it done and get out of the shop.

The Trigger of Making People Wait

I still don’t know why this dislike of making people wait is so much a trigger for me. I’ve tried to think back to my own childhood and wondered if there is a reason for it.

I know that I do tend to move relatively slow naturally, though as a mother I have learned to pick up the pace and can move swiftly and efficiently and can multitask with the best of them. Still, it doesn’t come naturally to me.

I have memories of trying to help my mother in some task or another. She has always been a fast-paced and constantly working individual. (It is my father who I’ve recently recognized as the highly sensitive person from whom I likely got my nature.)

I remember more often than once offering to help my mom or even stepping in to help with something like peeling potatoes for dinner or washing the dishes and her always verbally pushing me aside with the words, “I can do it more quickly,” and then her taking over.

Unfortunately and to my chagrin, I have used the same words with my own children although I am aware of how damaging even a benign phrase like that can be. Although I have tried not to, it has come out at least once that I can remember when one of my children offered to do the dishes. I only hope that the humor and the gentleness came across as well, rather than a spirit of haste and rush that invariably says you’re not good enough … or at least that’s how I took it when my mother pushed past me to get something done.

Trying to Figure Out the Source of the Anxiety

But I really don’t know if this unhealthy dynamic between my mother and myself is what has made me so anxious about making other people wait and slowing other people down. Or if it’s just part of my highly sensitive nature and high levels of perception regarding the people around me.

There have been times that those in the line behind me have waited for a few minutes and then moved on;I always feel so terrible as if I have ruined their entire day.

At the same time, many times in my life, I have been stuck behind someone who moves very slowly, possibly because they are writing a check or paying by cash or using coupons. Instead of feeling frustrated and angry, I put myself in their shoes. I often try to do something to displace the tension by smiling at the person or the cashier or trying to say something general to distract the others who are also waiting in line.

It is so strange, I feel, that although I generally respond with understanding and empathy in situations like this, I still have the deep fear of inconveniencing others in the very same situations when the tables are turned.

Do I not have enough faith in other people?

Is it my own experience or my fears that are in play when I am triggered?

I really don’t know. But perhaps the questions and the awareness themselves are steps toward healing and growing out of the triggers and anxiety.

Meanwhile, I avoid grocery shopping with all four of my children, especially on summer afternoons because I have experienced meltdowns and know to stay away from those environments.

  • As a highly sensitive person, what are some environments that you know trigger you or make it difficult for you?
  • What have you done to avoid them or process them?
  • Do you find that you are slowly improving or are some things generally just difficult for you no matter how many times you experience them?

I’d love to hear from you as to how you deal with pressure points and anxieties you face.