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.

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.

HSPs and the Peace of Nature

Continuing my thoughts from my last post on day two, when it comes to space, it feels different outside.

Outside, the energy of people seems to dissipate into the atmosphere and it’s easier to just breathe.

Easier to find myself and to lose myself … in all the best ways.

It seems, wherever I am outside, a bird is laying forth a song. I might not know what type of bird, but the song is always beautiful.

Even in the summer, with the weather far warmer than I would prefer, sitting outdoors brings a measure of peace and tranquility.

As a highly sensitive person with the depth of processing that comes naturally to us, I would think that the outdoors would have the opposite effect.

After all, there is so much to see and to feel and to hear.

But I find myself healing, recharging, and naturally breathing more deeply when I step outside. One reason, I think, is that although HSPs do process everything more deeply than average, what takes up a lot of our emotional energy include things like:

  • Processing conversations
  • Reflecting on nuances in other people’s words, reactions, and body language
  • Dealing with harsh and sudden noises and (unnatural) sounds
  • Sifting through information to make everyday decisions

All these can tally up to an exhausting amount of mental input and output!

But outdoors, highly sensitive people can enjoy a more passive variety of input. Like hearing a birdsong, or watching clouds form and drift past. 

Our own thoughts have the chance to also drift and wander without needing to actively process the information. We are familiar with the song of the bird or the trickle of a rushing stream.

Even though other sounds might be audible, such as the steady din of traffic in the distance, they do not overwhelm us because they remain in the background.

If you are a highly sensitive person, try to spend some time in nature each day. As I continue my 40-day journey toward healthier living, this is something I choose to do.

Even five, ten, fifteen minutes in the morning, breathing in peace. Or in the evening, passively sifting through the events of the day and letting them settle.

May your day be filled with the peace of nature.

Space to Think and Be

A thing I need is space.

Space to think. Space to process. Maybe even space to feel safe, a bit of a boundary.

Is this natural for kids raised in big families, especially middle children who never quite had that space to themselves? Too young to have a household just with mom and dad. Too old for exactly the same thing, but a couple of decades later, once the older siblings have moved out.

I’ve never had my own room. Not at home or away. I’ve always shared a room with at least one person – a sister, a brother, a spouse – and often with more … up to six girls at one time.

Funnily, I never even realized how much I craved space, and more than that, actually needed it, until I experienced it for the first time nearly a decade ago when two of my kids had reached school age and a sister of mine kept the other two one morning a week. I could think deeply about things without sudden interruptions every few minutes, without the constant mental draw of others in the house. It was amazing!

Perhaps it has something to do with the depth of processing that highly sensitive people have. We HSPs hear and process every interaction and conversation. We hear every exasperated sigh or sharp retort. Highly sensitive people can’t just tune it out.

And as empathetic people, we don’t just hear it and see it; we feel it. We take it in.

As a young teenager, I wondered why I couldn’t fall asleep until after everyone in my family was already sleeping. I think it was because some part of me was tuned into the energy of the others in the household and only once that energy faded into sleep was I able to finally sleep as well.

It’s the same now. If my husband is restless, I am awake until he finally gets comfortable and falls asleep.

Even when people are in other parts of the house, and not in the same room, the overall energy of the household is different from when the house is empty except for me.

During these 40 days to come, I hope to find some space to think more deeply and from which to consider and contemplate things.

(Even now, my ability to complete this post in a way that satisfies me is hindered because, within a few minutes of beginning, one and then two of my kids came into the room and now my husband has joined them and I simply don’t have mental space to keep writing. So, until next time.)

The Complex Emotions of a Highly Sensitive Mama (on Mother’s Day)

So, it’s Mother’s Day 2020. By the looks of it, a lot of moms are celebrating by posting photos of their kids or photos of their mom or both. There’s not a whole lot more we can do with the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.

I remember reading somewhere that Mother’s Day is the most popular day of the year for eating out (they can’t expect us moms to make dinner on our special day, right?) so plenty of restaurants are probably ruefully counting the amount of money they’re losing by not being open today … but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about motherhood and belonging and complex emotions and just how exhausting they are for a highly sensitive person (HSP). This Mother’s Day, I’m at the point of tears and just keeping them at bay because I don’t want anyone in the household to know what I am dealing with.

I’m trying to do my best to follow social distancing guidelines by not visiting my parents because they are both nearing 70 and in the high-risk category. Although I and my kids have been staying home pretty much 24/7, we definitely don’t want to put my parents at risk. So although we live in the same city, I called my mom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day instead of stopping by.

I also asked her what she was doing, hoping that she’d find some way to celebrate and enjoy this day. She did. She and my two sisters (both moms) are meeting up to spend a few hours together.

That’s it. I should be happy for her, for them, but instead, this highly sensitive mom feels shattered.

It’s not that I necessarily even like going places. I’m an introvert. Spending more time at home with my family is one of the best things that has happened during the coronavirus pandemic.

But I’ve also been stuck at home for weeks on end with no “me time” or free time and would so love to have been invited for a few hours out “with the girls.” My husband is home today and could have looked after the kids. I would have been available. I would have gone.

Sorrow wells up inside me. I try to step outside of my emotions, stand beside myself and figure out what exactly I am struggling with most among these complex emotions that threaten to wash me under. Is it disappointment? Hurt? Just plain old feeling left out?

I come from a large family – seven kids; I am the sixth. Many of my earliest childhood memories involve being left out, feeling left out, or feeling like no one wanted me around. As a highly sensitive child, I picked up on the comments, attitudes, and reactions of my siblings and it affected me deeply. I mean, what child does not want to belong?

After a childhood and teenhood facing these same problems of seeking and not finding acceptance among my family, I moved away from home at a young age to try to find it in other places. A decade or so passed with little luck.

Marrying and starting a family gave me an automatic place to belong, children to belong to, although I enjoy my space as much as anyone (and need regular space in order to process as any HSP DOES). But sometimes I feel like my mind and heart are pulled back to those exact same emotions I struggled with as a child … of truly needing to find acceptance and belonging, and failing to find it among my own family members.

I get along fine with my brothers and sisters, my parents. I have seasons where life gets busy and I don’t stay in touch as much as I should. I also have seasons where social media gets to be too much so I don’t keep up with what others are doing in life online. I call them my hermit seasons, when I would love nothing more than to find an abandoned cottage in the mountains and live in solitude and contemplation for a while. (I don’t know if that will ever happen, but it remains a dream of mine in times when life gets a little overwhelming.)

I think of my sisters and mom gathering together. I think of me not being there. Instead, I am here, in my home, sheltering in place and finding the need to find shelter in my complex emotions as well.

I have a daughter doing something in the kitchen. (She told me in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed in there.) I have a son who drew me a lovely picture of a mama bird with three baby birds beneath. They look up at her with something like admiration or at least acceptance and belonging. I have a child sitting near me now, occupied with something and showing it to me every few minutes for my reaction.

It is Mother’s Day and I am not alone, though the complexity of emotions that face me regularly might threaten to overwhelm me even on days like this. (Although, running through these thoughts feels like a mental marathon and I might need a nap … or two.)

To all you highly sensitive mamas, wherever you might be and whatever way you might be finding to honor this day … you are important, you are loved, you are needed … Happy Mother’s Day.