Highly Sensitive Children and Sibling Relationships

It is virtually impossible to determine the full effect of sibling relationships on children. You will find much research and data on parent-child relationships, but far less research has been done on sibling relationships and outcomes on children. One study on sibling relations states, “In comparison to the wealth of studies on parent-child relationships, relatively little attention has been devoted to the role of siblings and their impact on one another’s development.”

I believe this difference is, at least partially, due to the fact that the siblings are also children themselves. And children are in the ongoing process of growing, changing, and developing. 

HSP Me and My (Non-HSP) Brother

Growing up, I had several older siblings, but the one right above me in age was the one who likely had the greatest effect on me.

After all, we shared a room and pretty much everything else, even clothing (and often attractions to the cutest schoolgirl).

The thing is, I thought all my older brother’s ideas were the greatest and by the same token I did not have any good ideas of my own … or at least that’s how I felt as a child.

It came to the point that my brother was so irritated at the way I would mimic and copy the things he wanted to do and wanted to be, and even the friendships or relationships he hoped to develop, that he began asking me to clarify my opinion on a situation before he would divulge his opinion.

In short, he was tired of me copying him.

I thought his requirement that I state my opinion before he would divulge his opinion was unnecessary and unfair.

I have more clarity now on the issue. Besides the knowledge I have about …

  • Copying another person being the sincerest form of flattery
  • The fact that we’re all copying someone
  • Very few people are true geniuses that do not mimic someone else whether in art or in writing or in rhetoric

…  the truth was that as a highly sensitive child, I was so deeply empathetic and sensitive to my brother’s feelings and moods and perspectives that I adopted them as my own without realizing it.

Importance of Awareness for Parents of HSCs

This is a very important thing for parents of a highly sensitive child (HSC) to be aware of.

Especially if the parent was not themselves highly sensitive, they might not realize what a strong effect their non-HSP children might be having on their HSP children.

This is not to say that the effect of a non-HSP child on an HSP child is negative.

Hardly. There is much I learned from my sibling relationship with my older brother and I am grateful to him for that, even though much of that learning was rife with tension because of the fact that he did not want me copying him.

I simply urge parents of both non-HSP and HSP children to have awareness.

For instance, one of your children might seem far more decisive than the other, who might seem to have a difficult time making decisions. This is natural.

With your increased awareness about the tendencies of your HSP child, however, you might encourage that child to make independent decisions in a safe environment.

Although they might not realize it, their very thoughts and feelings are often being influenced by the non-HSP child’s attitudes and speech and even their nonverbal cues.

I have both a highly sensitive and a non-highly-sensitive child. Because of my background and upbringing, I have been aware of the need to help my HSP child develop their own interests and perspectives in a safe environment and to explicitly let them know it’s okay for them to have opinions that are different from others.

HSP Children Need Support in Decisions

Sometimes it has been difficult to try to encourage my HSP child to make a decision on something, especially if they know that their decision is different or their perspective is different from that of the other individual.

Sometimes they will refuse to make a choice or state that they want one thing when in reality they want something else … but either consciously or subconsciously they are afraid of going against their sibling’s opinion.

Because the non-HSP child is less sensitive, they are not even attuned to this dynamic.

Again, awareness is important!

It is not that either child is good or bad or what they are doing is right or wrong.

They simply process information differently and thus make decisions differently.

The reason I urge this sensitivity and approach of awareness is that as a child I often felt very conflicted about my own feelings and opinions.

I feel, looking back, that if someone were to have come alongside me and encouraged me that it was okay to make up my mind and that what I thought and felt was valuable, rather than feeling accused and unappreciated for my approach, I might have found it easier to step out in life sooner.

I believe I would have taken a more healthy approach to decisions that I made … rather than (for many years) submitting to the desires of someone else in a variety of unhealthy relationships.

In short, these formative years are foundational in a child learning to grow into a healthy adult with healthy boundaries and positive relationship dynamics.

Summary

Some of the most core foundational experiences a child has are those with their siblings.

As such, it is vital that you, as a parent, are aware of these various factors, such as the sensitivity of a child and their natural processing.

It will make a huge difference for both your HSP and non-HSP child and their sibling relationship if you are aware of these things and help guide and support them in these areas.

_______

Photo Credits

Main Photo: Little Girl with Hand on Chin — Image by © LWA-Dann Tardif/zefa/Corbis

Second Photo: Two Girls Under Water — Image by © Zena Holloway/zefa/Corbis

Turning to Love in Times of Fear

When I was growing up, I remember being taught that faith is the opposite of fear and if you have enough faith then you cannot be a captive to fear. I spent much of my childhood teen years and even early adulthood captive to fear and anxiety, and often assumed it was because I did not have enough faith. No, I no longer believe what I had been taught.

Faith Is Not the Opposite of Fear.

Love Is.

There is a lot of fear speaking out today in so many ways. And it seems strange that we are fearing it because terribly fearful things are already upon us, are already happening.

Today, we are suffering a worldwide pandemic in COVID-19. You might even call it a plague. This is something that has not swept the world in hundreds of years. A year ago … even a decade ago … just the idea of something like this happening would have been preposterous. But here it is.

And here we are.

And in many ways, we are succumbing to fear. Not succumbing in that we are growing agoraphobic and that fear is keeping us home. In fact, what is keeping us home, for the most part, is the mandate to do so for our protection (or if you are not concerned for your own health, then for the safety and protection of the more susceptible members of society).

No, we are succumbing in that although we are facing fearful things and we could be responding with courage and hope and support, many are responding with anger about the coronavirus and the blame game.

I understand. It is frustrating. I have barely had a moment to myself since this started. Before COVID-19, my personal schedule was more conducive to my needs and personality. I had some “me time” several times a week … but no longer.

I also lost roughly 80% of my income due to the coronavirus pandemic and on top of it had to homeschool a few students for the last quarter of the 2019 to 2020 school year while still paying for their school fees.

There are uncertainties, frustration, and unrest, to be sure. But I feel encouraged by the many who are responding with hope and ways to reach out such as a child sewing and donating masks for people who need it and other people performing acts of kindness during the pandemic.

I suppose that during this time … as in all times … one primary choice before us is what we will tune into. Sources that dispense fear and ignorance and hate will always be there; yet, so we’ll be sources that spread hope and charity and love.

From Fear to Faith to Love

I’m trying to think when and how my mind made the transition to what the opposite of fear is. I think it was when I became a parent.

There is an anecdote about how faith is trusting the hand that holds you even in the dark, like a child being led home through a dark forest. The only thing he has to hold onto is his parent’s hand.

But that faith in the parent must be predicated by the love of the parent. If that child was not confident his parent loves him then he could not have faith that the parent would lead him home. Although his hand might have been momentarily grasped, he would be afraid that the parent might let go of him and leave the child alone.

Sometimes as a child, and sometimes as a teenager and young adult, I found myself like that child, suddenly without a hand to grasp onto, and I was afraid.

But when I became a parent and felt an intensity of love that I had never felt before, I realize that that love was the foundation of faith. And that it was the antidote to fear.

I think this is a thought I’ll have to unpack more as I spend more time thinking on it but for now, maybe the task is to think about it. To consider what love is, what faith is, and what fear is for you during this time.

And perhaps think about ways that you can find sources that dispense love and faith. Tune into those rather than sources of anger and fear. Because, as cliche as it might sound, right now we all need a little more love.

The Problem with COVID, The Problem with Us

We are far more concerned about the coronavirus than we should be.

We are far less concerned about the coronavirus than we should be.

Yes, both statements are true and both at the same time.

As a society, we have grown so accustomed to politicizing issues like the coronavirus that almost before we gave ourselves a chance to understand COVID-19, we had already formed strongly opposing opinions.

If you think this is an overstatement, consider how you personally respond when you see someone wearing a mask in a public space.

“That person is clearly overreacting and is probably a liberal.”

Or …

“I’m glad that person is doing their due diligence …”

…with a nod from behind your own mask.

What about when you see a person outside without a mask?

“That must be a Republican. I know who they probably voted for in 2016.”

Or …

“I’m glad that person hasn’t bought into the nonsense of the coronavirus scare.”

When it’s simple matters such as whether or not a person is choosing to wear a mask in a public place or outdoors draws such harsh responses, something is wrong with our society.

This was brought into stark reality when I saw someone’s comment on a friend’s Facebook post. The post itself made a statement that it’s all about power … and among the politicians, perhaps it is. But 99% of us are not politicians, and we spend way too much time considering the partisan politics surrounding a worldwide pandemic (as if Americans are the only ones dealing with the coronavirus).

The comment, made by a person I don’t know, expressed that a local government official could kiss a certain part of their anatomy, along with the statement that they would not be wearing a mask. By the anger of the person’s comment, it sounded as if they thought COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic had been personally created by this local government official.

Sadly, many of us are allowing ourselves to take sides and oppose others when we should be reaching out a hand to help. 

It’s easier to feel anger than grief.

It’s easier to express an opinion than to express concern, especially since we’ve grown so accustomed to doing so with our use of social media. 

Social media is good for many things, but one unexpected result of seeing so many problems, browsing through so many issues, reading about so many statistics … is growing numb to all we see on social media.

Instead of grieving, we might utter a mere, “How sad,” and keep browsing. We have largely grown desensitized and instead of allowing ourselves to feel the more complex emotions of grief and empathy, we settled for a quick “like” or “dislike” or an angry comment that only deals with emotions on the surface level.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? 

How do we fix this? Therein lies the problem.

There is no quick-fix.

And there is no easy solution.

For someone who finds themselves growing angry and anxious every time they log into social media or browse through news headlines, the solution might be to take some time off social media. Go for a walk in nature; whether or not you wear a face mask as you take in some solar vitamin D is up to you.

For someone who drops strongly opinionated comments on every slightly political or COVID-related post, maybe take a breather. Instead of responding with a first reaction, try to consider the matter more deeply. 

Perhaps even (shocking as this idea might seem) think about this issue from the other side.

And for someone who finds themselves incapable of empathizing with anyone on “the other side” of the political and partisan spectrum, why don’t you have a civil conversation with someone who holds beliefs different from your own? Really have a mindset of listening and learning. 

The idea is not necessarily changing your mind or revamping your political ideology (although it might be). The idea is to understand that there are so many of us in this big, wide world.

So many ideologies and beliefs. So many life experiences. We are each made of what we have experienced and learned and how we have been brought into this world.

And really … really … most of us are just doing the best we can with what we have.

What we all need is a little more understanding, a lot more listening than speaking, a bit of empathy and compassion, even a bit of grieving for the darkness and the loss and the sadness of this world.

WHAT WE ALL NEED IS A BIT OF HOPE.

Why don’t we each consider how we can spread some of that hope today?

HSPs in Literature – J Alfred Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I …

The famous opening line of what is possibly T.S. Elliot’s most well-known poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

The speaker of the poem, J. Alfred Prufrock, can be nothing but a highly sensitive person.

He remarks on his keen observations, things that only a highly sensitive person would tend to notice:

… Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
He even likens the streets of London to an argument … a tedious argument at that, which is what every highly sensitive person thinks of an argument – tedious and undesirable.
… In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo …
Few things tire a highly sensitive person more than draining conversations about nothing in particular, a.k.a. small talk.
… There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet …
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions …
How carefully do we HSPs sometimes have to “prepare a face” to meet the outside world?
How many decisions run through the mind of a highly sensitive person every day?
And how often do we envision dozens of possibilities, real and imagined, revising them, fretting over them, and wondering what will come to pass?
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”) …
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”) …
Yes, these questions of a highly sensitive person … these concerns of what people are thinking and saying behind our backs.
… Do I dare
Disturb the universe? …
Sometimes we HSPs even worry our place disturbs the universe at large.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
               So how should I presume?
Sometimes a highly sensitive person feels like an old soul. Like they have somehow been around the block of feelings and knowledge and deep emotions more than their young years can prove, just like J. Alfred Prufrock.
… I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas …
And what HSP hasn’t wished, at some random moment, to be a creature of the ocean, beneath undulating waves, so far from the harsh rays of sun and sound?
To simply flow with the ocean’s endless tides.
… But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid …
As HSPs, we fear many things, yet somehow garner the courage to pursue and continue on in the face of our fears.
… Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball …
If one, settling a pillow by her head
               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
               That is not it, at all.” …
The things we say are often not the things we mean, but it is so difficult to express all we feel and sense as a highly sensitive person.
… Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each …
Amidst the trying questions of what we dare and dare not do, again, this HSP speaker longs for the peace of the ocean’s depths.
… I do not think that they will sing to me …
Our fear, however, is that the voices and the peace they represent are not for us.
… I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown …
As highly sensitive people, we might feel as though we are drowning among the human voices that surround us.
We picture with a sense of peace and joy the idea of the mermaids heading toward the sea, lingering peacefully among the waves and weeds of the ocean.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” ends suddenly, as if his thoughts are cut short by those human voices cutting in on his reflective moments of peace and contemplation.
But the words of the speaker, and of the poet, T. S. Eliot, remain verses that endure and speak deeply to readers, poets, students … and of course HSPs.
Photo of peach on Foter.com