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.

Healthy Eating for a Highly Sensitive Person

In the discussion of healthy living, the matter of healthy eating is bound to come up at some point. “You are what you eat” and all of that.

Naturally, diet is an important part of a healthy-living conversation, but it is not the whole conversation. I feel that sometimes when discussing healthy living, diet and exercise are the only things discussed to the neglect of other important aspects of healthy living.

At the same time, diet and healthy eating cannot be completely ignored when it comes to the matter of healthy living. A healthy diet is part of a healthy lifestyle, and it is vitally important for a highly sensitive person due to our often keen sensitivities to certain foods. The link between diet and HSPs is a central one.

Why The 40-Day Journey?

I’ve taken these journeys before in which I have tried to embrace various aspects of healthy living, usually over a period of 40 days. Why 40 days? Well, I’ve read that it takes roughly six weeks to build a habit, and 42 days is basically six weeks – give or take a few days. So that’s one reason.

But the other reason is the significance of the number 40 as in ancient literature 40 days (or 40 years) were significant markers measuring a bridge from one place to another. (I hope I am not the only highly sensitive person who loves significant numbers and patterns.)

Think of the Israelites and their 40 years in the wilderness. Or Jesus and his 40 days in the desert before beginning a public ministry. Or the 40 days he remained on earth after rising again before ascending to heaven and releasing his gift of the Holy Spirit.

Whether or you consider these ancient narratives as truth or myth, there is definitely something about that 40-day mark that acts as a bridge from one thing to another.

In choosing 40 days for my journey toward healthier living, I am hoping to tap into that medium and find some form of bridge or breakthrough.

Now I am not naive in thinking that 40 is a magic number. (Would that it was.)

It is all too easy to land upon a certain time frame – or a certain diet, returning to the earlier conversation – and assuming it is all you need to find significant change in your life.

It rarely is all that you need. Usually, significant life change is only bought at a significant price.

The season of the coronavirus pandemic we are facing worldwide bespeaks the importance of being aware that significant life change can occur when we least expect it. Perhaps a reason to do what we can to prepare for such times.

A Just Balance in Healthy Living

But back to the conversation about diet and healthy eating. In times past, I have used my diet (and more specifically, my weighing scale) as a measure of how effective my healthy living quest happened to be.

In short, if I lost 10 or 20 pounds, it was a success. If I didn’t, well, that was all that really mattered. It is embarrassing to admit this especially when considering the fact that I have never been overweight. As a highly sensitive person I have been aware that thinness is merely an unhealthy societal expectation, I have still succumbed to the cultural view that the thinner you are, the better.

This is why I I’m making an effort to focus on other aspects of healthy living before the matter of my diet. Aspects such as a clutter-free lifestyle and a mind learning and growing through good books.

The problem is that it is often all or nothing at all with me. If diet is not the main focus, I find it difficult focusing on it at all.

Perhaps this is a common plight of highly sensitive people. Because of our depth of processing and the fact that we think so deeply on various matters, it is difficult and next to impossible to focus on so many aspects of healthy living at the same time.

And so it has been with me over the past week since I began my 40-day journey toward healthier living.

I start out the day decently, but the early part of day has never been my problem. It’s always near the end of the day when I begin to crave salty or sweet things.

Questions from an HSP on What Healthy Living Really Is

It is, I believe, my seeking of a comfortable and familiar thing, the way I turn to these things in the evening, usually when I have a small amount of space to myself, even for just a few moments, to read and to indulge in a few squares of dark chocolate or even something as unsophisticated as Cheetos.

And I find myself as a highly sensitive person waging some inner war against myself in some inner discussion. Wondering if I lack the strength to simply say no to these bodily concessions and do without. Wondering if it really would make a difference to my soul or spirit if I were to cut the extras out of my diet, to trim the fat so to speak.

Or if by the eating and the indulging I am simply being true to myself and partaking of those things that help to relax or refresh me as an HSP when I need it the most.

Who is to say? Which really happens to be the healthier kind of living?

What really wins when the mind wins over the body? Is it a victory or simply a decision?

Naturally, I understand that moderation is key to all things, and if I were to consume a pound of dark chocolate on a nightly basis, the discussion would be a different one altogether.

For now, this is only the beginning of the conversation of healthy living and healthy eating, and perhaps one vital aspect of the conversation is to be open to these questions and to understand there is no single right or wrong way to “do life” or to “do healthy living,” especially for a highly sensitive person.

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

HSP Field Notes on Loaning Books to Friends

Loaning BooksFirst of all, why would you be loaning books to friends?

Well, as a highly sensitive person, you consider your books some of your closest friends.

Your living and breathing friends are also your friends.

(Therein lies the problem.)

You love a good book and the thrill of emotion that stories can provide.

  • Books have healed you.
  • They’ve made you cry.
  • Books have made you smile and laugh.
  • Sometimes they’ve changed your life.

So, you want to share those joys with your friends (the human friends, not the friends that live between the pages).

So you loan your book to a friend.

The next time you see them, you eagerly ask what they thought of the book that you loaned.

They say something like this:

“Oh, I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I can’t wait to find the time.”

You notice they post about a dozen times an hour on Facebook, but you don’t mention that.

You might ask the question once more, but you get another:

“Sorry, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.”

You don’t ask again about the book you loaned them.

Why?

As a highly sensitive person, here are three main reasons:

  1. You don’t want to seem like a burden or an irritation.
  2. You definitely don’t want to seem desperate.
  3. But you don’t want to make your friend feel uncomfortable about the fact that you loaned them a book three months ago (or six months ago or two years ago) and they still haven’t read it.

But you remember.

You remember every book that you’ve loaned.

Although you might not remember exactly when the book changed hands and was no longer in your possession, you know who is currently in possession of the book.

And sometimes, when you notice the place on your bookshelf where the book used to be, you imagine where it might be in your friend’s house.

  • Is it on one of their bookshelves?
  • Did it end up in a box and get stuffed in their garage?
  • Might it be on their bedside table, meaning they really do plan to read it soon?
  • Did they move it along while following Marie Kondo’s advice?

So, to protect your highly sensitive self from the nagging worry of where your book-friends might be suffering some horrible fate, you decide you’ll never loan a book again.

Then your friend stops by for a visit

And when they ask what’s new, you happen to mention, “I just read the most amazing book.”

Your friend expresses an interest and you decide you’ll try it … Just. One. Last. Time.

So you loan them your book … and it begins all over again.

_______

Photo by Theo Crazzolara on Foter.com / CC BY

10 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

Signs of a Highly Sensitive Person

But even if you found a few things in common with the highly sensitive person test, you’re still not quite sure if you are one.

In this article, we want to make it easier for you to determine whether or not you really are an HSP.

So, read on to discover 10 signs you’re a highly sensitive person …

1. You cry easily

Now, before you quickly write off this point and say, “No, that’s not me,” think about it more deeply.

Culture has a lot more bearing than we sometimes realize on some aspects of our nature.

For example, as a highly sensitive person, you might frequently blink back the tears or push them down just because “It’s not manly to cry,” or “Big girls don’t cry.”

But while growing up, perhaps you found yourself crying more easily than friends.

And these days, you still make sure you have a few tissues in your purse or back pocket when going to the movies … just in case.

2. You grew up hearing, “You’re too sensitive.”

About that crying … even though you couldn’t help it, did you still get reactions from people such as:

  • It’s not a big deal.
  • There’s nothing to cry about.
  • Why are you being so sensitive?
  • You’re just too sensitive.

If so, you’re likely a highly sensitive person … and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

If it bothers you, try coming up with a return comment when people say it.

Maybe …

  • You’re not sensitive enough.
  • You’re too insensitive.

Or my favorite:

  • The world needs more sensitive people.

3. You need alone time

It’s not that you don’t like people … you do.

In fact, as a highly sensitive person, you likely empathize with people more deeply than non-HSPs.

Therein lies the issue.

Because you are more sensitive to attitudes, nonverbal language, and moods, it can be exhausting to hang out among people.

  • And this doesn’t just mean strangers.
  • Sometimes you need a break from your own family.

Highly sensitive people need time alone to recharge and process or decompress after spending time with people.

4. You find yourself calmed by nature

You’ve likely discovered that your environment greatly influences your mood.

Perhaps you also know by now that the simple act of stepping into a peaceful backyard or taking a walk in a park does something special to your psyche.

In fact, “Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings.” (Source)

How much more so for highly sensitive people who find themselves more susceptible to issues of stress and anxiety?

If you find yourself feeling stressed or pressure, try going outside for even a few minutes.

Spending a few minutes under a beautiful blue sky or surrounded by trees and greenery can make all the difference.

5. You need more sleep than others

Growing up, you might have been one of the few children who didn’t mind hearing a parent say, “It’s nap time!”

Even if you didn’t love sleeping as a young child, if you are a highly sensitive person, there was likely a point in time when you realized that you enjoyed resting.

While everyone in the world today needs sleep, HSPs really do need more sleep than others.

Because highly sensitive people have deep processing systems and easily get overwhelmed, they feel refreshed and recalibrated by sleep.

When a highly sensitive person reaches that point of exhaustion, nothing will do besides taking a nap (or getting a full night’s sleep).

6. You try to avoid conflict

If conflict causes you higher levels of anxiety or stress than the average person, you’re likely a highly sensitive person.

Whether it’s competitiveness among family members or competition in the workplace, you try to stay far away from it.

And that’s a good thing!

There is altogether too much conflict in this world and we need a few more peacemakers.

7. Beauty affects you deeply

Although you feel deeply affected by the negative side of life, such as conflict and competition, the positive side influences you just as intensely.

As a highly sensitive person, you might find yourself at the point of tears when listening to a moving song (and wanting to replay the song a dozen times to experience the feeling again and again).

Or you might be driving somewhere and catch sight of a magnificent sunset or even a single tree growing in the center of a field, and want nothing more than to stop and take in the beauty and the feeling that it gives you.

And what do you do when you can’t get a vision of beauty out of your head?

8. You seek ways to express creativity

Highly sensitive people experience things deeply, and not only turn to music and poetry and art to enjoy, but also as a mode of creative expression.

Many musicians, artists, and other creatives are likely HSPs and they define themselves as shy, sensitive, and introverted.

Being a highly sensitive person might mean you seek ways to create art through making music, or writing poetry or short stories.

9. You feel drained by “small talk”

If you are a highly sensitive person, the worst thing about parties is not the loud music or even the crowd.

It’s the small talk.

It’s the necessity to listen to acquaintances talk about fashion and clothes and shoes and sports and all those topics that really have no worth.

This does not only mean face-to-face interaction.

It can also mean engaging in online discussions. An HSP can get totally drained by reading a dozen comments on a post, even if the issue being discussed is not drawing conflict.

While interacting online and via social media can provide an extra boundary, it can still feel tiring for a highly sensitive person.

10. You think deeply about past interactions

You might remember nearly every word of a discussion that took place years ago.

What is more, those interactions and conversations affected you deeply.

And that’s okay. It’s part of being a deep person and a deep processor.

You’re not alone.

If you find yourself struggling with the memories of harsh or difficult interactions, reach out to someone in your personal support group (a friend or family member) to talk about it.

Sometimes all it takes is having someone to talk with to help you move beyond a difficult memory.

The Beauty of a Highly Sensitive Person

So, maybe you’re just realizing you’re a highly sensitive person.

If you’re new to the concept, please know that being an HSP is not a character flaw or a disorder.

It is the way you are wired … the way your mind processes information, and has done so since you were born.

I recommend that you learn what you can about highly sensitive people and that you connect with others.

Look around you.

There might already be a few in your circle or community that you just never realized were HSPs.

It takes all kinds of people in this world …

And highly sensitive people are a beautiful part of it.

That includes you!