“Don’t be so sensitive”. “You need to be more thick-skinned”. “Why were you so quiet at that party?” “You were so shy as a child”. “Don’t be a spoil sport”. “You’re so highly strung!”
Have you been on the receiving end of such comments? Did they feel painful? Do they still feel hurtful?
If so, perhaps your craving for quiet-time, to withdraw from the world sometimes, to day dream, to connect to your rich inner life, feels totally at odds with a society which values and rewards being out-there, assertively voicing your point of view, speaking before thinking, always being sociable and willing to network, and pushing yourself harder each and every day.
Being quieter and introspective in an aggressive society can feel painful.
Discover something new about yourself
If this feels familiar to you (or sounds like someone you know) then please read on – you may discover something about yourself which you never knew and which could totally change the way you look at and value yourself.
OK, that’s a big claim! But it’s something I’ve very recently experienced for myself.
Those comments at the top of this piece? Well, in more-or-less those words, they’ve been said to me a lot during my life.
I love peace and quiet. I love to sit and think and feel and day dream. I have a vivid imagination. I’m easily over-whelmed my noise and bright lights and being around a lot of people I don’t know so I tend to avoid large gatherings or come across as quiet and reserved when I’m in them. I also have a very busy mind which notices all that’s going on around me and is aware of the permutations of a course of action even before I take the first step!
I need my time alone each day – and if I don’t get it I wind up anxious, drained and utterly exhausted.
So, what’s wrong with me? …Absolutely nothing!
I’ve recently learned that this craving for quiet is an innate characteristic. It’s about how my nervous system works.
About 15-20% of the population have a nervous system which is more sensitive to their surroundings and stimuli.
I’m what’s termed as a highly sensitive person. Are you?
Are you highly sensitive? (And why that’s a good thing)
If you tend to be very aware of the subtleties in your environment, if you pick up on other people’s moods, if you need quiet-time on very busy days, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, if you’re overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, if you startle easy, if you have a rich inner life, then you may be a highly sensitive person (HSP).
This is based on the research and writings of Elaine N. Aron
To find out if you’re highly sensitive take the test. (Reveal: I took this test and answered yes to every question)
If this sounds like you, or someone you know, I’ll say it again: there is nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with them!
As Aron puts it in her book The Highly Sensitive Person, being an HSP simply “means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings … it also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way”.
(This makes me think of a time last year when I was at a family child’s birthday party full of rampaging toddlers and people I didn’t know very well, all in a relatively small space. I ended up having to go upstairs to have a nap after a few hours, I was so exhausted! At the time I thought it was a bit weird – now it makes total sense.)
This trait doesn’t make us shy, or anti-social, or lacking in basic human social skills. We don’t need to overcome this as a “defect”.
However, all too often we’ve been labelled “shy” (fearing social situations) – perhaps the label stuck and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. When actually you just appear(ed) quiet because you were watching, listening to and taking in the subtleties of the place and people around you and integrating it into your rich inner life.
I know that kind of sums up my childhood, and I got called shy by teachers and other people and was encouraged to “come out of my shell”. Wasn’t in a shell, thanks, I was just listening and watching…
Highly sensitive and proud!
So, this is a call to action!
If this is striking a chord with you, if you often feel anxious, tired, over-whelmed and slower than others to make decisions, then don’t judge yourself. Realize it’s simply that your nervous system becomes overwhelmed more quickly than others’.
And using that knowledge, prioritise the self-care you need.
Embrace your sensitivity and let it shine.
Listen to your intuition and act upon it (embrace that sixth sense); revel in your ability to take in the subtleties of a situation which others may miss and use your innate ability to stop and think to offer wise solutions to those around you or channel it into writing, painting – whatever creative outlet speaks to you; do things which make your soul happy (HSPs tend to be particularly soulful and spiritual and creative).
If you often feel anxious, if you get that nervous-system-overwhelm tiredness, if you find it difficult to settle your mind or to sleep then prioritise quiet time for yourself each day (even just a few minutes to relax and breathe will help you).
Give yourself some breathing space
Give yourself permission for the me-time, the quiet space, the calmness that your body needs and know that there is nothing wrong with you.
You are perfect just as you are.