Good evening, saplings.
The last time I contributed to this blog was exactly two months ago and it strangely feels both a long and short time ago. Whenever I think about time I imagine a timeline in my head which is a year long, with the name of each month stamped on each of the twelve sections of the timeline. When I think of previous or future years I just move backwards and forwards along the series of boxes and mentally acknowledge it's a new year. The ends do not join in a loop. If I mentally zoom in, weeks appear, four in each month. If I zoom in further I situate myself on a particular day of the week, which has its own rectangular box. I also mentally dissect my days into time slots which begin at the bottom of the box and ascend, depending on the events of that day. If you want an interesting conversation, ask others how they visualise time in their minds. I remember feeling strangely humbled when I realised that, of course, there is no objective way to imagine time and that your slice of the world is really just a sliver.
In my particular slice, I was roaming the internet (read: obsessively Googling what the fuck is wrong with me) and I stumbled upon The Highly Sensitive Person. Before you make a snap judgement about this, or after I'm not gonna tell you what to do, this is different to "personality tests". I used to put quite a lot of weight into personality tests. Myers-Briggs, the Big Five, the Enneagram etc. you name it, I had categorised myself, and those close to me, in it. I think the reason why I did this is because I have always yearned not only to understand the psychology behind my motivations, my needs and my emotions, but to also understand those things in others. I want to know why there are things that bother me and not other people, and things that fill me with pure joy that others could not care less about.
before I promote the benefits of exploring the HSP scale
I don't think I will ever come close to fully understanding these things in myself, and I will be even less successful in understanding them in other people. This is a healthy conclusion, because there are far too many complexities in our lives for there to be a complete set of personalities that everyone fits into. Actually, if we could, for a minute, please ignore the fact that I identify as a Hufflepuff, that would be great.
It's important that we do not attempt to squish people into boxes, even if they place themselves in that box. Someone might say they're sensitive, or insensitive, or convince you that they care or that they don't (care and sensitivity do not always necessarily coexist). It is not up to us to try and decipher the thoughts of other people, because if we put them in a box we stunt their growth or become unable to see them clearly. If, for example, we categorise someone as unreliable, we might then not give them the credit for all the times they are reliable. Adversely, we might refuse to see harmful behaviour because we have already categorised them as a someone who would never do anything like that. There are so many biological, psychological, cultural and other -als that combine to create the people that we are, and it is unhelpful to ignore the behaviours that do not fit our ideas of people and ourselves. A quote that I will always share is, "when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time" - Maya Angelou.
If someone hurts you, it's easy to become embroiled in your beliefs about who they are in comparison to what they're telling you. A helpful way to navigate this is to say; "Okay, it doesn't matter if you're this type of person, you're just doing this type of thing". What matters is the pattern of behaviour, which in essence is who they are but without you having to smush them into a personality box. I read somewhere that if you tell a child they're "naughty" from a young age, they will believe that being "naughty" is who they are, and they may continue behaviours you have tried to discourage. Attributing the "naughtiness" to their actions makes it easier for them to grow from it without identifying too much with the label. This, of course, is a technique discussed in the context of talking to children, and it is important that if an adult is behaving badly towards you, it's not your job to educate them, you are allowed to move on.
Disclaimer because I worry; this topic is so complicated and complex I always feel it's important for me to say;
- I am not a professional, anything on this blog that isn't attributed to someone else is my opinion.
- Blogs can be really self-indulgent for the author because we're in control of the content, so keep this in mind. I'm going to tell you I'm sensitive, but this is for the benefit of understanding myself, and not me telling you how to see me.
Now the Thing is said
Highly Sensitive Person Self-Test; click.
For most of my life, others have described me as "sensitive", "overly/too sensitive", "delicate", and occasionally "weak", "childish" and "silly", because of my behaviour. These behaviours include;
- very easily startled (no really, I jump if someone starts talking and I wasn't expecting it).
- get very emotional if I'm hungry, cold, or physically uncomfortable in any way.
- emotionally-driven in everything.
- always stressed.
- scared of conflict
- perfectionist (this does not mean I'm perfect, it means I am never satisfied with anything I create).
- being terrified of violent images in tv programmes and films.
- cry very easily at almost anything.
These are just a few things where I have been pulled up about being "too/overly" sensitive. When I was a very young person, I thought I was strong, unstoppable and I had so many ambitions for my life. So when people started to describe me as "too" something, and that something was associated with being weak, my whole sense of self was transformed, because everyone seemed to agree. Yes, Lauren is a sensitive child. Lauren is quiet, Lauren needs to toughen up a bit. Thankfully, my parents didn't say any of these things and they nurtured me as I was which meant that home was a safe place for my sensitivity, and still is. I just had to figure out how I was supposed to toughen up for the outside world.
Long story short, I never "toughened" up, and the sensitive child grew up to be an even more sensitive adult. When I Googled "sensitive", this is what came up;
Yes, the only purple link is "kid-glove" because I had to understand what that was. It literally means gloves made from baby goats and I would just like to say that is the complete opposite of what I want.
Dr. Elaine Aron, who lead this research into HSPs stated in a lecture that HSPs can be thought of more as "highly-responsive-people", which does not carry the negative connotations of sensitivity. HSPs can be easily offended, defensive, paranoid and neurotic, but so can everyone else. HSPs are, according to Aron's research, roughly 15-20% of the population, and we are capable of using our sensitivities to the environment for empathy or for manipulation. It is not a statement about who we definitely are, but the emotions that we experience in reaction to stimuli around us.
I wanted to share this because I spent a long time believing that there was something wrong with me, or that my emotions were somehow wrong. However, learning about HSPs helped me feel less alone, and less like I needed to change how I felt. I don't think it would be useful for me to repeat everything that Aron eloquently explains herself, so please do explore her website and blog. A three-part talk she gives on HSPs can be found here. Part 1 is the research, part 2 is more about living as a HSP and part 3 is like an FAQ.
Discovering myself in this way has helped me to take down-time when I need it, nurture my work requirements, approach conflict in my own ways and ultimately accept my feelings as real instead of wondering if there really is something wrong with me. I am happy to identify as sensitive (or a weeny, as my boyfriend affectionately calls me).
This is a call to arms (like a hug or something not like weapons and shit) to my sensitive friends. We are not abnormal, we are just not as common, and there is nothing wrong with being a highly sensitive person. Aron discusses in depth the pros and cons of feeling this way and I think that we must find ways to appreciate the good, because the world already has the bad covered.
Sleep tight lily pads.