Five to Six Minute Read
Hi, I am a 7-yearold who is highly sensitive. Well, that is not strictly true: I am actually a hypothetical child made up by a highly sensitive 41 (almost 42) year-old mummy to two highly sensitive children who is also a psychologist who has worked with lots of highly sensitive children over the years – so I hope you will allow the artistic licence used here.
I am hypothetical because I have been created to convey a message to the world, most likely coming from a mish-mash of all the voices that Julie has heard from highly sensitive children (HSC’s), their parents, Highly Sensitive adults ( many of whom are the parents of HSCs as there is a genetic component to being a Highly Sensitive Person – HSP) and from within herself - the highly sensitive child she used to be – and still is in some way.
So, with the artistic licence being applied here, I am actually a composite of all the characteristics of the highly sensitive presentation in childhood – you might not come across a child who is exactly like me – but you might recognise some of my characteristics, ways of seeing the world and proclivities in someone you know. Maybe a son or daughter of yours, maybe a friend, a parent, a client, a pupil – or maybe yourself.
Because I am 7, I don’t actually know that the way I experience myself and the world is flavoured by the high sensitivity trait. Not that being any other age qualifies you for knowing this either. Actually, Julie only found out about high sensitivity a few years ago (and she is a psychologist for goodness sake!). She says that it changed the way she felt about herself because she finally realised that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with her because she: (1) felt things so deeply, and (2) got so terribly upset over ‘small things’, and (3) got so overwhelmed with the world – especially when she was tired (not all the time by the way, but enough to create a core belief somewhere within her that she was not very good at coping with Life, and that she ‘over-emotional, ‘over-sensitive’ and well, inherently flawed).
So, because I don’t know that being highly sensitive is just a trait, like being born with green eyes, and that approximately 20% of the world’s population have this trait, I am beginning to receive messages from a world that is predominantly made up of non-Highly Sensitive People (non-HSPs), that I am all of those things that Julie believed herself to be. And, because I don’t have any information to counter these messages, I too am beginning to believe them.
If I did know about the highly sensitive trait, I would know that a psychologist called Dr Elaine Aron, a long time before I was born, came up with the term to describe a cluster of characteristics that she kept stumbling upon in her research on Introversion. She realised that a lot of the characteristics that psychologists had been associating with ‘Introversion’ were also found in people who seemed to be ‘Extroverted’ (up to 30% of HSPs are considered extroverted according to Elaine Aron’s research)*. I would know that the easiest way to remember the cluster of characteristics that seem to make up the Highly Sensitive presentation can be remembered with the following acronym (I don’t know that word by the way, Julie just couldn’t think of a better word to describe what an acronym is):
D - stands for Depth of Processing: Neurologically HSPs tend to process information at a deeper level and so they tend to process more information compared to non-HPS (not necessarily in a better way – just differently – a bit like Neurodiversity – a word I have heard people use recently).
O - Over-whelm: Because of the depth and volume of information that HSPs tend to process on a daily basis, through all of the senses, they tend to get more overwhelmed, especially in busy, crowded environments. There is just so much information to take in – and what’s more, to THINK about, analyse, wonder about…that takes up a lot of energy!
E – Emotional responsiveness and empathy: HSPs tend to feel emotions more deeply and intensely. And guess what follows? Yes, we tend to show our emotions more intensely too (at least in the presence of the ones we feel safest with). AND! We tend to feel other people’s emotions too, usually without even being aware of it.
S- Sensitivity: So on the whole, HSPs are generally more Sensitive to their environments and the stimuli in them – whether this is internal or external.
So now that I know these things, because Julie has fashioned it so, I can use my voice to give some messages to the world about what it’s like to be a HSC, and some helpful (I hope) tips for you to apply when you are engaging with me:
To the World in General: you ( The World) are mostly comprised of non-HSCs (80% or so), so it follows that the ‘world’ that I find myself in has been primarily created by you and your way of experiencing. That means that it is not really set up for HSCs. So, when we get over-whelmed, or we become ‘very emotional’, we tend to receive a message that there is something not right with us and we must Toughen Up, Cop On, Get Over it, Grow A Pair (not sure what that means), Get on With It or Wise Up (I am already wise actually). When in actual fact, we are just being ourselves, and it is the World that is not doing enough to accommodate us. So World, perhaps you could Soften up, or Cop on that we are all a bit different ( look up neurodiversity) or Grow a Pair of compassionate eyes, and Wise Up (you are very wise after all, you may just need to look inwards a little more) to the fact that we can all get on in this world much more easily we if have more understanding of how different people’s brains work.
To Parents: I really don’t mean to be contrary when I say that my socks are really annoying me when we have to get out the door to school – it’s just that THEY ARE REALLY ANNOYING ME and I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE. Nor do I mean to break up a fun family day out at the Zoo by ‘melting down’: it’s just that I got so excited about our day out, I have been counting down the days, and I couldn’t sleep last night with the excitement and then I got really hot in the reptile house, and there were just so many things to see, and so many people, and then someone pushed into me by accident and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back ( sorry we didn’t get to see the camels by the way), and I started to cry and then when I felt you feeling really frustrated and disappointed I took on all of your emotions too and I felt really cross and really bad about myself and then I said that SMART MEAN thing and then we ended up having an argument and then I got really, really upset and then THAT WAS IT. I really, really didn’t mean any of that to happen. And now I feel really crappy about myself, but because I am 7 I might not show it, or I might forget about it for a while, but it’s in there, adding to my core beliefs about the world and myself.
Would it be OK if I asked you to be a little more spacious with me? Do you think you could step into my shoes a bit more? And when you notice that the BIG EMOTIONs are coming, do you think you could take a breath and stay present with me, and remind me to maybe do the same?
Also, would it be OK if I asked you to turn off the news? It feels really scary to me that THE WORLD OUT THERE has so many bad things happening in it. I feel scared and worried for all those people and I THINK A LOT about those things happening to us, and how terrible it must be for those people they are happening to.
Also, maybe if you have stuff to talk about that is very serious, could you make sure that I am not around? I take it all in, even if I don’t know what the IT is…it’s like I eat up the energy of the conversation or the situation and I don’t even know what I’m doing, nor do I want it. And in some weird way, I begin to feel responsible for IT - I don't know why, it just happens. That sense of responsibility feeds into my core beliefs about me, and I feel like things are my fault when they actually aren’t. Just because we can’t see core beliefs doesn’t mean that they are not there and they are affecting how I experience myself and the world around me.
I could go on, but I know that you are really busy and there is so much stuff and jobs for you to do, so I will stop here. But I do want to say that I love you very much and you are my world – still – even if I don’t show it all the time. And I know that you have lots of Big Emotions happening too sometimes - I TOTALLY GET IT! More than you may know.
To my Teachers: I am not actually shy…I just take my time scanning the environment in school to make sure that it is OK to proceed. Elaine Aron calls it the STOP AND CHECK function of the brain, that is predominant in my system. It’s a good thing, to stop, and make sure that everything is OK, because sometimes it is not, and if it wasn’t for us, what would those people who have the more prominent GO For IT neurological system do when there was danger? They need us. I do get anxious though in school, but primarily because I get overwhelmed and I so want to please you (I have very high standards and the external validation is so important to me). The class room and the yard are so busy sometimes…it is a lot for me to process. And because I am conscientious, I work really hard at being ‘good’ in school and it is very tiring and I usually fall apart in someway when I go home (sorry Mum and Dad). I worry about my tests on a Friday because I so, so want to do well and I have set up this un-conscious Internal Examiner that expects nothing but the best and I get terribly disappointed with myself when I don’t 100% succeed. And I just can’t help it, but I take on the feelings of other people in the class room, including yours.
That is a lot to carry.
I know it’s hard teaching a very big class, with lots of neurodiversity, and having to a teach a curriculum that doesn’t really accommodate neurodiversity, or emotional intelligence, or any of the other multiple intelligences that exist, but….. would you be able to read up a little more on High Sensitivity, and share with your colleagues? Elaine Aron’s website is www.hsperson.com and it is a really, really good source of information. Julie wrote a blog on this before, and it is pretty good, although she does say so herself http://juliemeehan.com/blog/2017/11/2/is-your-child-over-sensitive-or-simply-highly-sensitive.
Thank You for reading this World, and if you feel resonant with it in some way, please share it. My only desire is to let as many people know about HSPs as possible, so real children and people will benefit and hopefully feel more supported and validated. We have so much to offer (high creativity, sharp insightful thinking, empathy, deep compassion, intuition, lateral thinking etc. etc.) and so much potential and if we all work together more, we can really, really make this world a better place.
Julie Meehan © 2018
Image Credit: Jason Leung on UnSplash
Julie is running a workshop for Parents of Primary School-aged Children Who experience Anxiety: How to Support your Child When Anxiety Takes Over on Sunday 11/11/2018 in Dublin City Centre. Anxiety tends to show up a lot for HSCs and Julie will explore how best to support HSCs with this difficulty during the day. For more details and to book: http://juliemeehan.com/workshops-groups/