One of the most tangible things about being Highly Sensitive, and that is the most visible to others, is the extent to which you FEEL everything. Whether that be the prickly seat or the sumptuous velvet cushion you are sitting on; the throbbing in your ears from the whining siren in the distance or the glorious surround-sound of the dawn chorus mixed with the trickle of the stream; the discomfort from that label in the back of your t-shirt or the fabulous feeling of the soft-down duvet you are snuggled into; the glare from the array of lights on the hight street at night or the spectacular sunset on the horizon; or the tears – of overwhelm, or of joy.
On the plus side it is what makes HSPs able to see the world in true dolby surround sound and technicolour, with smellivision, and true emotional engagement. It is what underpins their deep empathy for others and the living world, and is what allows them to appreciate art, beauty, the written word, a kind deed, to a level that is not experienced by others. It is also this intensity of ‘feeling’ that tends to be noticed by others, most particularly when it is response to overwhelm or discomfort.
The sensory ‘feelings’ of discomfort and ‘too much’ are generally easier to identify by us and for others to identify with. But when it comes to emotions this can be much more tricky. I have had a week this week full of ‘feelings’ (of the emotional kind) and it has highlighted one of the big challenges that feelings present for the HSP, which is that often the feelings we feel, are not even our own.
The ‘E’ in DOES stands for Empathy and Emotional Reactivity: HSPs are hard wired to connect with how other people are feeling, and they do so more reflexively and more intensely than others. They deep processing of ‘information’ includes the processing of emotions.
This is great in terms of our capacity to provide that empathic response to others, and it is a natural skill, which makes HSPs very intuitive, some would say possessing a ‘6th sense’. It’s what makes many HSPs great at and attracted to roles in life requiring emotional support or providing counsel.
However, it comes at a price, which is that it adds to our bucket of spaghetti.
If, as an HSP, we are conscious that we are adding to our bucket with all this emotional stuff , perhaps simply because we are aware of our innate sensitivity and we are actively engaging in empathy, or because we are recognising that our bucket is getting full, we can make provision for emptying our bucket. And whilst this may not always be possible, exactly when we need it, we know there is an end in sight!
BUT, things are not always that obvious or straightforward, because as HSPs we are often empaths, which means that we can ‘absorb’ the emotional energy of others, without necessarily realising that we have done so. If you have found your mood suddenly changing, without being able to wholly pinpoint why, it could well be that you have reflexively, subconsciouslty, picked up on what someone else is feeling, and taken it on as your own feeling. This happened to me this week and contributed to the many ‘feelings’ I was contending with. Something happened to my son at school this week which was very unjust and insensitive and unreasonable. I had a very emotional response: a mix of upset, anger, rage, affrontery, humilation, victimisation, sadness, injustice, lack of voice, disappointment, shock, confusion – amongst many other things.
I knew, because I have learnt, that some of those feelings were emotions that were actually my son’s and in order for me to appropriately deal with and respond to the situation, I first of all needed to distill the facts, from my feelings, from his feelings. Until I could do this, I couldn’t fully understand my feelings on what had happened, I couldn’t determine the proportionate response, and nor could I adequately support my son’s needs. I needed to be able to empathise, whilst also trying to take a step back to be able to manage my own emotions As it happens, I still feel most of those things, but I am able to recognise which are ‘my’ reactions, and which are the feelings that are actually my son’s and which are what I am seeking to address with the school.
Top-Tip No. 1 – Learn to identify what’s yours!
Practicing that sifting of what is my ‘stuff’ and what belongs to others is one of the things that has really helped me in being able to understand and manage my emotions as a HSP, and to support my son as a HSC. There is no magic wand to gaining that understanding, it is essentially a case of actively reflecting on what you are feeling and what is happening, and digging deep to get to the root of what is you, and practice is how you do that as you begin to learn to trust your instincts. There is one trick though, if you find yourself in a situation where your mood inexplicably changes, and I find this at home when my husband may be grouchy, short-tempered and intolereant after a stressful day at work, and I find myself responding in the same way, even though I had been fine before: I have now learnt to move away to give me physical distance from him and his emotions, and this usually gives me the space to recognise that the rising levels of anxiety I am feeling, are his, not mine and I can try to push them away from me so that my behaviour reflects how I’m feeling, not how he’s feeling. You can do a similar thing if it happens at work; leave the room and pop to the loo for 5 minutes – if your mood rapidly reverts to what it was before, chances are you had picked up on someone else’s. (Sometimes too it can be a geat thing, if you are picking up on someone’s joy and excitement about something, hang onto that feeling!!).
Top-Tip No. 2 – Choose your Battles
The time spent dealing with all of those emotions was draining, distracting and actually left me unable to focus on much else for a couple of days: and this also lead me to reflect on the difficulty HSPs can have with ‘letting things go’.
As an HSP ‘letting it go’ can be really hard, and it is something that we need to learn to get better at. I have found that whilst essentially it amounts to the same thing, ‘Choose your battles’ is somehow easier for me to relate to (perhaps because letting-go implies severing any connection with something, whereas choosing your battles doesn’t necessarily mean you have ‘forgotten’ about it or are ‘ignoring’ it, it just means you are choosing not to use up your valuable energy in dealing with something: a thought to explore another time…).
I take much more time these days to choose my battles, and to allow some things to ‘go’ because I can’t spend valuable energy on everything that I feel intensely about, because that truly would be everything . I have realised that life really is too short, and my bucket just isn’t big enough!
In this case, having sifted and considered the situation, this is one of those battles that I need to fight: it is important for my son, it is about something that is a true injustice and not something that deserves to be ‘let go’ without further discussion or a different resolution.
So I give myself permission to vent and rant about this, and to acknowledge and accept that until I have worked through this issue, I may not be so well able to take on other things; whether that be a different emotional issue, or focusing on the market research I’m doing at the moment for my business, or developing the business content – I can’t do it all, there’s too much spaghetti in there and I need to dish some up first!
Top Tip No.3 – Give Yourself Permission to Feel it Your Way
This is another thing I have got better at and I recommend you try it! Give yourself permission to lean into someting that is really upsetting or grating on you, that really matters to you: allow yourself to go deep, unapologetically, to truly feel just how angry and irritated you are about it, and to grant yourself the space to work it through, and to fight for the outcome you feel is right. Not only will this give you strength to channel your sensitivity into getting a more positive result in the end, it will actually in the long run enable you to let other things go, because you will know that when it really matters you then have the reserves and the energy to give something your full attention, and to set the boundaries to your integrity.
Can you relate? I’d love to hear your experiences.