One of my earliest memories is of the day I went with my mum to visit a local dance school to have a look at what was on offer, so I could decide whether I wanted to do Ballet or Tap-dance. While decision-making can be a slow process for us HSPs (and I have numerous memories of the impatience of other people as I struggled to choose which sandwich or ice cream I wanted, or which colour pen I should use), this time the decision was instant. I loved the elegance, gracefulness and quiet calm of Ballet, but was taken aback and totally overwhelmed by the onslaught of noise that hit my senses when we opened the door to the Tap class. It sounded to me like the contents of the biggest cutlery draw was being hurled down from the sky, and I just wanted to hide – it was all “Too Much”.
Too Much and Not Enough
This experience is one of so many that reflect a general trend in my life for seeking a gentle, quiet path. Instinctively I’ve always wanted to keep stimulation to a level that was ‘comfortable’, shying away from and shutting out things that felt ‘too much’.
But this often leave me feeling like I didn’t quite belong to the world everyone else did: I felt at-odds with my friends in a way I couldn’t explain and at times that I was perceived as a ‘party pooper’ and a bit serious and even ‘boring because I was so intense and ‘needy”. I felt that my family found my sensitivity ‘too much’ too – the exasperation at how much hard work it can be to deal with the big emotions was apparent, the rolled eyes when I got upset about something ‘trivial’ and the disappointment I sensed sometimes that I wasn’t more talkative and ‘go getting’. As I got older my awareness of how different I felt grew. At school I was drawn to more solitary pursuits rather than team games, I found being around people all day quite draining, and although I would join in with the social life of being a teenager and a young adult, I frequently just didn’t ‘get it’ in the way that most of my friends did, I didn’t seem to crave it in the same way. And people found me intense, because I could talk for hours about the meaning of life, lying awake staring at the stars into the early hours of the morning.
Once I left home, became a student, and then started work, I found a similar pattern of being around people and the constant ‘demand’ for socialising, and living in a shared house, leaving me feeling exhausted – and I used to just push through it, ignoring the cries from my mind and body to slow down. My teenage and young adult years were a period of burning the candle at both ends. Of working hard, and playing hard. To keep up with everyone else I was throwing myself into institutional life, shared living, frequent socialising – and it took its’ toll. It was constant effort and resulted in glandular fever, repeated tonsillitis, colds and flu and of feeling permanently exhausted.
I felt that everything was ‘Too Much’ and that I was ‘Not Enough’.
This pattern is a familiar one for me, and despite being an educated psychologist with an interest in personality, and experiencing near total burn-out a number of years previously, it wasn’t until I become that I came across Elaine Aron’s work, and the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity.
Being a parent as an HSP is tricky. It’s even trickier when you also have children who are HSP – so much so that I will devote a specific post to the topic. But it was this that ultimately lead to my first A-HA moment.
My First AHA moment
After months and years of sleepless nights (and days), a baby that was colicky and extremely alert (ALL the time), a toddler that was fussy about seams in socks, who was immensely stubborn, acutely ‘shy’ and also very demanding of physical contact – in ways that the children of my friends were just not – I googled these things after a particularly exhausting and desperate day.
I don’t remember if it was the top result, but it was certainly in the top 3 – up popped “HSPerson.com” and The Highly Sensitive Child. As I read, the world became a different place. Anyone who has been through this will totally understand when I say that the following is what went through my mind:
- instant resonance and recognition
- relief that it was a real ‘thing’
- excitement that it was not just a ‘thing’ but that it was normal
- Affirmation – of your gut instincts that knew there was nothing ‘wrong’ with your child, even when people were hinting that maybe they were autistic (because of the ‘difficult’ behaviour)
- hope – that there was a way of moving forward
The switch had been flicked and the light-bulb pinged on. This was my first A-ha moment. It was very quickly followed by my second.
My Second ‘Aha’ Moment
In the moments after I had gone through the HSC questionnaire, my busy-brain was doing its’ thing, and nudging me to take a look at the HSP questionnaire – because the realisation was dawning that whilst what I had just read was a game-changer for my understanding of my son, it could just as easily have been referring to me. And sure enough, I ticked all but 2 of the boxes on the HSP questionnaire. At this point my neurons were firing all over the place and I was gabbling away to my husband, getting him to do it too. And yes, my husband is also HSP (more material for another post!!)!! This was my second AHA moment.
But it was my third A-ha moment that has probably been the most important.
My Third AHA moment
When you discover the HS trait as an HSP it is a game-changer. It explains everything, it normalises everything, and almost overnight in your mind you switch from being an outsider, a misfit, a oddity who is somehow ‘wrong’ to someone who is part of a ‘club’ of people, who all experience very similar things. And as with any group who have felt marginalised, to have a ‘tribe’ and to have feelings of belonging is huge. It creates a euphoric feeling.
BUT – what I realised over the coming weeks, months and years is that finding out that you are HSP, whilst it is incredible, amazing, life-changing, is only the beginning of a journey. Because once you realise you are HSP after a life of not knowing it, you have to learn to understand what that really means to you, and how you need to change your perspectives about yourself and how you live your life. However self-aware you may have thought you were, you will need to engage in deeper and more reflective practice to really get to grips with what it means to live and to thrive in the modern world with this trait – especially if you are also an introvert.
My first true epiphany occurred about 3 years ago, some 5 years after my first aha moment, and it is only now that I really feel that I truly understand what it means for me (and I’m still learning).
When was your moment of clarity? I’d love you to comment.